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Exploring Antarctica from Home: A Virtual Reality Adventure

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Exploring Antarctica from Home: A Virtual Reality Adventure

Legend has it that Ernest Shackleton, in preparation for his groundbreaking Antarctic expedition, placed an advertisement that read: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

While the authenticity of this story may be debated, the extreme conditions of Antarctica remain unchanged. Today, however, one can explore this frozen frontier safely and without causing environmental harm to the continent, thanks to a virtual reality (VR) experience developed by the British foundation UKAHT.

The Stonington Island immersive experience

Stonington Island, nestled in Margarita Bay, stands out among the several permanent settlements in Antarctica, most of which were established in the 20th century. It was here in 1946 that the British set up their inaugural base, known as Base E. Notably, this base also became the backdrop for a historic milestone in 1947 when Edith Ronne and Jennie Darlington became the first women to spend a winter in Antarctica.

The UKAHT Foundation, committed to preserving Antarctica and supported by trustees including a descendant of Shackleton, now invites users to discover the island and its historical base through an immersive experience dubbed “Immersive Antarctica.” This journey not only virtually transports travelers to the island but to a specific time: 1965.

Utilizing period photographs, laser scans, and an AI program to animate the virtual environment, users, equipped with VR goggles, can explore the original state of the base, engage in a dog sled tour of the island, and experience visiting the settlement as if they were there in person. This form of virtual tourism is enhanced by the narrative of two scientists who worked on the island in the 1960s.

Initially, this immersive Antarctic experience will be available exclusively at the Cambridge Polar Museum in the United Kingdom. However, the foundation intends to make the materials accessible to the general public in 2024.

Other immersive experiences in Antarctica

Although the virtual reality tourism project by UKAHT is one of the most intricately designed to date, several other initiatives offer immersive explorations of Antarctica’s wildlife and its starkly beautiful landscapes:

  • Antarctica 360 VR: An immersive experience by the Antarctica Heritage Trust that offers a virtual expedition through the Antarctic Peninsula in 2019, including kayaking through icy waters and interactions with penguins.
  • Thin Ice VR at the International Antarctic Center: A VR documentary that traces Sir Ernest Shackleton’s expedition and Tim Jarvis’ recreation, focusing on climate change impacts in the region.
  • Quark Expeditions 360° Virtual Experience in Antarctica: An exploration of the Antarctic landscape with VR videos simulating the experience of being on an expedition.
  • The Antarctic Experience at the National Museum of Australia: Offers a VR journey depicting a day in the life of Antarctic scientists, including helicopter flights over glaciers and encounters with penguin colonies.
  • National Geographic’s Antarctic Exploration in VR: The viewer can join National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen on a VR tour of Antarctica, featuring 360-degree views of the landscape and wildlife encounters.

The scope of immersive experiences

These immersive experiences introduce a new dimension to art, education, marketing, tourism, and industrial settings, offering interactions that include virtual visits to remote locations or the integration of digital elements into our physical world. Key among immersive technologies are virtual reality (VR), which creates a fully digital environment for users to explore, and augmented reality (AR), which overlays digital information on the real world for an enriched experience.

In the realm of real-world expeditions, the Homeward Bound project stands out, sending dozens of women annually on a boat journey to the icy waters of Antarctica to promote female leadership, in collaboration with ACCIONA. For those interested in this unique expedition and potentially participating, an enlightening article was recently published detailing a participant’s firsthand account.

 

Sources:

Imágenes:

  • Dall-E/I’mnovation-Hub
  • Wikimedia Commons



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