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Prof. Daniel Scott, University of Waterloo – Climate Change and Winter Olympics

In today’s Academic Minute,  Daniel Scott of the University of Waterloo discusses the potential inability for previous winter olympic host cities to host the games again due to changing weather patterns.

Prof. Daniel Scott is an associate professsor and research chair at the Univeristy of Waterloo focusing his studies on climate change. His particular interest lies in the interaction between  environmental issues and tourism and their connected impact on social, political and business issues.

About Dr. Daniel Scott

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Prof. Daniel Scott – Climate Change and Winter Olympics

As Russia hosts the 22nd Olympic Winter Games in the seaside resort city of Sochi, its $50 billion budget makes this the most expensive Winter Olympics ever.

One major factor contributing to the high cost of the Sochi Olympics is the massive investment needed to bring winter sports indoors and to weather proof outdoor competitions, with refrigerated bobsled tracks and ski jumps, massive snowmaking capabilities and even snow stored from the previous winter. 

The wisdom of choosing one of the few subtropical locations in country rich in cold climates as a site for the Winter Games is up for discussion, but a recent study conducted by my research team at the University of Waterloo in Canada and colleagues in Austria revealed that weather has always been a key challenge for Winter Games organizers.

Managing weather risks at the Games has become ever more important as the Games grow and are held in held in warmer and warmer conditions.  Our study looked at the average February daily temperatures in cities that have hosted the Games.  In the 1920s to 1950s, the average temperature for those cities, including Lake Placid in the United States, and St. Moritz in Switzerland was about 0.5°C (or 32°F). In the Games held this century, that average February temperature had increased to nearly 8°C (or 46°F).

Importantly, the many technologies used to manage weather risk for outdoor competitions have limits.  Our study found that under climate change projections of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, many of the former Winter Games hosts reach these climatic limits in the decades ahead.  While all 19 former Winter Games hosts were climatically reliable with their current climate conditions, by mid-century that number dropped in half.  By late century, only 6 of the former host cities will be cold enough to reliably host the Games under the warmest climate change scenarios.

The study provides an important opportunity for reflection on the long-term implications of climate change for the world of sport and the world's collective cultural heritage as symbolized by the Olympic Movement.  It also reveals that the way the Games are delivered will need to evolve in a warmer world and for some cities interested in hosting a future Winter Olympics, the time to bid for the games might be sooner rather than later.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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