Virtual island offers real-world earth science lessons

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently launched what it says is the first government-sponsored, earth-science “island” on the popular virtual world of Second Life. Visitors to the site can virtually “experience” several earth-science phenomena while learning about the cutting-edge science that NOAA conducts regularly. Second Life is a three-dimensional virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. On NOAA’s island, users can soar through a hurricane on the wing of a research aircraft, rise gently through the atmosphere atop a weather balloon, or search for a hidden underwater cave on a side trip from an NOAA submersible. One climate-change scenario illustrates a warming world with melting glaciers and rising sea levels, while a virtual beach demonstrates how to recognize the onset of a tsunami–and eventually the site might enhance public awareness of rip tides, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. To visit the island with their classes, teachers must sign up for a free Second Life account. After a short orientation process, users follow a link to be “teleported” straight to NOAA’s island. The site was developed by the NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab (ESRL).

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