If you’ve been enjoying the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, we have bad news for you. Climate change could be jeopardizing the future of this popular quadrennial sporting event.
Competitions such as ski jumping, bobsleigh racing, and snowboarding require a lot of snow and ice, which means host countries should really have average daily temperatures of below freezing.
Sadly, thanks to global warming, locations that have traditionally been perfect for the Games may not be up to scratch by the mid-century. This is the conclusion of researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, who published their initial findings in 2015 in the journal Current Issues in Tourism. The study has recently been updated to include Pyeongchang (2018) and Beijing (2022).
The team, led by geography professor Daniel Scott, analyzed climate data from the former host locations and used models to predict the effect climate change will have on February temperatures in throughout the next century. First, they considered a low-emission model, where average global temps increase by 2.6°F by 2100. Then, they considered a high-emission model, where average global temps rise by 8.5°F.
Shockingly, nine former sites would be considered “unreliable” or "high risk" hosts by 2080 under the low-emission model. This rises to 13 under the high-emission scenario. By 2050, between eight (low-emission) and nine (high-emission) locations would already be judged “unreliable” or "high risk".
So, what can be done about it?
Well, one solution is to use artificial snow. This is done by pumping highly-pressurized water through tiny nozzles, which freezes in cold air and transforms into "snow". There is one little problem, however.
“You’re relying on cold air to do the refrigeration for you,” Scott told the New York Times. This won’t happen if the air is above sub-zero.
Alternatively, you could bank snow from an earlier winter or cover bales of straw with a combination of artificial snow and natural snow excavated from somewhere colder. This is what they did in Sochi (2014) and Vancouver (2010) respectively, when temperatures were above freezing.
However, both times athletes complained of poor conditions.
There is the option to bring competitions inside, though this might work a little better for figure skating than it does for alpine skiing.
More likely, we'll see the list of possible locations shrink and the same sites will take it in turns to hold the Winter Olympic Games.
Which former Games hosts will pass muster in 2050? In order of reliability:
Sochi, Russia (2014) – unreliable
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany (1936) – unreliable
Vancouver, Canada (2010) – unreliable
Oslo, Norway (1952) – high risk
Chamonix, France (1924) – high risk
Innsbruck, Austria (1964, 1976) – high risk
Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (1984) – high risk
Grenoble, France (1968) – high risk
Squaw Valley, United States (1960) – high risk
Turin, Italy (2006) – reliable
Lake Placid, United States (1932, 1980) – reliable
Lillehammer, Norway (1994) – reliable
Pyeongchang, South Korea (2018) – reliable
Nagano, Japan (1998) – reliable
Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy (1956) – reliable
St. Moritz, Switzerland (1928, 1948) – reliable
Sapporo, Japan (1972) – reliable
Calgary, Canada (1988) – reliable
Salt Lake City, United States (2002) – reliable
Albertville, France (1992) – reliable
Bejing, China (2022) – reliable
[H/T: The New York Times]