Winter is coming - but snow is becoming increasingly rare in the classic winter regions of the EU. ProSnow, a new initiative funded by the European Union wants to support ski resorts by forecasting the weather of a whole season. Ghislain Dubois from ProSnow speaks about the threats and chances.
MCS: Argentina has proposed to host the 2026 Winter Olympics in Ushuaia, the southernmost part of South America. It is competing jointly with Canada, Sweden and Italy. One thing is certain: snow is a sure thing in Ushuaia. Not in Europe. In November, the famous ski resort "Kitzbühel" in Austria has switched back from winter to summer tourism due to the lack of snow. How threatening is the lack of snow in Europe?
Dubois: A colleague of mine, Daniel Scott, published a study this year, about the Winter Olympics. The research question was whether the Winter Olympics could still be organised where they took place in the past. The result is that snow conditions are already far less reliable than they were then. It would already be more difficult and uncertain to organise the Olympic Games where they took place 40 or 50 years ago.
The decrease in snow cover is a very clear sign of climate change. Just like the retreat of glaciers and the melting of ice caps. We know that the temperature will rise in most parts of the world. In the case of snowfall, the trend is not so clear. At altitudes above 2,500 metres, there could even be more snow where there will be more precipitation. Below that threshold snow will definitely be less. Overall, however, the majority of ski resorts are threatened in the medium or long term. The seasons are getting shorter and the snow on the slopes is decreasing overall. Ski resorts will increasingly face problems with snow management on the slopes.
ProSnow: Predicting the weather for a whole season
MCS: This is where ProSnow comes in. You support ski resorts by forecasting the weather for a whole season. What is ProSnow doing here?
Dubois: ProSnow is supporting ski resorts by predicting the snow conditions from the next few days to a whole season. We offer a seamless system for predicting snow cover, snow depth and the combination of natural snowfall and technical snowmaking. Resort operators can thus decide which operations they want to perform on the slope. Whether they want to prepare the snow cover, or produce snow with a snow cannon or not.
With the service we offer, we help ski resorts to make better decisions. This enables operators to save water and energy and better manage the snow in order to meet the challenge of climate change.
MCS: How do you predict the weather for a whole season? So far this has not been possible.
Dubois: ProSnow builds on two advances in research. The first is the development of monthly to seasonal meteorological forecasts. With long-term weather forecasts, meteorologists run their models several times, sometimes up to a hundred times in a row. They then calculate, for example, how high the probability is that January 2019 will be warmer than average in the Alps.
These predictions serve as input to high-resolution models of the snow cover, which are the second advancement in research. The snow models simulate snow melting, additional snowfall, but also the probability that the snow changes, for example whether it turns into ice or if the compression changes. The possibility of producing artificial snow is also calculated.
Hoping for the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland
MCS: You are funded by the Horizon 2020 research funding programme. What will happen with ProSnow after 2020?
Dubois: ProSnow is a demonstration project funded by Horizon 2020. This means that we work on the basis of existing scientific findings that are ready for the market. And that is exactly what we have in mind. We want to develop a commercial service that works thanks to customers' subscriptions.
When I sign up to ProSnow as a ski resort operator, I get information about the future snow conditions in my area. The prediction is integrated into the tools I already have, slope by slope.
MCS: From the third to the 14th of December the United Nations will meet for the Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland. What do you expect from this meeting?
Dubois: It is about time that greenhouse gases are reduced. The next generation is depending on the implementation of the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Between 2014 and 2016, global greenhouse gas emissions have slowed down. That really made me feel positive. Last year, however, it unfortunately rose again worldwide. It is desperate. We have to start with our consumer behaviour. Consuming differently. Politics, however, provides little incentive to live differently.
MCS: At the moment there is the Ski World Cup. Are you watching it?
Dubois: (laughs) I remember seeing it with my father 20 years or 30 years ago. It was a great pleasure to stand in front of the TV and watch the Ski World Cup. And that's why people dream of going on a skiing holiday. Once you have seen the Ski World Cup on TV as a little kid, you also want to become a champion. And then you go skiing in France or Austria.
ProSnow stands for Provision of a Prediction System Allowing for Management an Optimization of Snow in Alpine Ski Resorts. So far, forecasting models have focused more on the short-term assessment of natural snow in individual regions. With Prosnow, the European scientists want to provide ski resorts in the entire Alpine region with a planning tool to manage the use of artificial snow. After a period of three years, the results will be available to all interested parties.