Public Release:  Pond hockey heats up

Outdoor skating threatened by rising temperatures

Concordia University

This release is available in French.

Montreal, March 5, 2012 -- Would Wayne Gretzky have blossomed into the Great One had he not honed his skills on a backyard rink as a kid? It's a good thing that he grew up before global warming began wreaking havoc with our weather because the days of a game of shinny on that frozen pond are numbered.

The length of Canada's outdoor skating season has decreased significantly, according to findings just published in Environmental Research Letters by Damon Matthews, professor in Concordia's Department of Geography, Planning and environment -- along with McGill colleagues, professor Lawrence Mysak and former graduate student Nikolay Damyanov. The evidence is already making headlines. Earlier this year, Ottawa's Rideau Canal Skateway, the world's longest skating rink, had to shut down due to warmer-than-usual seasonal temperatures.

The proof is in the snowstorms -- or lack thereof. Canada has taken more of a hit from global warming compared to other countries. Since 1950, winter temperatures in Canada have increased by more than 2.5°C, which is three times the globally-averaged warming attributed to global warming.

In order to quantify how this temperature rise affects the outdoor rink, the researchers gathered information from outdoor public skating spaces in various Canadian cities. Taking the beginning of the outdoor skating season as the last in a series of three days where the maximum temperature does not go above -5°C, they created a set of weather criteria to determine the length of the outdoor skating season. Subsequently, the researchers counted the number of viable days during which the ice could be maintained to estimate the season's length at each of the stations.

By comparing their findings with data gathered over 50 years, from 1951 to 2005, by 142 meteorological stations across the country, the researchers discovered that only a few of the weather stations showed a trend towards later start dates of the outdoor skating season. A much larger proportion of stations, however, showed a statistically significant decrease in the length of the skating season over the past half century.

The results paint a grim picture for the future of outdoor skating. The largest decreases in the skating season length were observed in the Prairies and Southwest regions of Canada. By extrapolating their data to predict future patterns, the researchers came up with some ominous news: within a few decades, we could see a complete end to outdoor skating in British Columbia and Southern Alberta.

No Canadian region is safe from that fate. For Matthews, it's clear that we are all vulnerable to continued winter warming. "It's hard to imagine a Canada without outdoor hockey," he says "but I really worry that this will be a casualty of our continuing to ignore the climate problem and to obstruct international efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions."

"The disappearance of outdoor hockey rinks and probably cross-country ski trails is not going to be good for the health of our youth and the leaders of tomorrow, who need all the exercise they can easily get." said McGill Emeritus Professor, Lawrence Mysak, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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Related links:

Concordia's Department of Geography, Planning and Environment: http://gpe.concordia.ca/

McGill's Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences: http://www.mcgill.ca/meteo/

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