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Soon, explore Antarctic life in 360 degree VR from your home


Imagine putting on your virtual reality goggles and diving underneath the Antarctic ice to explore the rich, colourful and unique life on the seafloor. A new research expedition will make it possible.

Scientists will for the first time document an entire Antarctic expedition in 360 degree virtual reality (VR) so that the general public can get a glimpse of what life looks like under the ice shelf. The researchers, including those at the University of Helsinki in Finland, will examine how climate change affects Antarctic coastal ecosystems.

The group led by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand will set on an expedition to the coastal area near Scott Base on Ross Island, Antarctica.

The Antarctic and Southern Ocean play a powerful role in the interaction between the world’s oceans, climate and biodiversity, researchers said.

“The aim is to raise awareness about the unique and fragile Antarctic coastal under-ice ecosystems and the broader effect climate change might have on the ecosystems and the whole planet. Climate change affects the whole world, including the waters of Antarctica,” said Professor Alf Norkko from University of Helsinki.

During the six-week expedition to Antarctica, temperatures can go down to minus 40 degrees Celsius when the team stays in the field camp in tents.

“We want to touch the public; particularly the younger generation. They are the ones who will take over after us.

“Imagine being able to put on your VR goggles and dive underneath the 2-5 metre thick ice in Antarctica and see the rich, colourful and absolutely unique life on the seafloor,” Norkko said.

“In addition to raising awareness, we want to give everyone an opportunity to follow a real expedition during six weeks. From start to finish, from planning to actual field work, camping in tents on the sea ice, and beyond,” said Norkko.

The expedition will use a strong arctic vehicle, which pulls the entire equipment, weighing 22 tonnes in total. Another special, so-called Hagglund vehicle, of Swedish design will serve as the crew transportation vehicle. The group will have two snow mobiles, 32 cameras, three drones and one ROV, which is a small remotely controlled submarine and five 360 degree VR cameras with them.