Visualizing Consequences and Perceptions of Risk


This research seeks to understand the ways in which depicting the consequences of storm surge and sea level rise impact perceptions of risk.  It will provide guidance for creators of realistic and semi-realistic 3d visualizations known as “landscape visualizations”, emergency managers, planners, and policy makers.

Landscape visualizations of storm surge and sea level rise play an increasingly important role in decision making processes as communities confront the challenge of rising sea levels. Depicting inundation alone, however, may be inadequate as citizens and stakeholders tend to underestimate the consequences of storm surge. As advancements in visualization technology make it possible to depict consequences such as damage or debris, it is important to understand the implications these practices.

As compared to maps, landscape visualizations can better communicate complex and nuanced information and can create more affective (emotional) responses on the part of the viewer. Since landscape visualizations create affective responses, landscape visualizations that include consequences may be effective tools for communicating risk. Research has shown that cognitive understanding of risk alone may create misperceptions of risk when not aligned with an emotional response. However, realism can also create false impressions of certainty and invoke viewer assumptions that strain scientific credibility. If landscape visualizations intended to depict risk are to be useful, there must be effective tools for validating them and substantive ethical and technical standards for their creators.

Research into realistic visualizations at URI has three major components:

  • Develop technical methods to connect local hydrodynamic modelling and other simulations to visualization tools.
  • Establish ethical frameworks and methods of validating visualizations that can be applied in transdisciplinary contexts.
  • Understand how the depiction of consequences influences perceptions of risk among local and non-local stakeholders and experts.


For more on this research project, click here to download the one page description.