Research center adds new facet to Tahoe science

Jim Markle / Provided to the Tahoe Daily Tribune

Jim Markle / Provided to the Tahoe Daily Tribune

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Like a slew of recent blockbusters, Lake Tahoe will soon get the 3-D treatment. But, unlike "Avatar," people will have the chance to direct the action.

The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center is developing new 3-D technology to help the public understand the processes surrounding freshwater ecosystems.

The project is a result of a three-year, $2.3 million grant from the National Science foundation and will first be made available to residents and visitors at Lake Tahoe and Lake Champlain.

Other lakes around the would could benefit from the grant in the future, said Heather Segale, spokeswoman for the research center. "The goal is to create something that is universal enough that it can be used at any lake," Segale said Friday.

And there is no better time for the technology than now, said Geoffrey Schladow, director of the research center and lead researcher on the grant.

"With lakes and other freshwater resources around the world threatened by urbanization, invasive species and climate change, there could not be a more crucial time for individuals and societies to better understand the science of lake systems and the consequences of change," Schladow said in a statement. "In developing engaging, interactive learning tools for Lake Tahoe and Lake Champlain - two of the world's iconic lakes - we want to create a blueprint for public education that can be extended to any lake, anywhere in the world."

The Lake Tahoe portion of the technology will be housed in the research center's Otellini 3-D Visualization Lab, which currently teaches people about topics like plate tectonics and the topography of the lake's bottom.

The 3-D visualizations will be generated from a variety of databases, including sonar, laser-based remote sensing technology and satellite imaging. The visualizations will be paired hands-on exhibits, Segale said.

"The audience will literally be enveloped by the data and, by accessing a suite of visualization, measurement and navigation tools, can explore every facet of the virtual display," according to the statement.

A prototype of the new technology could be available as soon as next year. The research center will then solicit input as to what data people would most like to see in 3-D.

Topics like invasive species, water quality, ecosystem health, lake formation, weather and climate and the impacts of people on the ecosystem are all fair game.

The project also aims to evaluate how 3-D visualizations and related technologies can more broadly support education and training in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Segale acknowledged Lake Tahoe's science isn't always the most easily understood on paper, but said she's seen the light bulb go on for some people after they witness the science up close and personal in the visualization lab.

"When you see it, you get it," Segale said.t


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