What Backyard Rinks Can Tell Us About Climate Change

Children play ice hockey on a backyard rink in Ottawa, Canada. Mike Gifford/Wikimedia Commons

People in Canada and some northern U.S. states have a long tradition of turning their backyards and parks into homemade ice-skating rinks, where everyone can skate or play hockey to their heart's content. But how will these homemade rinks fare in a warming world? Will people need to adopt new methods to build their rinks, or will they even be possible?

A website called RinkWatch aims to answer some of these questions. Created by geographers from Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, RinkWatch asks citizen scientists and rink aficionados to record data about their backyard rinks. The information — including data points such as the date the rink is first flooded and the number of weeks that the ice is good enough for skating — will be used to track the progression of climate change in the coming years.

Why this data is important

As the scientists explained in 2013, "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 ... We will gather up all the information from all the backyard rinks across Canada, 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 in Canada, and find out who is having the best winter for skating this year."

Since it launched five years ago, hundreds of participants have signed up from all across Canada as well as Minnesota, New Hampshire, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and other states. Most users have uploaded photos of their rinks, as well as the rink's size and special features. For example, one rink near Saskatchewan is lit for night staking and has a fire pit and hockey nets. Another has a rock fireplace in the middle, which "leads to perfecting crosscuts and tight turns."

Interested in building your own backyard rink? Lifehacker tells you how.