groundwater snow at the olympics?

A local television station interviewed me today about a study led by Daniel Scott at the University of Waterloo showing that, under the high-emission scenario, only 1 of the previous 21 host cities of the Winter Olympics would be climate-reliable enough to host again at the end of the century (hello, Sapporo!). Yikes! However, most folks don’t believe that the high-emission climate scenario is the most likely scenario. But still, even if the goals in the low-emission Paris Climate Agreement are met, only 8 of the 21 are expected to be climate-reliable (most folks don’t believe that the Paris Climate Agreement is most likely, so let’s split the difference at 4 to 5). Regardless, that ain’t good.

As I researched the issue, I came across an article about making snow for the Winter Olympics outside of Beijing, the first in which 100% of the snow will be artificial. The Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, needed 90% artificial snow while Sochi, Russia, required 80 percent. The snow for China is, apparently, mostly sourced from groundwater, although officials are looking into alternative sources. It sounds like they reuse melt water, but there hasn’t been as much as they thought there would be (sublimation?). The slopes are in an arid area that is already experiencing a drought, not to mention the irony of using presumably coal-fired electricity to generate snow. In all, some half a billion gallons of water are expected to be used to make snow for this year’s Winter Olympics.

Using groundwater for snow is apparently not uncommon. If you think about it, it kinda makes sense: a local, liquid source for making snow up in the mountains would almost have to be groundwater unless the water is imported (or harvested from snow elsewhere, melted, and re-snowed?). And then there are thoughts about the ethics of making snow in a drought or making snow at all. The slopes near Ski Cloudcroft, where we are building a cabin, undoubtedly use groundwater (and due to a drought, are minimizing use of water for making snow).

We’ll still have Winter Olympics in 2100, but potential locations will likely be less. And hopefully there will be less groundwater snow to boot!

One thought on “groundwater snow at the olympics?

  1. Excellent summary of the groundwater used to make snow! The snow industry near Salt Lake City uses more than I had imagined.

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