Backyard skating rinks become a powerful tool for science

Skating rinks like this one can be used to track Canada's changing winters.
With all the flip-flopping weather lately, and everything freezing, then thawing, then freezing again, if you're one of those dedicated people who puts a skating rink in their yard each year, I have a website for you — www.rinkwatch.org

RinkWatch is a volunteer science project (also called 'citizen science'), where people can not only help with a Canadian climate project, but also participate in discussions with other members to discuss stories, weather conditions and even tips on building a better rink. Simply register your account, note your location, and then enter daily information on whether or not your rink is skateable or not. You can even use the map provided to tell what kind of weather conditions are on the way, so you know when to shovel or flood the rink.

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Starting up on January 8th, the site already has over 600 members across Canada and from Minnesota to Rhode Island in the United States. Each member's location shows up as a tiny skater in either blue (skateable) or red (not skateable).

Robert McLeman, a professor at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, who teaches about how changes in the environment affect families and communities, began the site, and while he was surprised at the response, he admits that he should have realized how popular it would be.

“It’s a story about nature, climate change, backyard skating, the weather — that’s just gravy for Canadians.” he said, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

[ Related: Strong winter storm freezes Prairies, thaws Ontario and Quebec ]

The science of the site is specifically to track the day to day changes of the weather. Since ice measurements typically just include the start and end dates of the 'ice season', this data will give a better sense of how these conditions change on a more short-term basis. The information they're gathering has already yielded some results as well: the 'sweet-spot' for getting a good ice surface for skating is -5°C.

(Photo courtesy: Fred Thornhill/Canadian Press)

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