Friday Funny: The Environmental Impact Of Dragons

Dragons are game changers in HBO’s Game of Thrones series. But what would happen if these massive beasts really did roam the planet?

In the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, dragons are game changers… but how would they impact the world if they really existed? During this year’s 35th annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling, COMAP asked students around the world to ponder the ecological ramifications of fiction coming to life by posing a world in which dragons roam the Earth.

Game of Thrones dragons contest
(Image: HBO / Game of Thrones)

A team from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD Mines) completed a 22-page research paper laying out their mathematical model during the four-day long contest, held in January. Students were tasked with researching the literature and TV series in order to come up with variables such as the caloric intake of an average dragon; their energy expenditures based on the ambient temperatures of the environment; how much area would be needed to support three dragons; and what resources would be required to sustain the dragon-related activities.

For the first part of a dragon’s life cycle, the team used real world animals such as a blue whale to estimate the energy consumption of a 10-year-old dragon. But, in the Game of Thrones series, dragons will continue to grow to fit their available space.

“There is a certain point where we had used the largest mammals in existence, so we had to start using machines,” explained Nicholas Chmielewski, a team member and math major at SD Mines.

The team looked at energy expenditures of a Boeing 747 airplane, the Saturn V rocket, and the Symphony of the Seas (the largest cruise ship on the planet) to model the energy impact of very large dragons. Since Dragons also breathe fire, the team used a World War II-era flamethrower which can shoot 60-foot flames to model the energy needed for a 10-year-old dragon.

“We could have gone more in-depth with more time, but we had to sacrifice certain things to fit the competition timeline,” said Chmielewski.

The team plugged in their variables and found that if these dragons become the size of the largest cruise ship in the world, they would consume 13 percent of the United States’ total cattle inventory annually. As a result, livestock producers in the U.S. and around the world would benefit due to increased demand.

The team found that the existence and survival of three dragons would not have a significant impact on the U.S. resources. In its paper, the SD Mines team concluded, “The existence of dragons is sustainable – results of which are fit for a queen.”

Game of Thrones dragons contest“This contest really shows off the creative aspect of mathematics,” said Kyle Riley, Ph.D., an associate professor in the math department at SD Mines. “The problems are open-ended and allow students to creatively apply the mathematics they have learned to solve problems and the problems posed are open to interpretation. The problem posed this year produces an excellent illustration on how to assess environmental impact and is open enough to allow students to approach the problem from a variety of directions.”

In addition to being fun, this activity demonstrates how math can be used to mimic environmental changes and predict outcomes. The math the students applied has wide-ranging applications, from predicting the impact of an invasive species such as Asian carp, to understanding the variables in the reintroduction of a predator species, such as wolves, to an area they previously roamed.