VR Game Shows Wellington After Sea Level Rise

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VR Game Shows Wellington After Sea Level Rise
April 22, 2018

It's hard to imagine sea level rising and creeping over city streets, but if you live in Wellington, New Zealand, you don't have to.

 

The city council has developed a virtual reality simulator, allowing users to travel anywhere in the city, stand on the street, and see the impact of the rising sea levels.

 

You can stand in the shadow of Te Papa and watch as the whole area is swallowed by the ocean.

 

Wellington City Council innovation officer Sean Audain tries out a new virtual reality headset that what climate change could mean for Wellington.

 

Or travel along Oriental Parade and watch the  beach get washed away with only a 1-metre rise.

 

At six metres – the absolute worst-case scenario – you can watch the waters creep to the steps of the Beehive or flood the town of Makara.

 

The user can choose up to 6 metres of sea level rise.

 

The creators say it's the best way to turn something abstract and distant into hard reality. Residents can see a simplified version at home from Monday afternoon, by visiting the council's online simulator. 

 

Wellington City Council innovation officer Sean Audain said it was much easier to show people than to explain the impact of sea level rise would have.

"There's a lot of science that shows us what's going to happen to the oceans or the ice caps there not much science showing what's going to happen to cities."

 

Gaming technology was overlaid with spatial maps of the city to create an interactive environment. The technology is so immersive, Audain said he had watched users hold their breath as the water came up around them.

 

"We had one person who lived in the one of the buildings just across the road from Te Papa. Their reaction was really interesting because they started to relate to what does it mean over my life time? Can I retire here?

 

"It is a little bit sickening to stand in the water."

 

The user can choose rises of between 300mm and 6 metres – the expected minimum and maximum rises as a result of climate change.

 

Chief resilience officer Mike Mendonca said the city was facing some hard decisions in the future, including how to manage retreat or where to build flood defences.

 

"We're a long way from making those decisions, but there's no denying the fact that at some time in the future we will have to make some hard calls."

 

The development of the programme, which has multiple other components under development, took two years to construct.

 

The public can have a play on the VR headset at the upcoming Tech Week.

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