As the largest mass of ice on Earth, changes to the Antarctic Ice Sheet could have quite an impact on global sea levels. But like so many possible consequences of a changing climate, the mechanics of this are pretty complicated. In an effort to present the dilemma in an engaging and digestible way, scientists have produced an interactive game that hands players the environmental reins and places the lives of Antarctica's penguins at stake.
Called Ice Flows, the game was created by scientists at England's University of Exeter who teamed up with developers as part of a research project investigating the Filchner Ice Shelf system in Antarctica.
Just as a scientists might alter certain environmental factors in modelling experiments to see how the ice sheet is affected, players can control the level of snowfall and sea temperature to shape the habitat of Antarctic penguins and keep them satisfied. This might mean boosting ice levels to allow the penguins to high-five birds, or melting it away so they can feed on fish in the sea. But get it wrong and the penguins could end up being snaffled in the jaws of a leopard seal.
"The response of the Antarctic Ice Sheet to a changing climate is very complex and, as a result, is difficult to communicate in a clear and understandable way," says Anne Le Brocq, senior lecturer in Physical Geography at the University of Exeter. "The use of a game helps not only to visualise the system, but also to provide an immersive environment for the player to fully understand the behaviour of the ice sheet and how it responds to changes in the environment. Hopefully it's fun to play too!".
Ice Flows is free as a smartphone app for iOS or Android devices, or alternatively can be played online in a desktop browser.
Source: University of Exeter
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