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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Visualising the industrial north : exploring new ways to engage and inform the public on the physical footprint and scale of very large resource extraction projects such as the Alberta tar sands open pit mines and associated pipelines Cizek, Petr

Abstract

Using the Alberta tar sands open pit mines and associated pipelines as a case study, the effectiveness of maps and landscape visualisation displayed within virtual globes in informing public perception of large-scale landscape disturbance and associated impacts is evaluated. While controversy swirls around the tar sands, this proposed “gigaproject” has never been assessed, mapped, or visualised in its totality. Comprehensive mapping and landscape visualisation of this “gigaproject” may be essential for the public and practitioners to understand, debate, and discuss the full scope and scale of this “gigaproject”. Focus groups with a total of 32 members of the general public were conducted in Vancouver and Edmonton. In a typical computer lab setting, participants viewed a Google Earth project showing the cumulative development of the scale and physical footprint of tar sands open pit mines on individual computers. Participants completed an initial and follow up questionnaire as well as engaged in discussion and presentations that were facilitated by the researcher. Based on the results of the focus group study, after viewing using interactive multi-scale media, participants experienced significant learning; perceived the geographic area of the projects as larger than before viewing; in some cases over-estimated the spatial extent and growth of the projects; became significantly more opposed to future projects but not to existing projects; and expressed emotional reactions due to disclosure of key aspects of the project enhanced by the benefits of the display medium. Significantly more participants found 2D maps to be more believable than 3D visualisations. Most participants found interacting with Google Earth virtual globes to be useful in displaying the tar sands project. Major implications of this study are that using virtual globes, such as Google Earth, that allow for seamless transition between multiple scales to visualize very large but poorly understood projects, can increase people's awareness of scale and other environmental implications and may affect peoples’ perception and opinion of those projects negatively. The study suggests that visualization of large irregular disturbances may lead to some overestimation of actual spatial extent, but this does not appear to be related to the negativity of opinions.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada

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