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Laurier research project linking rinks and climate change heating up
From the Yukon to Newfoundland, and from Minnesota to Massachusetts, hundreds of North Americans have signed up their outdoor skating rinks as data sources for a Laurier research project on climate change.
More than 375 outdoor skating rinks from across North America have been registered on www.RinkWatch.org since the website launched January 7. The website invites Canadians who maintain a backyard or neighbourhood rink to report skating conditions over the winter to provide valuable data about the impact of climate change. It is also seen as a way to help families connect with environmental research through an activity they enjoy.
“We’re amazed the response we’ve had so far,” said Associate Professor Robert McLeman. “It shows just how passionate people are about their rinks. The more participants we have, the better the data we are able to gather.”
The research project led by McLeman, Assistant Professor Colin Robertson and Master of Science student Haydn Lawrence from Laurier’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies has also garnered widespread English- and French-language media attention including numerous CBC shows, CTV, and newspapers across Canada.
U.S. Public Radio has also covered RinkWatch, and the U.S. National Science Teachers Association even featured it as its science project of the week.
“The backyard rink is a tradition – one that future generations may not get to experience because of the damaging effects of climate change,” said McLeman, who has fond memories of past winters skating on backyard rinks and the Rideau Canal. “If we want to skate on backyard rinks in the future, we have to find out what is going on today.”
Increasing temperatures have made the headlines over the last few years. Environment Canada chose unusually warm temperatures from coast to coast in 2012 as Canada’s top weather story of the year. Senior climatologist David Philips said the period between January and November was the fourth warmest on record since 1948.
The 2011-2012 winter was the third warmest on record, with national average temperatures 3.6 degrees Celsius above normal, according to an Environment Canada 2011 report. The warmest winter on record since nationwide records began in 1948 was in 2009-2010, with a national average temperature 4.1 degrees Celsius above normal.
The Laurier researchers hope that the backyard-rink concept will not only generate valuable data about climate change, but also raise awareness about its impact.
To become part of the study, people with a backyard or neighbourhood rink can visit www.RinkWatch.org to create a profile and add the location and name of their rink, which will show up on a Google map. Registered users, whose identities remain private, are asked to return to the site once a week to check off which days they were able to skate. The website will track the results and compare conditions across North America. The website also has a user forum, where rink enthusiasts can share rink-making tips, favourite stories, and photos of their rinks.