A University of Waterloo report projects fewer places worldwide will be suitable for hosting the Winter Olympics as global temperatures continue to increase.

Olympic temps
(Source: “The Future of Winter Sports in a Warmer World,” p. 4)

“The Future of Winter Sports in a Warmer World” cautions that warming as predicted by scientists by mid-century could eliminate nearly half of recent host cities as suitable venues. “It would simply not be cold enough,” the study maintains.

A university press release summarizes key messages of the study, and a Popular Science article suggested readers envision a world without Winter Olympics.

“The cultural legacy of the world’s celebration of winter sport is increasingly at risk,” said Professor Daniel Scott, lead author of the new study. “Fewer and fewer traditional winter sports regions will be able to host an Olympic Winter Games in a warmer world.”

“What are really at risk are the outdoor events, the ones that require snow. You can’t refrigerate a ski run,” Scott said. “The only thing that’s allowed a place like Sochi to hold the games are those kind of weather risk-management strategies that have been developed.”

Olympic temps
The climate suitability of the past Winter Olympics venues given different IPCC emissions scenarios (Source: “The Future of Winter Sports in a Warmer World,” p. 6)

“Despite technological advances, there are limits to what current weather risk management strategies can cope with. By the middle of this century, these limits will be surpassed in some former Winter Olympic host regions.”

Graphics developed in the report outline key points about the prospects for future Winter Olympics in a warmer world:

#1: Average winter temperatures at the Winter Olympics venues have increased dramatically over the past three decades.

#2: In the past few Olympics, energy-intensive equipment like snow machines and refrigerators have become standard tools for managing risks posed by lower temperatures.

#3: Even if global greenhouse gas emissions are held in check, the best case is that 10 of the past 19 host locations would be climatically viable to host a future Olympics.

Also see:
Will Snow(-less) Boarding be the New Norm in a Warmer Climate?
Climate Change as an Olympics issue Sochi … But no ‘Game’

Bo Uuganbayar is a graduate student in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and one of five “Team Climate” members attending the Winter Olympics to help boost awareness of climate change.