GlacialPace VR

How can we transform climate data into personal and interactive experiences?

Overview

GlacialPace depicts a glacier's retreat over the past 30 years from a first-person perspective. Viewers can explore the shifting Arctic landscape from 1985 to 2015 in a virtual environment.

A live prototype can be viewed at http://ixdavid.github.io/

The project inspired us to launch Catalog.Earth, and in May of 2017, we will be traveling to Alaska to document the Columbia Glacier in its current state with 360 media. 

Scope

November 2015 - January 2016

SVA MFA Interaction Design

Role: Concept, design, animation, programming

Teammate: Saba Singh

The project was designed and built using three.js and WebVR.

The NASA Earth Observatory / Images by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon

Process

Using NASA's documentation of the Prince William Sound in southeastern Alaska, we created high-resolution 360 models of the Columbia Glacier in 5 year increments.

The program is coded in three.js for WebGL, which can accessed through the browser and does not require any download. (A special thanks to mrdoob and borismus for the three.js library and webVR boilerplate shared on GitHub.)

The landscapes rotate through an array of skybox images, which I stitched based on satellite images and NASA's Columbia glacier model for Google Earth. Each skybox image is constructed in the shape of a "t", which is folded around the camera position / virtual point of view like a box.

We intended to slowly transition between skyboxes by reducing the opacity of the visible image, while increasing the opacity of the image on deck. However, we ran into some issues  the shader used to blend the image into a 360 model in three.js...)

The struggle is real. Featuring pained teammate Saba Singh, skybox models, and our fearless leader/instructor Jeff Gray.

While writing the initial the program, we included a sphere near the mouth of the glacier as a point of reference during the design process. As we tested the experience with users, we found that viewers appreciated a visual marker to identify locations beyond the shifting landscape images. Thus, we included a bobbing red buoy, which will become an increasingly interactive component of the experience.