Outdoor Ice-Skating Rinks and Climate Change: Monitoring Local Impacts

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Graphic Comparison of Temperatures and Skateable Ice Rinks. Image by Rink Watch

Graphic Comparison of Temperatures and Skateable Outdoor Rinks. Image used with permission, courtesy of Rink Watch, all rights reserved.

Comparing Weather Station Data with Watch Results

Rink Watch researchers compared the data from outdoor rink makers with data from Environment Canada’s weather stations and found it reflects what Environment Canada is observing, proving the rink data provides a good tracker of weather conditions: It’s apparent that when the temperature reaches -5 degrees Celsius, the number of ‘skateable’ outdoor rinks declines.

The rink watch program is helping researchers learn a lot about very local impacts of climate change. That’s important because urban and rural climates are very different.

Real Time Research on Outdoor Rinks

One of the goals of Rink Watch is to record rink usage temporally and spatially. A tweet by Steven Woods of Waterloo Ontario, a contributor, demonstrates some early progress with a temporal comparison of the years 2011 to 2013.

Meanwhile, Rink Watch processes the data and produces summary and real time maps allowing for temporal comparisons.

Long Term Aims of the Rink Watch Project

In talking with Decoded Science, professor McLeman explained that the long term aim is to collect data year after year. This data will eventually be used to help scientists understand how climate change may be affecting winter weather trends.

Skateable Days in Waterloo. Tweet by Steve Woods.

Skateable Days on Outdoor Rinks in Waterloo. Tweet by Steve Woods, Image used with permission, courtesy of Rink Watch, all rights reserved.

He went on to say that weather station data is the gold standard for monitoring weather and climate, but for large areas in Canada and the US, there may be only a single weather station. There are hundreds of weather stations in North America, but thousands (likely tens of thousands) of rinks.

We call this crowd sourcing and it is used from human rights to climate studies.

Another reality is that there can be significant variations in temperatures within cities and suburbs on the same day; the skating rink provides a piece of information about the weather at literally the backyard level, allowing for a much finer resolution interpretation of what is going on.

Getting Involved with Rink Watch

Decoded Science also interviewed Professor McLeman regarding getting involved with the Rink Watch project. As he explained, it’s simple.

If you have a rink in your yard or at your local park or playground, go to the Rink Watch website, pin your rink’s location on the interactive map, and then come back on a regular basis to report if the weather conditions allowed you to skate. Your data will be pooled with others from across North America and used to track trends in winter weather conditions.

You will also find at the website an online forum where users share photos and stories of their rinks, including tips on making a good rink. At the end of the winter, the researchers will post findings from the year’s results, to show how users’ data contributed to the project.

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