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Tsunami Experience brought to Virtual Reality

Spotlight On:

Dr. Yvonne Coady
University of Victoria
Computer Science

At the University of Victoria, Computer Science Professor Dr. Yvonne Coady and her research team are taking a new spin on studying tsunamis. Working with Dr. Tania L. Insua at Oceans Network Canada (ONC) with support from IBM and NSERC, they have created a virtual reality (VR) game that gives a more compelling way to experience the research.

Their tsunami research was recently featured in a CBC article highlighting how Dr. Coady and her team are showing their research to the public using a VR headset that immerses users in an interactive game-like simulation that accurately portrays a tsunami that hit Port Alberni in 1700. This provides a way for the public to interact with scientific data and raise awareness about tsunamis and preparedness.

Tsunamis are multiple ocean waves that can impact shore for a long period of time and are often caused by earthquakes. It's not just the first wave that causes problems but successive waves can cause considerable damage as well. The base destruction of an earthquake followed by a tsunami is large, including fire outbreaks, power outages, gas leaks and health hazards caused by sewage release.

The play through of the game is like having a top down view of an accurate digital elevation model of Port Alberni. You have a magnifying glass in one hand that allows you to look closer to the map. The game starts off with an earthquake where you then take care of any damage caused by the earthquake, such as calling the fire department to direct them towards the blaze. The player then gets a tsunami warning, and can see how the waves take over the city. The goal of the game is to minimize the amount of damage the tsunami can cause to people in the community. In May 2018, Dr. Coady and her team had the chance to showcase this VR game at the 2018 BCTECH Summit.

These simulations that Dr. Coady and her team run are based on data from a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami similar to what would have happened to Port Alberni. The team is continuing to create these kinds of simulations by using WestGrid and Compute Canada resources to both store data and develop models. Without the latest tools and computing architecture hardware, Dr. Coady says it would be difficult to impossible to run these simulations.

“Without the investments in the latest hardware and networking infrastructure provided by Compute Canada these advances in data analytics and scientific computing would be inaccessible to Canadian researchers,” said Dr. Coady.

She and Dr. Insua are actively collecting more data from other recorded tsunamis and running new simulations to increase the accuracy of their simulations so that when actual waves do strike, cities can minimize the damage before they fully hit. 

Dr. Coady’s research impacts Canadians by increasing the ability of researchers to analyze data effectively and efficiently, to provide engaging and enjoyable presentations of scientific data to the public, and to increase the interrelation of disparate data sets in a common computing environment to derive new insights. Dr. Coady is also the holder of a Natural Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) discovery award and has won a competitive IBM Faculty Research Award.