Virtual geographic environments in socio-environmental modeling: a fancy distraction or a key to communication?

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Digital Earth, 2018, 11 (4), pp. 408 - 419
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© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Modeling and simulation are recognized as effective tools for management and decision support across various disciplines; however, poor communication of results to the end users is a major obstacle for properly using and understanding model output. Visualizations can play an essential role in making modeling results accessible for management and decision-making. Virtual reality (VR) and virtual geographic environments (VGEs) are popular and potentially very rewarding ways to visualize socio-environmental models. However, there is a fundamental conflict between abstraction and realism: models are goal-driven, and created to simplify reality and to focus on certain crucial aspects of the system; VR, in the meanwhile, by definition, attempts to replicate reality as closely as possible. This elevated realism may add to the complexity curse in modeling, and the message might be diluted by too many (background) details. This is also connected to information overload and cognitive load. Moreover, modeling is always associated with the treatment of uncertainty–something difficult to present in VR. In this paper, we examine the use of VR and, specifically, VGEs in socio-environmental modeling, and discuss how VGEs and simulation modeling can be married in a mutually beneficial way that makes VGEs more effective for users, while enhancing simulation models.
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