We are surrounded by water. Everywhere. It is natural of course, regardless of whether we can see it or not. It can come in frozen, liquid or gaseous form. The Virtual Reality Glacier Experience establishes connections between climate change, glacier evolution and the hydrological balance. The VR Glacier Experience is part of the #gkb2020 anniversary project, celebrating 150 years of Graubündner Kantonalbank.
A virtual experience
The Virtual Reality Glacier Experience allows visitors to experience how climate change is impacting the Morteratsch Glacier and its hydrological balance. Experts from the Zurich University of the Arts and from the University of Fribourg worked together to develop the experience.
Four guided virtual tours around the Morteratsch Glacier
Two local tour guides, Andri and Ladina, welcome visitors to virtual reality and take them on a tour to selected locations around the Morteratsch Glacier. After a short introduction, visitors can choose from four excursions focusing on different topics (in the VR menu):
The first tour provides visitors with information on a number of previously unknown perspectives and details the water resources in and around the glacier, as well as those in the clouds, the soil and the cliffs. The second excursion allows visitors to experience the hydrological balance – from water retention to the seasonal water run-off – in the past, the present and the future (1875–2100). The third tour sees visitors tracking a ptarmigan and broaches the issue of the change in fauna. Last but not least, the fourth tour provides visitors with further information on the MortAlive Project, which aims to slow down deglaciation by means of the production of artificial snow.
Immerse yourself and enjoy the experience
The excursions are as entertaining as they are educational. Visitors are given virtual reality goggles with which they can immerse themselves in a 3D artificial world and experience the changes that climate change is bringing about in the high alpine region, while also finding out about the enormous challenges needing to be overcome in individual learning moments.
The tour guides, Andri and Ladina, and the scenery appear real and can be seen in three dimensions. The actors were filmed with a 3D camera and appear almost lifelike thanks to the seminal volumetric video technology. The terrain of Val Morteratsch has been recreated true to life in the virtual world using hundreds of photographs and can be explored.
From the real world into the virtual environment and back again
The audience experiences a fluid transition from the real world of the exhibition area to the digital world of virtual reality. For example, design elements from the exhibition, such as an abstract mountain panorama, are recreated in the VR experiences. Visitors are able to roam freely through the virtual experience and can physically experience the marked changes in the vivid scenarios. What’s more, they can also play an active role in the excursions, e.g. by helping the tour guide to find the ptarmigans.
The following members of the Knowledge Visualization research group from the Zurich University of the Arts worked on the VR Glacier Experience project: Niklaus Heeb (Project Management), Jonas Christen, Noemi Chow, Reto Spoerri, Meike Eckstein, Thomas Schärer, Olav Lervik, Doro Müggler, Samuel Streiff and Lea Schellenberg.