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Immersive Antarctic Experience for Public Engagement

Published onMar 07, 2018
Immersive Antarctic Experience for Public Engagement

We welcome input or collaboration from oceanographers, climate scientists, biologists, glaciologists, geologists and other scientists who are interested in curating or generating new data about Antarctica and the Southern Ocean for this project.

We also welcome suggestions on how to incorporate citizen scientists and crowd sourced data collection or analysis to engage the public in this work.


Antarctica is a unique and beautiful continent that is helping scientists answer cutting-edge questions in oceanography, physics, climate science, ecology, and more. The continent is also richly intertwined with the rest of the planet, playing a significant role in global weather patterns, supporting the sustainability of global fisheries, and as an early indicator of climate change. However, to most members of the public Antarctica appears to be a cold and inhospitable place with little relevance to daily life. This proposal uses immersive visual storytelling to bridge the gap between public perceptions and the compelling Antarctic story, building a sense of ownership that inspires participants to take action.


Space Enabled proposes to develop a proof-of-concept prototype of an interactive, room-scale multi-sensory experience for public outreach and education regarding the Antarctic. The prototype would demonstrate capability for a system to be housed at a partnering institution such as the National Geographic Museum or New England Aquarium. This effort draws inspiration from the National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey exhibit [1] as well as various products of The Studio at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory [2], but differs from those projects in its focus on Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and -- more importantly -- in that it strives to leave the user with a strong sense of ownership over the fate of the continent’s future.

Antarctica is a place where ocean, ice and land meet in an ever-changing boundary. The team proposes to help participants understand this dynamic relationship through an experience that combines photos, video, sound, haptic feedback and temperature changes to create an immersive encounter to educate and inspire participants with information about the importance of the Southern Ocean and ongoing research that is taking place in Antarctica.  Learning objectives for participants would include an increased understanding of 1) the links between the oceans and other complex systems within Antarctica; 2) the importance of Antarctic ecosystems to the rest of the Earth; 3) international cooperation related to scientific investigations; 4) what can be done now to mitigate the adverse anthropogenic impacts on the ecological integrity of the continent; and 5) a general understanding of Antarctica’s and the ocean’s role in climate change.

The Space Enabled team has tentatively identified four key messages for the virtual experience: 1) It Matters: a discussion of Antarctic biodiversity, historical significance, and ongoing research; 2) It’s Fragile: data visualizations about climate change, trends in ice thickness, sea level and human impact; 3) It’s Connected: information about how Antarctica plays a significant role in global climate as well as social impacts of Antarctic research; 4) It needs you to take action: options for users to engage after the experience, including writing a postcard to decision makers, sharing via social media actions, or sending a physical postcard to a friend.


The most significant unknown associated with this project is developing partner buy-in to develop the prototype into a site-specific installation at the partner’s facility.  To ensure relevance to prospective partners, the project timeline will involve repeated feedback from potential partners during design and refinement of the prototype. In order to make the content available to more people, we propose to create a purely digital version of the experience that can be hosted on other platforms. The Space Enabled Research Group has contacts involved with science education museums in several countries that border the Southern Ocean, including Australia, South Africa and Chile. Space Enabled will explore opportunities to share the digital version of the content with these science museums. Space Enabled will also explore a crowd-sourcing component of project in collaboration with the science museums in Australia, South Africa and Chile. The goal is to invite museum visitors to share their images of the Southern Ocean and to participate in data collection activities under the mentorship of museum educators. For example, museum visitors could be invited to take measurements of temperature, acidity and salinity in the Southern Ocean. The interactive exhibit could potentially include photographs and measurements created through these public education activities.


This project will draw upon the rich collection of public-domain imagery, video, and scientific data collected by scientists funded by NASA, NOAA, and NSF Polar programs. The project team will curate the plentiful available data to craft a compelling narrative for experience participants. We will also explore partnering with creators of an immersive underwater 360° video system for inclusion in the exhibit, including Allan Adams, the PI of the MIT Future Ocean Lab, and the Advanced Imaging and Visualization Laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


The project team will design, fabricate, and refine the system over a six-month time period, ending with a physical prototype and plans for how partners could scale it to an installation-ready implementation in a subsequent phase. Space Enabled has strong connections to designers with experience creating interactive scientific outreach tools.  Over the first two months, the team would work to refine key messaging, and curate audio-visual content and data for inclusion. In month three, it would develop a preliminary conceptual design and present the design to potential next-phase partners including National Geographic and the New England Aquarium for testing and feedback. In months four and five, the team would finalize the design and fabricate the experience and associated outreach materials.  In month six, the team would conduct validation and user testing, as well as demonstrate and brief the end-product to partners with options for future work.


Work will be led by students in the Space Enabled research group and other interested students within the MIT Media Lab. The team will invite input from leading thinkers and designers with expertise in visual storytelling and installation design to help bring the vision to life.  Throughout the design process, Space Enabled will draw upon our existing networks to solicit feedback and suggestions from leading Antarctic, oceanographic and climate experts, including MIT EAPS doctoral students focusing in astrobiology as applied to Antarctic environments with recent hands-on experience on that continent.



Javier Stober:

Javier Stober has submitted this pub for publication.

Javier Stober:

Final proposal.