For years, scientists have been tracking ice in western Hudson Bay, Canada - when the ice forms in fall, when it starts to break up in the spring and its thickness - in order to determine how climate change is affecting the health of the Hudson Bay ecosystem, including polar bears.
Polar bears need the sea ice of the Hudson Bay to successfully hunt ringed seals through the winter. They rely on stored fat to last them through the summer. Climate change has already led to the ice forming later in the fall, by several weeks, over the last 3 decades and breaking up earlier in the spring. This shortened feeding season has resulted in skinnier bears, fewer cubs born per bear, and lower survival for the young. It also leads to more bear-human interactions, as hungry bears wander closer to towns and garbage dumps searching for food. In other words, bad news for bears and people.
Now, scientists are studying ice conditions a little closer to home to assess how climate change is affecting a different, and increasingly endangered, species - the backyard hockey (shinny) player. Based on past data and models of the future, scientists are warning that climate change will lead to fewer outdoor skating days in Canada. In fact, in some areas of the country, scientists warn that there will be no more backyard rinks at all.
Rinkwatch.org, an innovative project led by scientists at Wilfred Laurier University, asks outdoor rink enthusiasts from all over the world to record the location of their rink and all the days that the rink is skate-able. Knowing only about what’s happening to your rink in your backyard tells you little more than what the recent weather has been like. But that information collected over several years, and added to information about thousands of other rinks across North America – well, that gives us some insight to wider trends like climate change.
Photo credit: WWF/Geoff York