New VR viewer offers terrifying vision of climate change’s impact on Santa Monica

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Winter is coming, and along with it, a terrifying new vision of how Santa Monica will look if climate change continues unabated.

Think SCUBA gear.

You can see how high the water will rise over the current beaches, parking lots and oceanside boulevards of Santa Monica through a new virtual reality viewer, called “The Owl”, that was installed this week on the Santa Monica pier.

USC, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey and the City of Santa Monica, sponsored the viewer, which is free.

“While we can’t stop the inexorable changes to our beaches, we do have cutting-edge science that helps us plan today and adapt to the future,” said Phyllis Grifman, associate director at USC Sea Grant. “It’s important to have a community-based discussion about how to adapt, and the Owl helps start this conversation.”

The Owl offers you a 180-degree view of the shoreline, with differing scenarios of flooding by the end of the century, USC said:

“The virtual experience was created with scientific models developed by the U.S. Geological Survey, which projects that sea level rise in Southern California will match global projections, increasing 5 to 24 inches in the decades from 2000 to 2050 and anywhere from an additional 12 to 38 inches from 2050 to 2100.”

The Owl also offers a hopeful view of the Santa Monica beach, even with rising sea levels, if officials can institute local mitigation efforts—such as sand dunes and plantings—to protect the shoreline.

Similar Owl VR viewers have been installed along other parts of the coast, including Marin and San Mateo. This is the first installation in Southern California, but USC plans others locally. The Owl will remain at the Santa Monica pier through the end of the year.

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