Virtual geographic environments
Virtual Geographic Environments (VGEs) are proposed as a new generation of geographic analysis tool to contribute to human understanding of the geographic world and assist in solving geographic problems at a deeper level.
It is also a multi-user shared,intelligent, virtual environment representing the real geographic environment to conduct geo-spatial analysis, to carry out geo-visualization, to support collaborative work, planning and decision making, as well as to serve for training, geographic education, and entertainment.
In short, as an extension of Michael Batty's virtual geography theory (Batty, 1997), VGEs are a type of typical web- and computer-based geographic environment built for geographic understanding and problem solving. By merging geographic knowledge, computer technology,virtual reality technology, network technology, and geographic information technology, VGEs are built with the objective of providing open, digital windows into geographic environments in the physical world, to allow users to ‘feel it in person’ by a means for augmenting the senses and to ‘know it beyond reality’ through geographic phenomena simulation and collaborative geographic experiments.
And also, a virtual geographic environment (VGE) is a type of workspace for computer-aided geographic experiments (CAGEs) and geographic analyses. By supporting geo-visualization, geo-simulation, geo-collaboration, and human participation, it provides open virtual environments that correspond to the real world to assist computer aided geographic experiments involving both the physical and human dimensions.
VGEs were created to provide virtual environments that correspond to the real world to allow the conduct of open CAGEs, in which human–environment interactions can be represented, simulated, and analyzed. Furthermore, VGEs can help researchers to reproduce the past, replicate the current world, and predict the future (Batty 1997; Lin and Gong 2001; Lin, Huang, and Lu 2009). With a VGE, researchers from different areas and fields can collaboratively perform CAGEs. First, they can build virtual geographic scenes of different scales with integrated geographic data derived from various resources. Second, the distribution and dynamics of geographic features not only involve statistical relationships but also mechanisms driving the phenomenon in question (Goodchild, Yuan, and Cova 2007). A VGE allows researchers to simulate and explore those dynamic geographic phenomena and processes using geographic analysis models (e.g., the Fifth- Generation Pennsylvania State University/National Center for Atmospheric Research Mesoscale Model or Gaussian Plume Model). Third, social factors can be subsequently incorporated into the virtual environment for geographic analysis and decision making. For example, emissions of polluted air caused by economic development and population expansion can be taken into account as negative impacts for experiments related to air quality management in the workspace. Public users can observe interactions between their activities and the resultant air quality change or directly participate in this virtual environment as avatars through multidimensional and multisense interactive interfaces, especially in microscenes, to experience and interact with the “real polluted world.” They can improve or worsen the situation through their virtual activities. In this way, users not only feel the environments “in person,” but they also “bring” their spatial knowledge and virtual spatial behaviors into the VGE. Fourth, based on the combined studies described earlier, multidisciplinary researchers can communicate and collaborate with corresponding tools to visually and interactively conduct and repeat comprehensive geographic experiments in a VGE. They can also verify the results, perform geographic analyses, and solve geographic issues.
Hui Lin, Min Chen*, Guonian Lv. 2013. Virtual Geographic Environment: A Workspace for Computer-Aided Geographic Experiments. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(3): 465-482.
Hui Lin, Min Chen*, Guonian Lu, Qing Zhu, Jianhua Gong, Xiong You, Yongning Wen, Bingli Xu, Mingyuan Hu. 2013. Virtual Geographic Environments (VGEs): a New Generation of Geographic Analysis Tool. Earth-Science Reviews,126:74-84.
—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————— Further Readings:
- Yin, L. and Hastings, J. 2007. “Capitalizing on Views: Assessing Visibility Using 3D Visualization and GIS Technologies for Hotel Development in the City of Niagara Falls, USA” Journal of Urban Technology, 14(3), pp59–82. 
- Yin, L. 2010. “Integrating 3D Visualization and GIS in Planning Education,” Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 34(3), pp419–438.