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Backyard rinks help Laurier researchers track climate change
Dec 18/13| For Immediate Release
Robert McLeman, Associate Professor
Lori Chalmers Morrison, Acting Director
WATERLOO – RinkWatch, a popular project started by researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University, is hitting the ice in its second season, looking to expand its 1,000-member roster of backyard-rink-making citizen scientists and continue gathering valuable climate-change data.
Launched in January 2013, RinkWatch.org asks people to help track winter climate trends by recording skating conditions on their backyard or neighbourhood rinks. By the end of last winter’s short, unpredictable skating season, over 1,000 people from throughout Canada and the U.S. were sharing their skating conditions, as well as their photos, stories and rink-making tips. The project also garnered media attention from across North America.
Researchers Robert McLeman, Colin Robertson and Haydn Lawrence from Laurier’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies were overwhelmed by the success of RinkWatch’s first season.
“When we launched, we thought it would be great if we got 50, maybe 100 rinks registered by the end of winter,” said McLeman. “We had that many users in the first week. We even heard from a rink maker in Norway.”
The researchers compared skating rink data from the first season of RinkWatch to meteorological data from Environment Canada and were encouraged by the results.
“We found that data from skating rinks corresponds well with data from nearby weather stations,” said McLeman. “This is important, because it shows that rinks are useful indicators of fluctuations in winter temperatures, and there are a lot more skating rinks than there are weather stations.”
The researchers hope to establish an international network of “RinkWatchers” sharing data year after year to monitor the effects of climate change on northern winters. In addition to gathering data, RinkWatch is making climate change a more relatable topic.
“Outdoor skating is part of the cultural fabric of northern peoples. It’s our history; it’s who we are,” said McLeman. “When we asked for the public’s help in tracking how climate trends are affecting skating rinks, it was clear from the response how passionately people felt about it.”
Although the first official day of winter isn’t until Dec. 21, early reports from RinkWatchers are already coming in. The first rink to report skating data for 2013-14 was in Kemptville, Ont. (about 60 km south of Ottawa) on Nov. 25; a few days later, a rink in Marquette, Michigan became the first American rink to start reporting. The RinkWatch team expects a surge over the holidays, when people have time to get their rinks up and running.
As part of its “We All Play for Canada” campaign, Canadian Tire will actively promote RinkWatch this winter. The new sport marketing initiative encourages families to be active together through play and participate in outdoor activities like skating. New interactive features are being added to the RinkWatch website with the help of Canadian Tire and Esri Canada, a leader in web-based mapping technology and Geographic Information Systems, which will enhance the overall user experience. The team hopes to make RinkWatch the go-to destination for the backyard-rink-making community.
Anyone who skates on an outdoor rink can become a RinkWatcher by visiting RinkWatch.org, pinning the location of their rink on an online map and returning to the website regularly to record skating conditions on their rink. The results are pooled with reports from other RinkWatchers to track winter weather conditions, which users can explore via the online map. RinkWatchers can also share photos of their rinks, exchange rink-making tips and chat in user forums.
RinkWatch does not collect any personal information from users. As the website says, “It’s not you we’re interested in, it’s your rink. Help us prevent backyard rinklessness.”