The Interactive Graphics and Virtual Reality to Communicate Research on Clouds & Precipitation project aims to use interactive graphics and explore virtual reality as novel approaches for understanding, communicating, and engaging with data on clouds and precipitation, in partnership with the University of Arizona. 

Clouds can exist over only a few hundred meters and can evolve quickly in time. Their properties are determined both by the physics of crystals and droplets that occurs at the micrometer scale and circulations that extend over thousands of kilometers. This complexity of clouds has made them the largest source of uncertainty in climate projections, prompted an influx of researchers to study them, and catalyzed dramatic growth in the scientific literature. 

Indeed, the number of articles on clouds and climate has been doubling every eight years relative to 16- or 19-year doubling times for physics and biomedical articles respectively. This exponential increase in research activity poses challenges to reproducibility, retention, and prioritization. How consistent are findings, and what causes contradicting results? How should individual researchers most efficiently stay on top of the literature? How does the research community know which questions are most urgent to address?

Within this context of accelerating output, this project aims to explore computational tools —focused on the links of small-scale cloud physics (microphysics), buoyancy, and precipitation—with the goals 1) to provide an alternative to traditional articles for comprehending and retaining results; and 2) to facilitate synthesis across studies, both for students and more established researchers. This will be completed through creation of an online graphical user interface to communicate and validate existing results on microphysics-buoyancy-precipitation links and exploration of the possibility of virtual reality to interact with observations and model output on clouds.

This project will build capacity at the University of Arizona to expand on the university’s research to include experience in exploratory visualization. Currently, the campus utilizes its virtual reality systems towards gaming, and not research, and for immersive learning within its College of Humanities and game development within its School of Information. Dr. Sullivan’s research group will also benefit greatly from these expanded computational resources.

The Interactive Graphics and Virtual Reality to Communicate Research on Clouds & Precipitation project is being developed in partnership with the University of Arizona and the NCAR Computation and Information Systems Laboratory’s (CISL) Visualization Services and Research Group.