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Originally published Monday, July 2, 2012 at 6:58 PM

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iPad program will show glacier in virtual vistas of the past

Nathan Shafer, an "expanded media" artist from Anchorage, has an idea for restoring some of that lost ice from melting glaciers — at least on your iPad.

McClatchy Newspapers

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The retreat of Exit Glacier, near Seward, Alaska, has been recorded for almost 200 years. But Nathan Shafer, an "expanded media" artist from Anchorage, has an idea for restoring some of that lost ice — at least on your iPad.

The popular tourist site is the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park you can drive to, according to the National Park Service. It's also one of few glaciers in the world within relatively easy walking distance from a parking lot, a little more than a mile. Signs along the trail document where it terminated in years past.

"I want to digitally reconstruct the former termini of Exit Glacier and turn them into an augmented-reality, public-art project," Shafer says at his fundraising site on Kickstarter (( ).

"Augmented reality" — or AR — is something like a still photograph that's been enhanced or altered by photo-editing software. Shafer defined the art form as "when one adds a virtual element to the real world." He compared it to the digitally created first down lines superimposed on television broadcasts of football games.

Shafer said he has been doing this sort of work since 2009. His Institute for Speculative Media, which teaches new media to young people, was created in collaboration with Anchorage's Out North Contemporary Art House and the Anchorage School District. The group's first project was an after-school program in AR programming called the Augmented Inuksuit Project at Romig Middle School. Upcoming plans have him working with students at Highland Tech Charter School.

Out North hosted an international "guerrilla festival" of AR and mixed reality art called "Wintermoot" in March and plans to hold a second such event during the next Anchorage Fur Rendezvous.

The genre of art is intended to work on the short and quick scale. It seems to be most widely shared via smartphones. Shafer's Exit Glacier program will work with iPhones, Androids and other such multi-functional phones, and also on iPad 2 with the GPS enabled.

With iPad in hand, you will be able to stop at a select point and see what the glacier looked like from that perspective in a particular year.

"My big idea for these digital reconstructions is to take five of them and insert them into the virtual space around the real glacier using a combination of GPS, compass, live video and an accelerometer; and make them visible alongside the real world through a mobile device," he said. The AR models will be built into a 360 degree video of the glacier. The fully interactive video will be available as a free download, since cell service at the glacier is iffy to nil.

Shafer has received a research permit from the National Park Service to create the project. He expects it will be used by rangers who give regular tours of the site.

His Kickstarter appeal needs to raise $4,000 "to help me stay in Seward for a couple weeks this summer and finish up the models on site, and to bring along some technical help," he writes. "I also need to buy some equipment and a laptop that I can dedicate to some of the new software I will be using for this project."

People hoping to raise money in these online sites typically offer rewards for donations of a certain dollar amount. An author might offer a copy of the book underway; a dancer might agree to a private performance at the party of your choice. Among the rewards offered by Shafer is one particularly suited to the subject.

"I am now going to offer a filet red salmon caught and smoked by me for a donation of $250 dollars," he recently posted. There's a limit of 20, which, if reached, would put him well ahead of his goal.

But the clock is ticking. The deadline for reaching Shafer's Kickstarter goal is Friday evening.

Find out more about the Exit Glacier project at

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