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Atmospheric Forest

VR visualization by Rasa Smite

Atmospheric Forest is a VR installation that visualizes the complex relations between a forest, climate change and the atmosphere.

Overall, the trees are not only oxygen generators, they breathe as well. Trees emit large amounts of volatile organic compounds that we can sense as a habitual scent of the forest.
Scientists have long known about the link between the fragrant forest and warming climate, but are uncertain about its impact and scale. While some believe that the strong smell of a pine forest indicates that climate change can be limited, others suggest that the volatile emissions could make global warming worse.

Predicting the effects of natural volatile emissions is much more complex than thought.

Atmospheric Forest VR installation reveals patterns of this complexity by visualizing the data of volatile emissions and resin pressure in pine trees. It is an outcome of a three-year artistic research project on Pfynwald, an ancient Alpine coniferous forest, suffering from drought, which Swiss scientists have turned into a 'living observatory'. The data from the trees in both irrigated and dry areas of Pfynwald during one growing season were provided by the scientists.

To create the Atmospheric Forest in VR, the scientific laser scanner was used to scan the Pfynwald in point cloud. The viewer can navigate through the emitting trees of virtual forest, and notice the watchtower, pink labels attached to the plants, measuring belts around the barks, and other scientific artefacts. The viewer also can observe the forest ecosystem from the bottom up, and follow the path through the tree trunk to get far up above the forest, becoming a part of the emitting forest ecosystem that connects 'terrestrial' and 'atmospheric'.

Expanding the artistic research on volatile emissions, the resin, responsible for the pine scent, was harvested during the various field trips to Pfynwald and transformed into the volatile liquid of turpentine and colophon sculpture, accompanying VR installation.

Uncertainty regarding the effects of volatile emissions remains. However, the visualized patterns show that with climate change we are set for a more fragrant and more "atmospheric forest" in the future.

Resin Experiment

Visualizing Emissions

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