Meet CLIVE: an environmental fortune teller



Combining 3D game engines and spatial data, researchers from SFU and the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) have developed an interactive geo-visualization tool that illustrates the geographical past and predicts future impacts of rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

Coastal Impact Visualization Environment, or CLIVE, allows its audience to virtually fly around PEI and view coastlines from 1968, 2010, and their projected locations for 2100. CLIVE can be viewed on computers, HD TVs, and even smartphones.

The tool predicts that if the patterns of erosion and rising sea levels continue, up to 1,000 homes on PEI could be destroyed within the next 90 years.

What began as a summer research position in PEI for SFU environmental science student Alex Chen resulted in the creation of the first three-dimensional platform for presenting the raw evidence and impacts of climate change to the general public.

Adam Fenech of UPEI recognized Chen’s keen interest and skillset and urged him to combine the high-resolution spatial data of PEI’s coastlines with a game engine called Unity 3D, creating the foundation for CLIVE.

In order to predict the future effects of rising sea levels and erosion on PEI’s coastlines, the team of two students and two professors analyzed elevation images and climate models, and conducted a great deal of research in international and local climate change studies.

According to co-developer Nick Hedley, director of SFU’s Spatial Interface Research Lab, “[CLIVE] literally provides an interface between scientific models and citizens in society […] providing a way to see and explore the data, without dumbing down the science.”

By allowing citizens and stakeholders to actually see the impact of climate change on their coastlines in a 3D environment — rather than just hearing about it through the news and in environmental reports — the creators of CLIVE hope to engage more people in dialogue and stimulate preventative action.

Hedley urges his students to combine good spatial analysis with gaming technology: “If you take out the guns and sci-fi, replace them with good data, put them in a 3D game engine environment, you’ve got a very powerful environment in which to represent 3D spatial phenomena, and then interact with them.”

The tool was recently presented to officials from both the provincial and municipal governments in PEI, with the hopes that they might utilize it as an educational and planning tool.

CLIVE has been designed as a “modular conduit”: when equipped with regional data, it should be able to foresee the future of any coastline. Although the first version of CLIVE only encompasses PEI, Chen and Hedley are currently attempting to identify the most suitable, high-definition spatial data of BC’s coastlines.

BC’s expansive and relatively diverse geology, compared to PEI’s much smaller and majorly sandstone coastlines, will require some slight customization to the next version of CLIVE.