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NOAA Sets Up Shop In Second Life

There's something counterintuitive about entering a virtual world to learn about reality. But that's what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aims to encourage.

NOAA has opened a research station on an island in Second Life, the popular 3D virtual environment, to educate avatars about life on planet earth.

The island, launched by NOAA's Earth System Research Lab (ESRL) on Thursday, is called Meteora. It offers hurricane, submarine, and weather balloon rides, a tsunami-training beach, a planetarium, and other educational experiences.

"We're experimenting with new ways to conduct science and public education that appeal to a different sensibility and may help a new audience get excited about Earth science," said ESRL director Alexander (Sandy) MacDonald, in a statement. "Recruiting the next generation of Earth scientists is a priority for NOAA. Our site offers visitors a way to experience the planet through reality-based virtual adventures. Some of them may have shied away from science in the past."

While it's not entirely clear how the island will end up serving NOAA's mission to enhance the nation's economic security through environmental science, the agency sees value in experimenting with Second Life. ESRL's Eric Hackathorn, who helped develop the island with the help of Second Life design company Aimee Weber Studios, speculates that Web sites in the future may end up looking like Second Life.