Climate project based on video game wins MIT prize

By Kayla Fraser
Oct. 8, 2014

It all started when a UPEI student suggested Professor Adam Fenech put coastal erosion data in a video game.
Now, that project is the top prizewinner at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, MIT.
UPEI’s Climate Research Lab’s coastal erosion visualization tool is known as CLIVE.
Built in partnership with the Spatial Interference Lab at Simon Fraser University, it takes video game technology and applies it to environmental science. It allows the user to fly over the Island and close in specific places to see raised or lower sea levels.
Fenech liked the idea from the start.
“I thought that would be kind of neat,” said the director of UPEI’s Climate Research Lab.
Students Andrew Doiron and Alex Chen did most of the hard work, Fenech said. Doiron is a masters candidate at UPEI. Chen is doing his masters in science at the University of Toronto.
He provided the scientific data, Doiron and Chen created the game-like simulator to show how coastline erosion happens on P.E.I., Fenech said.
“They were both my students. They were ones doing all the heavy lifting. They’re doing all the program work. They know how to use a video games and I don’t know how to use a game controller, but they’re really good at that.”
CLIVE was first introduced at UPEI on April 22, 2013 for Earth Day and it received a good response.
“We showed the sea level water rising and swamping parts of the city of Charlottetown. There were audible gasps in the crowd, so I thought, oh I think we’re up to something,” Fenech said.
And they were.
CLIVE won the Massachusetts Institute for Technology’s Center for Collective Intelligence contest on Communicating Coastal Risk and Resilience.
Nearly 600 projects were submitted to the competition. CLIVE faced several rounds of competition before reaching the finals against two other projects. Through online voting and plenty of support, it won the Popular Choice award.
It was really great to win the competition, Fenech said.
“It was really nice to see the UPEI community and friends and family get behind the contest and really made it possible for us to win.”
Project coordinator Don Jardine said it means good promotion for the project.
“What it means to me is CLIVE has been recognized for its innovation of the visual technique of showing people the impact of coastal erosion on the coastline of Prince Edward Island because of its 3D simulation of the coastline.
“It’s become a very direct way to communicate to people of what’s happening to our coastline.”
In July and August, researchers from the lab took CLIVE to eight different communities across P.E.I.
“We had pretty good turnouts at the sessions, which is another indication that it’s a widely accepted program,” said Jardine.
“It’s created quite a stir in terms of the local community. The people that own property along the coastline were at the sessions and they were really concerned about what’s happening.”
Fenech said the project can show coastal erosion and how it affects specific places.
“It’s also able to look into the future a bit and show what future sea level rise and what time will do under current rates of coastal erosion,” he said.
“And in some cases, that can be quite frightening. So what it’s done is, it’s allowed the Island to understand in a quantitative way the risk of the future climate change, future sea level rise and future coastal erosion.”
Fenech and his team will attend the award ceremony on Nov. 6 at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts.