Virtual reality forests help understanding of climate change

The effects of climate change are sometimes difficult to grasp, but now a virtual reality forestcreated by Penn State University geographers can let people walk through a simulated forest of today and see what various futures may hold for the trees.

The researchers combined information on forest composition with information on forest ecology to create a forest similar to those found in Wisconsin, explains a statement.

The virtual-reality experience takes the extensive climate change models, sophisticated vegetation models and ecological models and creates a 2050 forest that people can experience by walking through it, investigating the tree types and understory, and seeing the changes.

Using data on a typical Wisconsin forest, the researchers used a procedural method that would populate the forest using a set of ecological rules, creating an organic, natural feel.

To capture the ecology of the forest, the researchers used LANDIS II, a well-established, powerful model. A virtual walk through this Wisconsin forest shows tall trees and understory. Strollers, using VR headsets and controllers, can reveal the types of trees in the forest, change elevations from forest floor to birds-eye view and in-between, and more closely examine the forest composition.

The researchers chose two future scenarios, a base scenario and a hot and dry scenario. Using VR, visitors to the forest can see the changes in tree types and abundance and compare the base scenario to the hot and dry scenario.

The researchers aim is to create a medium to communicate things in the future or the past that allows for a more holistic and visceral access so that non-experts can see the changes brought on by climate change.

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

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