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Virtual Ice Explorer: Immersively Experiencing Changing Glacial Landscapes: 1713537

Principal Investigator: Jason Cervenec
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Jesse Fox, Julien Nicolas
Organization: Ohio State University

Glaciers around the world are undergoing dramatic changes. Many people, however, have a limited understanding of the scope of these changes because they are geographically distant and difficult to visualize. Although both digital learning tools and online scientific data repositories have greatly expanded over the last decade, there is currently no interface that brings the two together in a way that allows the public to explore these rapidly changing glacial environments. Therefore, to both improve public understanding and provide greater access to already existing resources, the project team will develop the Virtual Ice Explorer to encourage informal learning about glacial environments. This web application will feature an immersive virtual environment and display a suite of environmental data for an array of Earth’s glacial systems. An interactive globe will allow users to select from a collection of sites ranging from polar regions to tropical latitudes. Each featured site will offer users an opportunity to interact with (1) a 3D rendering of the landscape; (2) a local map of the site; (3) historical and contemporary photographs of the site; (4) background information text describing the location, past research, and climate impacts; and (5) available environmental data. One of the most original features of the application will be its realistic, immersive 3D rendering of glacial landscapes by combining very high-resolution digital elevation models and satellite imagery with the application’s built-in capabilities for immersive virtual environments. Although immersive environments often require expensive equipment, we are maximizing accessibility by developing the Virtual Ice Explorer to run in a web browser and function across various devices. Thus, the application will be available to anyone with internet access, and they can explore at their own pace.

As part of the successful development of Virtual Ice Explorer, the project team will create a platform for digital elevation models to be visualized and explored in 3D by users within the web application; curate digital elevation models, maps, images, text, and environmental data for inclusion in the web application for up to 11 geographically diverse glaciers/glacial landscapes; iteratively user-test the web application with project partners; and design the architecture of the system to readily scale to a larger collection of glaciers/glacial landscapes. To extend dissemination of the final products, the team has partnered with the U.S. Geologic Survey to showcase four benchmark glaciers in their long-term Glaciers and Climate project. In addition to improving understanding of glacier systems in informal learning environments, the project team will explore applications for spatial learning, employment of 3D environments for educational interventions, and use of Virtual Ice Explorer in formal learning environments. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The project also has support from the Office of Polar Programs.

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