One Olympic Swimming Pool

Over the last year or so I’ve been hearing a lot of things compared to “Olympic swimming pools”. Not sure why that is, but here’s some examples of recent headlines and factoids:

  • Apple’s Cash Reserves [in dollar bills] Would Fill 93 Olympic Swimming Pools.
  • 3 Olympic swimming pools can hold all the gold ever mined in the world.
  • Researchers found that from 2003–2019, Greenland’s ice sheet shed an average of 200 gigatons of ice each year, while Antarctica lost around 118 gigatons. For comparison, one gigaton of ice would fill some 400,000 Olympic swimming pools.
  • 1 part per trillion (ppt) is equivalent to a single drop of water added to 20 Olympic swimming pools.
  • Port Lincoln to truck in sand after 140 Olympic swimming pools of rain falls on city.

Maybe the writers think that’s an easier way to put big numbers into perspective. Many readers may not be comfortable with cubic meters or cubic feet and scientific notation. So I created this week’s graphic to help visualize “one Olympic swimming pool” and relate it to some more-tangible quantities.

Olympic swimming pools are “officially” 50 m (164 ft) in length, 25 m (82 ft) in width, and 2 m (6.6 ft) in depth. Those dimensions equate to 2500 m3 (660,253 gallons) of water. If reshaped into a cubic volume, each edge would be 13.5 m (44.5 ft) long. That largest cube sets the scale used in the graphic. Volumes cited for “minimum survival” and “yearly use” are average values dependent on many factors.

Next time you hear something like “Between 2002 and 2016, Greenland shed approximately 280 gigatons of ice per year” you’ll be able to put that into better perspective. One gigaton = 400,000 Olympic swimming pools, so 280 gigatons would be 112 million of those large blue cubes. Per year.

FYI, if I tried to fit a one gigaton cube into the graphic it would need an edge length of 3281 ft. Drawn to relative scale, the other cubes would pretty much shrink out of sight. 3281 ft is 74X the edge length of the largest blue cube.

Next Week in Sky Lights ⇒ What Causes Wind

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Q&A: What Causes Wind