The future of the planet – and of Filchner, a Gentoo penguin from Antartica – is in your hands. At least that’s the central message of Ice Flows, a browser and mobile game that demonstrates how the Antarctic ice sheet responds to climate change.
The game puts the player in control of ice flows in Antarctica and shows how they respond to alterations in the environment, whether that’s decreasing snowfall or increasing ocean temperatures.
It allows players to impose climactic changes that ultimately make it easier, or harder, for the penguins to catch fish. If you get it wrong, Filchner gets mauled to death by a leopard seal.
The game, developed by Anne Le Brocq, a lecturer at the University of Exeter, is designed to showcase the complex impact that a changing climate can have on the Antarctic ice sheet. It is being launched to coincide with the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research Open Science Conference in Kula Lumpur in August.
“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,” explained Le Brocq.
Though global warming is taking its toll on glacial ice in the Antarctic, Nasa has found that the accumulation of snowfall from thousands of years ago is adding enough ice to outweigh the losses from glacial thinning.
Data from the Goddard Space Flight Centre showed that the Antarctic ice sheet gained about 82 billion tons of ice per year between 2003 and 2008. If global temperature rises continue as projected, however, this net gain will be reversed over the next few decades.
Even though the overall amount of ice is slowly increasing, climate change can have a devastating impact on animals that live on or around glaciers. Earlier this year an estimated 150,000 Adelie penguins living in Antarctica died when a huge iceberg ran aground near their colony, leaving them with a 60 kilometre journey to the sea for food.