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Outdoor Skating Rinks Are On Thin Ice

Posted: 01/23/2013 12:28 pm

One benefit of the National Hockey League strike: it gave people time to play outside on real ice! But outdoor skating could face the same difficulties as the NHL -- a drastically shorter season or outright cancellation. Research from Montreal's McGill and Concordia universities shows global warming is already having an effect on outdoor rinks in Canada.

"Many locations across the country have seen significant decreases in the length of the OSS [outdoor skating season], as measured by the number of cold winter days conducive to the creation of rink ice," their study states. "This is particularly true across the Prairies, and in Southwest Canada, which showed the largest (and most statistically significant) decreases in the calculated OSS length between 1951 and 2005."

This echoes a 2009 David Suzuki Foundation report, "On Thin Ice: Winter Sports and Climate Change." The McGill investigation looks at constructed outdoor rinks while DSF's focuses on frozen rivers, canals and lakes, but the conclusions are similar. Both predict that, unless we rein in greenhouse gas emissions, outdoor skating in parts of Canada could be history within the next 50 to 100 years (the McGill study's authors now say it could happen within 20 to 30 years), and the length of the outdoor skating season will continue to decline across the country.

Meanwhile, at Ontario's Wilfrid Laurier University, geographers have launched www.RinkWatch.org, a website where people can record information about backyard or neighbourhood rink conditions over the winter.

"Our hope is that Canadians from coast to coast will help us track changes in skating conditions, not just this year, but for many years to come," associate professor Robert McLeman said in a release. "This data will help us determine the impact of climate change on winter in terms of length of season and average temperatures."

According to the DSF report, one of Canada's best-loved outdoor skating venues, Ottawa's Rideau Canal, provides an example of what to expect. It concludes that, with current emissions trends, the canal's skating season could shrink from the previous average of nine weeks to 6.5 weeks by 2020, less than six weeks by 2050 and just one week by the end of the century. In fact, two winters ago, the season lasted 7.5 weeks, and last year it was down to four. The canal had yet to fully open for skating when this column was written.

"On Thin Ice" notes that many of Canada's hockey heroes got their start on outdoor rinks. "Without pond hockey, we probably wouldn't have what has become the modern game of hockey," the authors state. The DSF study says climate change could have a profound effect on many other winter sports, from skiing and snowboarding to winter mountaineering.

With food and water problems caused by more frequent droughts and floods, property losses and high infrastructure costs from rising sea levels, and increasing illness and death from extreme weather and pollution, hockey may be the least of our worries. But losing winter recreation opportunities, let alone our ability to produce food and keep our homes warm and people healthy, needn't happen. Solutions to our human-created problems exist. We just need our leaders to start taking this and other environmental issues seriously.

That's not likely as long as we keep electing people who show more concern for the future of the fossil fuel industry than the citizens they are supposed to represent. Politicians who only look ahead three or four years -- until the next election -- aren't seeing the big picture.

We need to consider every solution possible, now -- from putting a price on emissions through carbon taxes and/or cap-and-trade to stopping the rapid exploitation of fossil fuels and switching to cleaner energy sources.

A skate or hockey game outside is a good place to start!

If you're in Quebec City for Carnaval, January 31 to February 3, join the David Suzuki Foundation for Sommet de l'hiver (Winter Summit) -- four days of sports, culture and science, presented with Desjardins, to raise awareness about climate change and its effects on winter. When former hockey stars team up for an outdoor game against artists to help save winter sports, you may even see some NHL heroes.

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  • Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

    Sid's not a kid anymore. The Penguins centre is 25 now and hoping to stay healthy this year. Crosby missed most of the last two seasons due to post-concussion syndrome. The 2007 Hart Trophy winner posted impressive numbers in limited action last season, recording 37 points in just 22 games. Crosby says he's no longer dealing with the headaches that plagued him the last few years. He'll be counted on to anchor a Pittsburgh team that could be a force in the Eastern Conference. <em>— The Canadian Press</em>

  • Cory Schneider, Vancouver Canucks

    The goaltending drama is an evolving soap opera in Vancouver and it's showing no signs of slowing down. Schneider took over the starting spot from Roberto Luongo and is a good bet to see the bulk of the playing time this season. Luongo may be on his way out of Vancouver, with the Toronto Maple Leafs rumoured to be a potential destination. Schneider posted a 20-8-1 record last season with a 1.96 goals-against average. He'll be eager to prove he deserves his status as the team's go-to guy in net.

  • Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers

    Nugent-Hopkins was a force with the Oilers' American Hockey League affiliate during the lockout and the Canadian forward's pace didn't slow at the world junior hockey championship in Russia. Nugent-Hopkins and fellow young guns Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are hoping to build on their stellar AHL play and will likely skate on Edmonton's top line. Big things will be expected from Nugent-Hopkins and the rest of the youngsters while the veteran players get their game legs back.

  • Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning

    Stamkos has been a rock for Tampa Bay since the Lightning selected him with the first overall pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He had 46 points in his rookie campaign before blossoming in his sophomore season with 51 goals and 95 points. Stamkos has kept up that stellar pace with 91 points in 2010-'11 and a career-best 60 goals and 97 points last season. The young centre will need to step up again if the Lightning are to improve on their 10th-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

  • Rick Nash, New York Rangers

    The Broadway spotlight will be shining on thefive-time all-star forward, who finally gets a crack at playing for a contender after years of toiling in Columbus. Nash was dealt to the Rangers last summer and could be the piece that gets New York over the hump. The Rangers were the top seed in the East last year but lost to New Jersey in the conference final. The 28-year-old left-winger has scored at least 30 goals in each of the last five seasons. The middling New York offence could use that kind of scoring punch.

  • Zack Parise, Minnesota Wild

    Minnesota landed top free agents Parise and Ryan Suter in the off-season and signed them to whopping US$98-million, 13-year deals. Season-ticket sales went up along with expectations. The Wild have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons. Parise gives the team a consistent offensive weapon and he thrives when the pressure is on. The American left-winger was a top player on the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 and had 15 playoff points in New Jersey's run to the Stanley Cup final last year.

  • Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

    The two-time Hart Trophy winner is playing for a new coach and experimenting with a new position. Ovechkin skated on the right wing instead of his usual left side early on at the Capitals' training camp. It will be interesting to see how the Russian sniper adjusts to the team's more up-tempo offensive scheme under head coach Adam Oates. Ovechkin, who got engaged to tennis player Maria Kirilenko last month, should be ready to roll. He played for hometown KHL team Dynamo Moscow during the lockout.

  • Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators

    Karlsson will be expected to be a rock on the blue-line in the nation's capital this season. The young Swede is coming off a breakout campaign that earned him the Norris Trophy as top defenceman. He led all NHL blue-liners with 78 points (19-59) in 81 games. Karlsson was rewarded with a seven-year contract extension and he'll be counted on for major minutes. The Senators are banged up on the back end and veterans Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips aren't getting any younger.

  • Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

    Talk about big shoes to fill. Zetterberg will wear the 'C' for the Detroit Red Wings after previous captain Nicklas Lidstrom announced his retirement. Zetterberg has previously served as an alternate captain for Detroit and is coming off a team-leading 69-point campaign. The steady Swedish forward isn't expected to change his leadership style — he plans to pick his spots and speak up when necessary. Zetterberg's main goal is leading the Red Wings to the playoffs for the 22nd straight season.

  • Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers

    The first overall pick from last year's NHL entry draft joins an Edmonton roster loaded with young players eager to bring the club back to respectability. Yakupov will likely get a chance on the Oilers' second line. He has skated with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky at camp. The speedy Russian forward will have to adjust to the NHL style after an impressive junior run and a 22-game stint in the KHL. Yakupov also helped Russia to a bronze medal at the world junior hockey championship.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Manager Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

 

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