To understand human-induced global changes, there’s no place like dome

Asheville area community members enter a portable dome to experience Living Maps: From Cosmos to Community.

Story by Nancy Foltz

ASHEVILLE, NC—Experts from American institutions known for their pioneering efforts in Earth systems research, education and evaluation have come together to turn economic literacy education on its ear, and RENCI is part of the effort.

The new initiative known as the Worldviews Network seeks to create innovative approaches for engaging the American public in dialogues about human-induced global changes.  Using immersive visualization within the nation’s 600 planetariums and other domed settings to enhance the visual experience, the Worldviews partners are creating tools and techniques for science educators that will help audiences visualize, comprehend and address complex issues from whole-systems perspectives.  The goal is to illustrate how large-scale global processes such as biodiversity loss, climate change and ocean acidification relate to the places where we live by customizing content for issues of regional importance.

Partner institutions include the American Museum of Natural History, the California Academy of Sciences, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, the Exhibit Museum of Natural History, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the Institute for Learning Innovation, the Journey Museum, the Minnesota Planetarium Society, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Ames Research Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Program Office, NOVA/WGBH Boston, RENCI at UNC Asheville and The Elumenati, a design and engineering firm that specializes in immersive visualization.  The three-year project is funded by NOAA.

“RENCI at UNC Asheville was invited to be part of the Worldviews Network because it is at the forefront in enabling communities to understand complex interconnections and use the information to make good decisions about their natural, built, social and economic environments,” said David McConville, creative director for the Worldviews Network and co-founder of The Elumenati.

As part of their contribution to the Worldviews Network, RENCI and The Elumenati are applying what they have learned within the Uniview software platform, an interactive scientific visualization platform and storytelling tool.  As a result, experiencing Worldviews stories will be similar to playing a video game, except the data and the decision making will be real.

The timing of Worldviews is perfect for RENCI at UNC Asheville because it coincides with the center’s work as part of the Livable Communities Initiative, a three-year project to develop regional and local strategies for sustainable development, economic prosperity and quality growth in five Western North Carolina counties.

Coordinated by the Land-of-Sky Regional Council and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Livable Communities Initiative will synchronize existing local community plans to integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation and infrastructure investments.  To do this, Livable Communities participants will need to understand the potential interactions of many layers of information and that’s where RENCI comes in.  One of RENCI’s roles will be to provide visualizations to help participants understand the region’s vulnerabilities so they can make decisions that will maintain what they love most about the region and make its communities more resilient.

Since each partner in the Worldviews Network must develop regional economic education content, RENCI will reuse the content it creates for the Livable Communities Initiative for Worldviews.  The first of this dual-purpose content was revealed on September 29 in a portable dome at the Land-of-Sky Regional Council’s headquarters.  In a program titled Living Maps: From Cosmos to Community, RENCI seamlessly combined the Worldviews Network’s cosmic, solar system and Earth stories with regional stories it developed for Livable Communities.  The visualizations were followed by a discussion with the audience to set the stage for the next three years of the Livable Communities Initiative.

In future Worldviews Network programs developed to assist in the Livable Communities Initiative, audiences will see actual solutions other communities have implemented in response to challenges similar to those faced in Western North Carolina, and residents in the region will make decisions that will dramatically affect their future.

“I expect a lot of “a-ha” moments as planners and other Western North Carolina residents see visuals and hear wonderful stories about how economic, land use, energy, social, transportation and housing choices fit together,” said Jeff Hicks, a RENCI geospatial analyst.  “Just as the the Livable Communities Initiative will influence policy decisions in Western North Carolina, it will help guide the Worldviews Network project as well.  We are pleased RENCI and the UNC system are part of both important efforts.”

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