The effects of climate change are too far away? A campaign of the Climate Access in partnership with the City of San Francisco is currently visualizing the future sea-level rise in three locations in San Francisco to realize the impacts of climate change.
With the help of virtual reality (VR), the app „Look ahead“ projects a 360-degree tour of the Emabarcadero, Mission Creek and Heron’s Head Park to illustrate the threat of sea-level rise caused by global warming and how these sites would benefit from climate solutions like the Paris Agreement.
Sea level rise scenarios predict a 4-30 cm (2-12 in) rise by 2030 and a 42-167 cm (17-66 in) rise by the end of the century, which could have devastating impacts on San Francisco and the Bay Area. The Bay Area is the fifth largest urban area in the United States, built on reclaimed marshlands, which are prone to flooding.
According to the report by the National Academy of Sciences, global sea level rise is caused by increased ocean volume due to sea water that expands with warming, and melting land ice which adds water to the oceans. In addition, sea level rise on the U.S. West Coast is influenced by regional (climate) patterns. For example the El Nino-Southern Oscillation, plate tectonics, land sinking caused by the melting of the ancient North American ice sheets and water extraction.
According to the report, „the extraction of water or hydrocarbons from under ground can lower surface elevations up to tens of centimeters per year if fluids are not returned […].“
The way VR could help to raise people’s awareness for the problem is not only by visualizing the impacts of global warming. Researchers at Stanford University have shown that embodying animals in immersive virtual environments (IVE) increased the participants environmental engagement, which lasted at least one week. The authors conclude that „embodied experiences in IVEs may be an effective tool to promote involvement with environmental issues.“
In the app, the real location with its natural sounds augmented by the projections is supposed to create an embodying effect.