SeriousGeoGames at the AGU #AGU15

In December SGG founder Chris Skinner travelled to the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in San Francisco, to present on Humber in a Box. AGU is the world’s largest Earth and Planetary Sciences conference, with over 25,000 attendees, and this year included talks by former Vice-President of the USA and climate campaigner, Al Gore, and Space-X CEO, Elon Musk. Nestled on the Friday afternoon, in the “Amazing Games and Superb Simulations for Science Education” session, Chris gave his talk about Humber in a Box and how it has been used to communicate flood risk. Here are his thoughts.

The session was convened by Randy Russell of the Center for Science Education, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), and has been going for several years. It was a little intimidating to be presenting in front of an established community, unsure how Humber in a Box even fitted into that, never mind how well it would be received. Randy introduced us to his page where he has collected useful applications and games suitable for science education. Take a look here.

He also compiled a page for the session, where you can view the abstracts for the talks here. There was a strong flooding theme in the first half of the session, it is obviously on a lot of people’s minds! The first talk by Jonathan Gilligan showed a game where users were in charge of flood risk management for a group of towns. Floods are generated randomly and the users were able to respond, until the end of the game when a large flood is simulated. The idea of the game was to provoke emotional responses to the flooding – where the defences failed the user is meant to relate this to people and their houses, rather than just pixels on a screen. This highlights the need to consider full human and nature relationships in planning for flooding.

The second talk by Ibrahim Demir of the University of Iowa highlighted a range of some of the excellent tools being built there. These include interactive 3D web-based tools that utilises virtual reality and augmented reality technology.  One simulation allowed users to visualise future flood risk zones in 3D, overlain on Google Earth with 3D building and rendering, whilst another was a virtual river reach where the land  and water levels could be manually altered – this could be projected onto a desk (on a monitor) via a webcam and AR tech. These were some really cool ideas.

My talk was third. I showed the basic functionality of Humber in a Box, and then set in context with Hull and the Humber and the 2013 storm surge flooding. I explained how it is used to inform people about flood risk and the management behind it, and how it has been used at events to promote flood risk awareness. I even managed to get in some quotes by Philip Larkin and a plug for City of Culture 2017! I think it was well received. I was asked a question referring back to Jonathan’s talk, whether the users get an emotional response to Humber in a Box – from my experience, no. Much of the functionality deals with very extreme ‘what if?’ scenarios which tend to dampen any emotional response to the simulations.

The final flooding related talk was by Margie Turrin of Columbia University, who showed an interactive sea level rise application, which layered data sources from multiple platforms together. This allows users to visualise what sea levels have looked like in the past and how they might appear in the future – they can then dig a little deeper, exploring the science and data behind it.

Unfortunately, I had to leave the session at this point and check in on a session I was co-convening (thanks to Matt Perks for chairing!). I really enjoyed the session, I got some great ideas and it’s nice to see such a lively and productive community over in the States – I’m sure we can establish one in the UK too. I’m not sure if I’ll be back at AGU next year, but I will certainly be keeping my eye on this session in the future.

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