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The Rink Diary: How Your Backyard Ice Rink Could Help Climate Change Research
January 21, 2013
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As Canadians, we're probably guilty sometimes of taking our hockey too seriously.

But in this case, it's just out of national pride. It's in the name of science.

Geographers at Waterloo, Ontario's Wilfred Laurier University are using homemade ice rinks to help track climate change.

By using RinkWatch, homemade rink makers and amateur Zamboni-ists (Zambonists?) are asked to log information about their rink's creation, longevity, and skate-ability.

By noting the rink's conditions, associate professor Robert McLeman is hoping this will help people better understand large-scale issues related to the environment by placing it, literally, in your own backyard.


McLeman told the Ottawa Citizen, "When you talk about climate change and global warming, it's one of those big-picture ideas that people have trouble relating to on a personal or individual basis, so we thought, let's get kids and families to collect data about outdoor skating and use that as a bridge to pull them into citizen-engaged science."

He notes that the days of flooding the ice are being interspersed with more days of thaw in the middle of the season, with the need for additional flooding as temperatures drop again. It's a cycle that seems to be happening more, and RinkWatch will allow him to access the data to make some more definitive findings.

Statistics will be made public on the RinkWatch site at the end of the season, comparing rink trends throughout various parts of the country.

For anyone who ever learned to skate in their yard or on a frozen pond, this is important stuff.

According to scientists at Montreal's McGill and Concordia universities, there may come a day when Canadian kids won't be able to skate on homemade outdoor rinks.

They note the average winter temperature has gone up by two-and-a-half degrees in the past 70 years, contributing to shorter rink seasons today.

Environment Canada says last year was the third-warmest winter in Canadian history, which is bad news for climate watchers. But even worse for the next generation of Wayne Gretzkys, who may not have their hockey initiation on an outdoor rink.

(Click those two links for some super rare CBC footage of a young Wayne in his formative years.)

And without outdoor rinks, Roch Carrier would never have been able to write the quintessential hockey story that defines the two solitudes, 'The Sweater' - which was made into a famous National Film Board cartoon in 1980.

So far, nearly 400 rinks across the country (and some in the northern U.S.) have registered on RinkWatch. A message board has sprung up so rink makers across Canada can chat and compare.

And to McLeman's surprise, some eager folks have been asking for a way to input data from past winters onto the site - information they collected on their own, before RinkWatch was created.

This info could go a long way into finding out just how endangered outdoor skating is in this country.

Because if we were complacent about climate change before, surely Canadians will spring to action now, when the survival of outdoor hockey is on the line.


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