Will climate change kill outdoor hockey in Canada?

Take anything from Canadians, anything at all—anything except hockey.

Few countries have such a relationship with an individual sport; cricket in India, soccer (football) in Brazil or various others, hockey in Canada. And while the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens aren’t going anywhere, the sport as it is played by millions of others in Canada is in serious danger thanks to climate change.

A letter published in Nature Climate Change recently took a look at a popular outdoor skating venue in Ottawa, the Rideau Canal (see photo at right). The canal runs through the center of the city, and for much of the winter it becomes the largest skating rink in the world. The analysis, led by McGill Rideau Canal in OttawaUniversity PhD student Jeremy Brammer, found that the number of days per year the canal will be skate-able has already diminished dramatically, a trend that will continue thanks to rapidly rising temperatures.

Between 1972 and 2013, the rink was available more than five days fewer per decade, driven largely by a later opening date. The best explanation for this, of course, is a temperature trend heading in the wrong direction. The average skating season length in that period was about 58 days; by 2040, it will drop below 50 days of skating time per year. By 2090, it will fall all the way to 28.8 days per year (see chart below).

That’s half the skating time the residents of Ottawa used to have! And that’s likely underestimated, the authors noted, thanks to accelerating rates of warming and consistent underestimation in the models they used. And this isn’t the first analysis to find Canadian pond hockey is at risk—one study looking across all of Canada in 2012 found trends toward shorter skating seasons already taking effect.

A few days less time to skate, of course, would only be described as a tragedy by the people who do all that skating. But Brammer said in an email that this type of ecosystem services issue has the potential to move the needle on global warming where more abstract issues may not resonate.

“Understandably, much energy is placed on projecting the impacts of climate change on material components of our environment (e.g., production of food, production of water, etc.),” he said. “But our environment provides more than just the necessities of survival. It’s also where we grow up, live our lives, and have fun. This is a much more emotional connection.” Brammer said he grew up playing hockey on Ottawa’s outdoor skating rinks, just the places that will offer fewer and fewer skating days in the coming years. “I would be sad if my kids, or my grandkids, couldn’t have a similar opportunity.” – Dave Levitan | December 23 2014

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Source: Brammer JR, Samson J, Humphries MM (2014). Declining availability of outdoor skating in Canada, Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2465.

Images: Spencer Gillis, Wikimedia Commons; shutterstock.com, Vlad G (right); Brammer et al (lower)

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