Is climate change killing Canada's outdoor ice rinks?
Hockey greats Maurice Richard, Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby all started skating on outdoor rinks, and many parents today still dream of launching their kids to NHL stardom from a frozen ice sheet in the backyard. But researchers say rising global temperatures could pose a threat to the quintessential Canadian phenomenon of the outdoor ice rink.
Geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University have launched a website called RinkWatch, in an effort to track what they fear is a decline in the outdoor skating season due to climate change. The site encourages users to log the state of the ice on their community or backyard rink each day, so researchers can study that data for evidence of a warming trend. The site asks users only one question: Can you skate on your ice rink today?
RinkWatch co-founder Robert McLeman says he and his team launched the site after reading a 2012 study that suggested, due to global warming, the outdoor rink might be an "endangered species" in Canada. McLeman hopes the data gathered from RinkWatch users can paint a better picture of the effects of global warming – and the decline of the outdoor skating season.
"The very first winter that we did it, it was a terrible winter for outdoor rinks," McLeman told CTV Winnipeg on Friday. "Then you had last year, which was a fantastic winter – nice and long and cold."
Part of the problem with maintaining an outdoor rink is the possibility of warm spells, which can quickly transform a well-made rink into a splash pad in a matter of days.
RinkWatcher Barret Miller says he got involved with the website two seasons ago, after a particularly warm winter caused trouble for his rink project in Winnipeg.
"There were days where we had puddles forming on our rink because it was raining. Raining in February," he said.
RinkWatch researchers say some regions – including Wayne Gretzky's hometown of Brantford, Ont. – may someday become too warm to support outdoor rinks.
That's why they're looking for the public's help to determine how fast the climate is changing.
"The more users, the better results," the RinkWatch founders say on their site. "If we want (to) skate outside in the future, we have to find (out) what's going on today."
With files from CTV Winnipeg