The mass production of artificial snow for events like the Winter Olympics at Sochi might have a plus side other than enabling winter sports enthusiasts, from Jeff Marlow at wired.
Even though 1,300 medals will be awarded by the time all is said and done at the 22nd edition of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, one remarkable performance will go unrewarded: the snowmaking. Insufficient snow is a problem that has plagued recent winter sports competitions, and there’s no end in sight during this contemporary age of climate change. But as the Anthropocene taketh, it may also giveth, as improved production of artificial snow makes up for nature’s stunted snowfall.
In a recent edition of its “Reactions” series video clips, the American Chemical Society explains the science behind snowmaking. By introducing a “nucleating agent” – a small solid-state grain of variable composition – into a stream of water mist, water molecules are templated onto a structural seed that promotes ice crystal growth. Jets of fine water particles go up, and snow comes down.
Of course, large quantities of water are required to start this process, and ski areas have begun stockpiling the raw material in retention ponds in anticipation of slow winters. One of the heart-stopping jumps on the downhill ski course in Sochi is called The Lake Jump, so named because a nearby pond dominates your field of view as you launch into the air. The lake in question is an artificial reservoir installed for the express purpose of snowmaking. At Mammoth Ski Resort in California, snow levels are down severely this year, and the persistent drought is limiting artificial production from nearby lakes as well.