Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Math of Dragons — Modeling the Environmental Impact of Game of Thrones Dragons

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.

In the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, dragons are game changers. During this year’s 35th annual Mathematical Contest in Modeling, students around the world were asked to ponder what would really happen if the massive predators were unleashed on the planet.

A team from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology 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,” says 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.

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,” Chmielewski says.

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. Livestock producers in the United States and around the world would benefit due to a need for an uptick in production. The team concluded that the existence and survival of three dragons does not have a significant impact on the United States’ resources. In their paper, the Mines’ team concludes, “The existence of dragons is sustainable - results of which are fit for a queen.”

“This contest really shows off the creative aspect of mathematics,” says 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.”

This activity is for fun, but it demonstrates how math can be used to mimic environmental changes and predict outcomes. The math the students are practicing here 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.

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About SD Mines  

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,654 students with an average class size of 24. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $63,350. Find us online at sdsmt.edu and on  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Snapchat

Contact: Mike Ray , 605-394-6082, Mike.Ray@sdsmt.edu