Using Virtual Reality in Sea Level Rise Planning and Community Engagement in Santa Cruz, CA

Juliano Calil, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, International Environmental Policy and Center for the Blue Economy, Carmel, CA, United States and Tiffany Wise-West, City of Santa Cruz, Climate Action Program Sustainability + Climate Action Manager, Santa Cruz, CA, United States
As coastal communities worldwide contend with sea level rise, coastal erosion, and other impacts of climate change, a critical piece of the puzzle has become educating stakeholders in highly creative, insightful and practical ways. The City of Santa Cruz is using a multi-media, interactive Virtual Reality (VR) application to help the community better understand the impacts of climate change as well as explore emerging adaptation solutions for three city locations.

During this presentation we'll describe the challenges and steps taken to develop this application, from flying drones over coastal areas and working with “photogrammetry” to create hyper realistic 3D models that are inserted in the VR experience and designing an interactive user experience. We will describe how the user experience was developed, and how the City of Santa Cruz is using VR to support outreach efforts in two ongoing projects. (i) The West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan, which will lead to implementation and development of adaptation projects and policies to address the impacts of climate change on the transportation network, as well as protect coastal recreation and access and preserve habitat; and (ii) the Local Coastal Program (LCP) Update, focused on developing Sea Level Rise Strategies & Policies to Support Beach and Public Access Protection. We'll also discuss the findings from a 3-month installation of the experience at the local library.

The VR experience includes hyper realistic 3D models produced from aerial images, and for each location, the viewer can experience the beaches at summer 2018 levels, during a King Tide, and witness the stunning projection of 2.4 feet of sea level rise in combination with a 100-year storm. The Virtual Reality Experience supports planning, management and monitoring activities related to sea level rise, storms, coastal erosion and more. The tool is being developed by a project team with a range of expertise from climate scientists, city planners, communications experts, filmmakers, 3D animators, and Unity (software) developers.