Sochi Geology

The Winter Olympics kicked off amidst controversies about unfinished hotel rooms and LGBT rights, but all of that – and more components of the Games – could be easily swept away with an ill-timed landslide, earthquake, or avalanche.


For the past several years, researchers have warned about the geological risks of hosting the Winter Games in Sochi. At the 33rd International Geological Congress, held in Oslo in 2008, Gregory Koff and Irina Chesnokova presented work titled “Geological hazards assessment Sochi territory in the context of preparation for the 2014 winter olympics” in which they highlighted the features of the region that might be problematic for hosting the Winter Games:

We have established that the key factors behind intensified hazardous processes include climatic zones, steep slopes, geology (bedrock and overland sediment types), excessive slope watering, the territory’s seismic potential, tectonic load (number and orientation of joint fissures relative to slopes), intensified neotectonical processes, etc. All the above has necessitated the development of a comprehensive system for geologic environment analysis, prediction and prevention of hazardous geological processes within the framework of the Regional Development Program focused on the preservation of the regional environmental status and on the provision of seismic safety for Olympic facilities.

Two years later, another Russian scientist, Sergei Volkov, fled to the Ukraine for fear of arrest after he warned officials about dubious construction decisions in the preparations of the Games.

He fears the builders are cutting a swathe through the valley up towards the mountains without taking into account how unstable the area is geologically.

He refers to a massive landslide in the late 1960s and warns there could be a repeat.

“The road is being built and tunnels dug in this same district,” he says.

“This is seriously affecting the mountains.””

And finally, just last week LiveScience reported on the avalanche risk in the Sochi region. They refer to a study presented at the 2012 International Snow Science Workshop:

…because of the relatively mild temperatures in much of the Sochi region, snowfall often rests on unfrozen ground. “This fact, in combination with the heavy snow climate, promotes snow gliding,” the researchers wrote, referring to the movement of large masses of snow. “It occurs on slopes steeper than 25 degrees, particularly when the ground is warm and the vegetation not very high or [conducive] to slippery interface.”

Fortunately(?), Sochi hasn’t had much snow recently. They’ve had to stock up on artificial snow to create the slopes, which should at least put them in control of avalanche risk, but that still leaves earthquake and landslide risk to consider.

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Sochi photo: RIA Novosti archive, image #166989 / Andrey Babushkin / CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia

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