It is that exciting time that comes every four years when athletes from around the world prepare to compete in ski and snowboard events at the Winter Olympics. While many of us take the Winter Olympics for granted, my fellow climate scientists and I are all too aware that changes are likely in store for how we experience these iconic winter games. Many relish the rare treat to compete in a region able to host winter sporting events. Curious to learn more? Take our Winter Olympics in a Warming World quiz! Drum roll, please.
- Which winter Olympics had to rely completely on snow making for alpine skiing?
a. Sochi 2014
b. PyeongChang 2018
c. Beijing 2022
- In a warming world, what months are we likely to see the winter Olympics being hosted?
c. Both a & b
- Which former winter Olympics location is most likely to be able to host the winter Olympics by the end of this century under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario?
a. Innsbruck Austria
b. Chamonix France
c. Sapporo Japan
- Many snow sports locations resort to artificial snow production to fill in gaps in available snowfall. The plans for Beijing’s bid for the Winter Olympics included two mountain zones that had minimal annual snowfall. Beijing is the first Winter Olympics to rely completely on artificial snow for the alpine snow sport competitions. Even if one makes snow, the conditions can be too warm to avoid soggy and dangerous conditions for athletes. Or prevent precipitation in the form of rain, ruining snow sport activities. (Answer c)
- Since the first winter Olympics in 1924, all winter games were held during the months of January and February. Such northern hemisphere bias for the timing and location of the winter Olympics is likely to become more tenuous in a warming world. Some years the winter Olympics may be held in the months of June through October as the games require the addition of southern hemisphere snow sports locations to add to the list of regions to consider. (Answer c)
- Already some northern hemisphere locations are making headlines for not being as likely to host the winter games under a high emissions scenario. If the pace of warming continues, the only former winter Olympics site that will likely be able to host by the end of the century is Sapporo, Japan. If the world works together to stay within the climate guardrails set by the Paris Agreement, several former winter Olympics locations can still host in the future. (Answer c)
Having to make snow so the 2022 winter Olympic athletes can compete is just one more example of how extra measures and extra costs are required to deal with the current level of climate change. China has also borne the costs at other times of the year such as the devastating floods last summer. This interactive link highlights recent examples of extreme precipitation from around the world that would not have been as severe were it not for the burning of coal, oil and gas. The way we invest in the energy that powers our future determines where the winter Olympics will occur. It also determines the frequency and severity of many types of extreme events for exposed communities.