You often hear that all the world’s gold would fit into a certain number of Olympic-sized swimming pools. One and two seem to be the most popular numbers.
Agustino Fontevecchia at Forbes did a calculation and came up with a figure of 3.27 Olympic-sized swimming pools. He based his calculation on 2007 world gold reserves of 157,000 thousand metric tons. (The World Gold Council uses a figure of 171.3 metric tons for 2011, but that number is for all gold ever mined, as opposed to accessible reserves.)
Googling around I found a user on the Ron Paul forums (yeah I know) named ctiger2 who did a different calculation using the same 157,000 metric ton figure and came up with 2.57 Olympic swimming pools. What’s the difference?
It turns out that Olympic-sized swimming pools aren’t a standard unit of measure. Fontevecchia used a pool volume of 2.5 million liters. ctiger2 used 3125 cubic meters, which is 3.1 million liters. Which is correct?
Wikipedia gives the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool as 2.5 million liters, which is the number Fontevecchia used. That number is a slight simplification. Wikipedia references FINA, the organization that seems to set international pool standards for swim competitions. Fina’s specifications say that swimming pools for Olympic games and world championships should have a depth of “2 Metres (minimum); 3 metres recommended.”
ctiger2 took that ambiguity into account. He split the difference between 2 and 3 meters and used 2.5 meters in his calculations.
So there is no fixed volume for an Olympic-sized volume, though if you have to quote a number 2.5 million liters seems reasonable. Based on that number Fontevecchia is correct that it would take about 3.27 Olympic-sized swimming pools to hold all of the world’s gold reserves, based on 2007 reserves of 157,000 metric tons.
The Final Number
In 2007 it took 3.27 Olympic-sized swimming pools to 3.43 to hold all of the world’s gold reserves. Reserves in 2011 were 165,000 metric tons, a 5.1% increase over 2007. As of 2011 it would take 3.43 Olympic-sized swimming pools to hold all of the world’s gold reserves.
Here’s an infographic that shows other ways of visualizing the amount of gold in the world.