Satellite images reveal China's damning Olympic reality

·Associate News Editor
·3-min read

Fascinating images show the extreme lengths China has been forced to go to in order to ensure athletes at the Winter Olympics are presented with the required conditions for their sports.

A satellite image shared by NASA shows contrasting white lines in a mountainous region roughly 75km northwest of Beijing's centre.

The image depicts the staggering amount of artificial snow dumped in the Yanshan mountains which offer steep slopes ideal for multiple events.

China has been forced to bring in close to 400 snow guns at a cost of roughly $83 million, Time reports, with Beijing's snowfall during February vastly inadequate for the Games.

A satellite image shows the ski routes standing out from the brown landscape surrounding them. Source: NASA Earth Observatory
A satellite image shows the ski routes standing out from the brown landscape surrounding them. Source: NASA Earth Observatory

"The output from those machines was easy to spot in satellite imagery of the area," NASA's Earth Observatory points out.

And while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and China stresses the energy used to power its arsenal of snow machines will largely be renewable, there may be an impact on the area's scarce water supply.

China estimates it will need close to 50 million gallons of water to produce artificial snow throughout the Games.

But Chinese authorities stress rainwater collection systems developed in the area will significantly reduce the impact.

Madeleine Orr, a sports ecologist at the University of Loughborough, said efficient water usage is not guaranteed.

ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA - JANUARY 02: Snow machines make artificial snow near the ski jumping venue for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics before the area closed to visitors, on January 2, 2022 in Chongli county, Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, northern China. The area, which will host ski and snowboard events during the Winter Olympics and Paralympics was closed off to all tourists and visitors as of January 4, 2022 and will be part of the bubble due to the global coronavirus pandemic for athletes, journalists and officials taking part in the games. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are set to open February 4th. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
Close to 400 machines are in use during the Games. Source: Getty

"If the region has enough warm days and snow melts, water use could really climb," she explained for The Conversation.

Despite artificial snow widely used in recent Winter Games, she described the Beijing Winter Olympics as "bit of a test case".

"Researchers haven’t examined the consequences of 100 per cent fake snow melting rapidly," Dr Orr said.

She says the IOC should consider the carbon footprints of future host nations, particularly in the face of climate change where more and more locations become less suitable for hosting the Winter Games.

The satellite images are not the first to surprise viewers this week, with the industrial backdrop of the ski fields raising eyebrows globally.

China lashes 'Disneyland' remarks

On Thursday, China's state media hit back at Western media accusing it of propaganda in its bid to sell Xinjiang as an idyllic winter "Disneyland".

Xinjiang has been a contentious issue for China in recent years due to allegations of mass detention of Uyghurs and Muslim minorities in the region. Accusations of widespread human rights offences in the far western region has led several nations including Australia to undergo a diplomatic boycott of the Games.

The Global Times shared a Xinhua news agency image of people having fun at one of Xinjiang's winter attractions. Source: Global Times/ Xinhua
The Global Times shared a Xinhua news agency image of people having fun at one of Xinjiang's winter attractions. Source: Global Times/ Xinhua

Beijing mouthpiece the Global Times branded an AFP article accusing Beijing of whitewashing abuse in the region as "very absurd", claiming the West refuses to acknowledge the western province's development.

"Xinjiang's boost of its ice and snow economy is a standard green economic development pattern to preserve local inherent ethnic cultural characteristics, and to promote green tourism without environmental pollution," the opinion piece explained.

"By doing so, Xinjiang can improve the wellbeing of local people, achieve environmental protection and economic prosperity. What's wrong with that?"

It accused the West of not caring for Xinjiang's people but simply wishing to "stir up troubles in China".

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