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$2.3 million for Tahoe center will fund 3-D public education on lake ecosystems

September 7, 2011

Members of the public will be able to visually immerse themselves in two of the best-known lakes in the United States, thanks to a $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to UC Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

The three-year grant will be used to develop three-dimensional visualization technology to enhance public understanding and stewardship of freshwater lake ecosystems and earth-science processes. The project will directly reach some 400,000 visitors to Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada, and Lake Champlain in Vermont and New York.

The project’s collaborators hope it will serve as a global prototype for lake and watershed education.

“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,” said Geoffrey Schladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center and lead researcher on the grant.

“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,” he said.

“This is a smart investment in scientific research that will create well-paying jobs at UC Davis and help ensure the health of one of our nation’s most pristine ecosystems,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Napa). “I applaud Professor Schladow’s dedication to this research and look forward to the results one day being used by students of all ages across our nation.”

Key to the project will be “immersive” 3-D visualizations of lake and watershed processes, with the Lake Tahoe portion being housed in the Otellini 3-D Visualization Theater at the Lake Tahoe center. Content for the visualizations will be developed from a variety of sources including high-resolution lidar, a laser-based remote sensing technology; sonar; satellite imaging; 3-D hydrodynamic modeling; and in-situ lake measurements. 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.

“Sparked by their own curiosity, audience members will be able to burrow down to ever-increasing levels of detail,” Schladow said.

The resulting educational program will focus on water quality and ecosystem health, lake formation, lake food webs, weather and climate, and the impact of people on the ecosystem. In addition to 3-D visualizations, the lessons also will be conveyed via portable science stations, docent training guides and manuals for informal science education venues.

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

Collaborating on the project with the Tahoe Environmental Research Center will be the W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES) at UC Davis, the UC Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science, ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Vermont, and the Institute for Learning Innovation in Maryland.

About the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center

The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center is a world leader in research, education and public outreach on lakes, their surrounding watersheds and airsheds, and the human systems that both depend on them and impact them. The center, with laboratories and offices in Incline Village, Nev., provides critical scientific information to help understand, restore and sustain the Lake Tahoe basin and other systems worldwide.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

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