Second Life is increasingly being used by major brands and advertising agencies to promote their products – allowing Second Lifers to buy virtual Nike trainers from Niketown in Second Life, lattés in their 'local' Starbucks and to have a beer or two in Heineken-branded bars in the virtual world.

So it was a refreshing change to discover that a UK-based charity, Adventure Ecology, last week partnered with the advertising agency Ogilvy for altogether more altruistic reasons. With the co-operation of Anshe Chung, Second Lifers awoke last Tuesday morning to discover that their favourite haunts were submerged under water.

In an effort to raise awareness about the effects of climate change, London’s Knightsbridge district, the Netherlands, Ibiza and Tokyo (among the same low-lying areas in the real world that are likely to be swamped by rising sea levels) were flooded. David de Rothschild, founder of educational environmental charity Adventure Ecology, explained that because of the computer equipment required to power Second Life, one avatar in the virtual world consumes as much energy as the average real-world Brazilian.

"The idea was, this happened virtually, but this could really happen in real life and you need to do something about it," he said.

According to Giles Rhys Jones, a director at Ogilvy UK, projects on the scale of the Adventure Ecology Flood have previously been impossible within Second Life as each territory is owned and controlled by individual avatars. But with the help of Anshe Chung, the largest real-estate developer in Second Life, Adventure Ecology was granted special permission to flood a vast area of Second Life on an unprecedented scale.

View video of the flood here.