Around the Block: Snowy Beach

Are you shore?

Minecraft’s terrain generation algorithm is complicated. It takes place in several stages-first the land and the sea, then the climate of a particular area, then the biomes that fit into that climate, and then finally smaller “transition” biomes are created to make sure that things blend nicely into each other.

Today, we’re exploring one of those transition biomes-specifically, a biome that generates when snowy tundra or snowy taiga generate next to an ocean. Grab your bucket & spade, and snow shovel. It’s the snowy beach.

Beaches have a long and complex history in Minecraft. Originally they were coded as structures – like villages or desert temples. Those were removed in beta version 1.8, then proper beach biomes were added again as part of the 1.1 update, alongside spawn eggs and 56 different languages.

The algorithm that generates beaches was improved substantially in version 1.2.1 in March 2012, but it wasn’t until the Update Aquatic in July 2018, when turtles became a part of Minecraft, that beaches got some love again – taking the form that they have today.

What can you expect to find on a visit to a snowy beach? A lot of snow, obviously. But dig through its powdery layers and you’ll discover another powdery layer underneath – sand! Just the thing for cooking up into windows so the cold winds don’t blow through your tundra house. You’ll also find a few other useful resources here and there – clay, gravel, and sandstone. 

In the water, temperatures are cold enough that the surface will frequently freeze into ice, which is great for slip-sliding away from incoming hordes of zombies. You won’t find any turtles in this cold water, but rabbits will happily spawn on snowy beaches – with their fur keeping them warm.

You should also keep your eye out for treasure. Ships often get caught in the ice off the coast and smash against the shore, leaving behind a shipwreck that can be looted for goodies. Some of those shipwrecks will even contain maps to find buried treasure.

In the real world, we don’t often think of beaches as cold and snowy places. They’re usually warm and overcrowded. But below the ice at the North Pole is a huge ocean, and the edges of that ocean – along the coasts of Canada, Alaska, Russia, and the Nordic countries – are home to many beaches.

Every winter, as the water freezes, ice is pushed up onto the shore and this, in turn, pushes the beaches’ stones or sand up into huge mounds. These mounds often end up scattered all over the place, like a bulldozed construction site. Arctic animals like walruses, seals, and polar bears roam through these chaotic landscapes – hunting for food and shelter in either the midnight sun or the polar night.

Unfortunately, climate change is making food and shelter harder to find – and this is bringing those animals into conflict with humans. In February 2019, in the Russian polar archipelago of Novaya Zemlya, dozens of polar bears invaded villages, trying to enter homes and other inhabited buildings. They were eventually chased off without violence, but these kinds of events are likely to become more common as polar bears are deprived of their hunting grounds by melting sea ice.

In Minecraft, we have polar bears too – so if you do end up building a house on a frozen beach then be sure to install a door and use it. Otherwise, you never know what you might come home to...

Duncan Geere
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Duncan Geere
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