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Santa Monica Pier ‘Owl’ Virtual Reality Installation

Focus Areas > Climate Change > Santa Monica Pier 'Owl' Virtual Reality Installation


Project Overview
  • Project Timing: 2016 - 2017


                Caption: View 180 degree visualizations of the Santa Monica shoreline with future levels of sea level rise.

USC Sea Grant
helped develop a new virtual reality installation that was installed on the Santa Monica Pier from November 14, 2016  - January 14, 2017. The installation, nicknamed the “Owl” due to its appearance, was a pair of freestanding viewers that reveal how sea level rise and coastal storms will affect the Santa Monica shoreline. Will its iconic beaches be underwater in 30 years? 

  • Educator Guidelines to engage students with the Owl visualizations and climate change adaptation are HERE

Inside the Owl

The public can walk up and look inside the Owl to see an immersive virtual reality display showing panoramic views of Santa Monica Beach. The public can see how the beach and infrastructure will flood with sea level rise and big storms by the end of the century. The virtual reality display was created specifically for the Pier location – the public can look out from the pier and see the shoreline and sea level as it is today, and then look into the Owl to see how this exact stretch of beach will change with sea level rise. 

Located on the north side of the Pier, this is the first Owl to be installed in Southern California. The effort is led by the City of Santa Monica in collaboration with USC Sea Grant and U.S. Geological Survey. USC Sea Grant is providing science support, outreach, and some funding for the project. 

Public Engagement

As an innovative tool for ‘on location’ public engagement, the Owl offers a glimpse into the future and shows options, such as sand dunes, that will reduce the risk of coastal flooding and beach erosion. The Owl’s visuals are accompanied by narration and include an important survey for the public. The survey will help the City of Santa Monica engage local residents in its planning efforts to reduce the risks from climate change and gauge levels of concern about sea level rise and views on natural options to protect the shoreline. The survey will help inform two important planning efforts underway by the City of Santa Monica: the Local Coastal Program Update
and the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan

Sea Level Rise

The sea level rise scenarios visualized in the Santa Monica Owl were created using state of the art scientific models developed by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). As part of our region-wide AdaptLA project, USC Sea Grant provides technical assistance and outreach on the USGS CoSMoS models and helps build capacity in coastal communities as they begin to plan for impacts from sea level rise.

Sea level rise in Southern California is expected to match global projections with an increase of 5-24 inches from 2000 to 2050 and
17-66 inches from 2000 to 2100.  Sea level rise, in combination with the impacts from coastal storms, will expedite many of the natural processes that already occur, such as erosion and beach loss. Current beach management practices will not be able to keep pace with accelerating rates of sea level rise, so we will start to see more and more changes to our beaches. As the sea level increases, there will be a gradual landward movement of water up the beach and the beach will narrow. As cities begin to plan for these impacts, it is vital to engage the public so that local communities understand and support policies implemented to reduce the risks. 

Resource (PDF by USGS): Sea Level Rise 101 & Visualizing the Science

For more information, contact  Nick Sadrpour | 213.740.1937

  • USC Sea Grant
  • 3454 Trousdale Pkwy, CAS 200
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0373
  • (213) 740 - 1961