Global warming

Visitors will be able to view virtual scenarios of future glaciers from a secure platform.Pictures from the Bachelor thesis “After the permanent ice” (2016) by Noemi Chow. The thesis and the resulting cooperation formed the basis for the “Expedition 2 Degrees” project.

How Virtual Reality is contributing to behavioural change

What are the consequences of the global rise in temperature for our society? At Zurich University of the Arts, a Knowledge Visualization team is developing the “Expedition 2 Degrees” project. ZHdK lecturer Niklaus Heeb and research associate Jonas Christen are applying Virtual Reality (VR) to illustrate what happens in alpine regions when the earth’s temperature rises by more than 2 degrees Celsius.


Lea Dahinden: The “Expedition 2 Degrees” project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation SNSF and involves cooperation with several partners, including the Department of Geosciences at the University of Fribourg. Who benefits from whom?
Niklaus Heeb: The University of Fribourg provides us with the geodata we need for our models. The problem is that the geological data is not easy to understand. On the other hand, we can’t collect any data ourselves, but we can use our know-how to develop scenarios that people not only understand, but can even experience thanks to virtual reality. Expedition 2 Degrees is a pioneering project for our discipline. I am convinced that VR can change people’s minds.

Expedition 2 Degrees is both scientific and emotional. Which part predominates?
Niklaus Heeb: We want people to feel concerned and are therefore focusing on experience. VR acquaints visitors with a world that will become reality when the earth’s temperature rises by two degrees and more. We want to surprise people and to encourage them to find out about the causes of climate change. They are meant to discuss the issue, and thereby to rethink and change their own behaviour. We intend to achieve this through emotional address.

How exactly?
Jonas Christen: Storytelling is crucial. We tell a story that spans several generations. Our target group are secondary school pupils; we take them on a journey through time that begins in 1880, when the English scientist and mountaineer John Tyndall looked out over the Aletsch Glacier from his hotel in the village of Belalp. Tyndall was the first to identify the gases responsible for the natural greenhouse effect. Our journey continues to a time when the pupils’ grandparents were still young. But we also show what things look like today, and last but not least we simulate the year 2070 — a time when our audience might have grandchildren of their own.

Jonas, you are responsible for the models, the main part of the creative work and the concept. Are there also limits in the virtual world?
Jonas Christen: Creating a rockfall right next to users, for example, would be too forceful. People would leap aside and endanger themselves in real life. Our goal with Expedition 2 Degrees is to promote dialogue between science and society. This also involves challenges: although we want to shock people a little, we still want to remain credible and work scientifically.

Why is your project aimed at school classes?
Niklaus Heeb: Today’s pupils are tomorrow’s decision makers. It is important that this generation knows what the consequences of global warming might be. After the VR experience, students discuss the causes and effects of climate change under professional supervision. Our team also includes an environmental psychologist and the Pädagogische Hochschule Graubünden, which is developing educational formats beyond the VR experience. Reflection is key to Expedition 2 Degrees, because we need behaviour to change on the political, economic and individual level.
Jonas Christen: We want pupils to take their experiences home and to continue discussing the issues with their families at the kitchen table… and thus to initiate an urgently needed broader social discourse and rethinking.

In 2015, the United Nations defined the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius in the Paris Convention. ZHdK’s Knowledge Visualization research group is using VR to provide an interactive experience of how rising temperatures are affecting the alpine region. VR also conveys the project’s goals in a clearly understandable way. Partners are the Department of Geosciences at the University of Fribourg, the Pädagogische Hochschule Graubünden as well as several alpine museums such as the Visitor Centre of the Swiss National Park and the World Nature Forum in Naters.
Visitor Centre of the Swiss National Park, Zernez: 2 April–22 August 2019
World Nature Forum, Naters: 10 September 2019–23 January 2020
ZHdK: Niklaus Heeb (, Jonas Christen (, Reto Spoerri (, Noemi Chow (
Universität Fribourg, Universität Zürich: Martin Hoelze, Andreas Linsbauer, Bruno Meeus, Martin Scherler
Pädagogische Hochschule Graubünden: Felix Keller, Andreas Imhof
Universität Fribourg, Universität Zürich: Martin Hoelze, Andreas Linsbauer, Bruno Meeus, Martin Scherler
Pädagogische Hochschule Graubünden: Felix Keller, Andreas Imhof
Lea Dahinden ( is a project manager at ZHdK University Communications.
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