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Tracking Climate Change With Melted Skating Rinks

Rinkwatch measures whether the ice is thick enough to skate at outdoor skating rinks across the U.S. and Canada, and shows that rising temperatures may be making skating a thing of the past.

Observing climate change at work in places like Quebec or Manitoba is pretty simple: Just pay a visit to your local ice skating rink. Is it skateable in January? If not, wasn’t it when we were kids?

Canadian geography students at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario who found themselves asking those same questions over and over the past few winters decide to get scientific about their observation—by jotting them down and plotting them on a map to calculate the trends. The project, Rinkwatch, is now asking the public to do the same, by enabling anyone to log on and give an update about her neighboorhood rink’s "skateability" on an interactive map.

A recent cold spell has frozen all the rinks available.

As the Rinkwatch creators write on the website:

We want outdoor rink lovers across North America and anywhere else in the world to tell us about their rinks. We want you to pin the location of your rink on our map, and then each winter record every day that you are able to skate on it. Think of it as your rink diary. We will gather up all the information from all the backyard rinks and use it to track the changes in our climate. The RinkWatch website will give you regular updates on the results. You will be able to compare the number of skating days at your rink with rinks elsewhere, and find out who is having the best winter for skating this year.

Users can also add photos of their rinks to their location.

If a rink is frozen solid, it shows up on the map with a blue marker. If it’s thin ice, then it gets denoted in red. (A quick glance at the swath of North America straddling the U.S.-Canada border reveals an unsettling volume of red for late January.)

The impetus for the site comes not just from local observations, but from a warning by scientists in Montreal last year that the number of outdoor skating days in Canada would inevitably decrease. In a country where skating and hockey is a way of life and neighborhood rinks make up the urban fabric, Ringwatch serves not just as a memento mori for a beloved activity whose days are numbered, but perhaps a way to galvanize more people into taking small steps to do something about climate change.