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Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Abyss Earth Sciences and Marine Life Observatory – Stareyes Galaxy Reporting

Imagine you were intrigued by a documentary in your youth and seeked a career that would allow you to advance a field of science similar to what was presented in that favorite show you saw years ago.

Yan Lauria has been able to do just that, having seen the Jean-Jacques Cousteau ocean exploration documentaries in his childhood. He is now working as a project manager at JAMSTEC, “Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology”. He is also the main force behind Abyss Observatory, the oceanographic earth science sim on Second Life © (SL). Stareyes Galaxy had the opportunity to interview him and take a tour of the sim.

JAMSTEC is a research organization that finances the maintenance of Abyss, and its goal is to present a test bed for visualization of the research activities in a 3D multiuser environment. The sim itself is located on a sandy atoll with two ships anchored beside a central bungalow. The visits are organized in four tours that encompass the seven levels it’s built on. I took the “Climate Change” tour with Yan Lauria. 

The tour was organized in notecards and the visitor was guided by pink arrows to go through the exhibits. We started on the reproduction of Calypso, J. J. Cousteau’s research vessel.

Yan:  Here is Cousteau's Calypso, the Calypso of my youth. This Calypso exhibit came here by unintentional encounter between I and Swee, a SL creator. I didn't know her and I didn't know the Abyss, but one day we happened to meet and get to know each other, she came here. Then Calypso became an exhibit of the Abyss.

SLE: How were you able to get the contributors together, to work on this project?

Yan: Abyss is created by 7 creators, from Japan, USA, UK, France, and Columbia. All are volunteers. JAMSTEC pays maintenance fee of Abyss, and the contents are by volunteers.

SLE: Are all marine biologists?

Yan: No. Delia Lake is an ecologist, Dugong knows Cetacea very much like researchers but he is not a biologist. I was manager of microbiology research of hydrothermal vents and under crust, so I can exhibit the deep ecosystem.

We continued onwards to see a model of Cousteau’s Aqua robot, a deep-water exploration submarine.

SLE: Do you get a lot of visitors?

Yan: There are about 30 to 40 visitors a day. JAMSTEC is not a school or university but research organization. I also demonstrate here in open campus day of JAMSTEC in RL using large screen and high-vision PC projector. Getting feedback from visitors directly is difficult, and I found feedback from blogs later.

Yan then passed me a link for a collection of blog posts on school reports from classes that have made visits to the Abyss:

We continued onward with the tour that encompassed exhibits showing research probes that sample water conditions at 1000 m depth, a marine glider being developed for a future exploration system, and finally to atmospheric and satellite observation exhibits. There, it was possible to ride an exploration balloon and look down on the ocean from 3000 m height. The satellite observation platform was organized adjacent to the model of a supercomputer that is used for data analysis and simulation. Yan: “This is fastest computer for climate prediction. You know top 500 supercomputers; they are fast on Linpak benchmark test. This, Earth Simulator at JAMSTEC is still number one computer! I took photo for texture by myself.” The exhibit had five globes rotating in the stillness of space showing the atmospheric, night sky, hydrosphere with ocean heart flux, plankton and vegetation, and finally, ocean base maps. All the simulations shown on the globes are based on actual satellite and sonar data.

The final exhibits on this tour were two globes that show real-time data, from a web URL, mapped on the globes. Cloud cover and rain for instance were shown. These exhibits need SL viewer 3 and some capacity in your computer to run. Our tour at end, I bid Yan farewell.

I returned to visit the “Journey into the Deep” observation tour that took me to the depth of 2000 m to see some smoking vents on the ocean floor and the biology of the organisms that make these their ecosystem. It was uncanny walking on the ocean floor at this depth! At some point of this tour, a large squid was following me around. The remaining tours are “Shallow Water Life” and “Sunken City and Fantasy Zone” which both surely pack a few surprises.

In addition to the tours, the Abyss Observatory has a nice café  and a museum shop. As never content with what they have created, Yan and collaborators also have a second sim in progress, at another SL continent. The exhibits there are said to be even more advanced, when completed.

The Abyss really is a wonderful sim to explore, as it makes the visitor understand actual facts on the global ecosystem, and appreciate the fragility of it all. A visitor commented: “There is only one sad thing about all of this. We know we need to do something about it but as a whole we aren’t prepared to save our planet.” This, in my opinion, illustrates perfectly how the Abyss Observatory adds real-life value by having been created in Second Life.  I really recommend a visit to the Abyss, but take your time, and pack a lunch!

The Abyss Observatory:


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