Tunnel replica

Under the Arctic: Digging Into Permafrost

Museum Services

Case Study

Problem 

Create a replica permafrost research tunnel for OMSI’s newest traveling exhibit, Under the Arctic.

Solution 

Hire a renowned large-scale environment sculptor to create a life-like reproduction of the tunnel.

Outcome 

An immersive experience so moving and lifelike that visitors can feel a chill in the air and smell the earth within the tunnel.

Services 

Experience Design
Research & Development

Project Leads 

Vicki Coats
Allyson Woodard
Kirby Jones
Jaclyn Barber
Joe Bartley
Catherine Diaz

Under the Arctic: Digging Into Permafrost is a new traveling exhibition OMSI developed in partnership with the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). The exhibit confronts one of the most important issues of today: climate change.

The key experience of the exhibit is a replica of North America’s only permafrost research tunnel, where visitors can see ice-structures that are usually hidden. In order to create a truly immersive environment, OMSI contracted expert environment sculptor Jonquil LeMaster to construct the research tunnel replica. LeMaster, whose impressive credentials include habitats for the San Diego Zoo and installations at the Sacramento Airport, believes that the tunnel will truly heighten the visitor experience.

Rendering of tunnel research facility entrance

LeMaster initially had some reservations. Due to the exhibit’s traveling nature, there were certain constraints to the tunnel’s design. Her misgivings melted away, however, as soon as she set foot in the permafrost research tunnel located in Fairbanks, Alaska.

"It's easy to remain a little distant from what you’re doing," she said. "Until I was in the permafrost tunnel environment, I would have never known that there was anything beautiful about it, or fabulous about it. Once you’re there, it’s extraordinary really."

After her visit, LeMaster was imbued with a sense of purpose. "The truth of the matter is that percentage wise, no one is going to see that tunnel," she said. "Very few people are going to see permafrost under the ground, and that’s where the impact is."
 

LeMaster set her sights on creating a replica so realistic that visitors would be transported to the underground world of permafrost.
 
The result is a stunning 220-square foot tunnel that executes this goal brilliantly. Dripping ice crystal facsimiles glisten on the walls, and fossil reproductions peek out from the soil, hinting at long-lost worlds. As you walk through the tunnel, it’s almost impossible not to feel a chill in the air.
 
"Hopefully it is powerful enough, beautiful enough, interesting enough, that anyone would look at and they’d be moved somehow," LeMaster said. "Is that possible? Aren’t we moved by the world around us? I know I certainly am."

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