RinkWatch gives people an opportunity to make a difference

Photo by Sharan Rana

With climate change becoming a bigger issue every year, it is becoming more important than ever to measure and study its potential long-term impacts.

RinkWatch, an initiative launched at Laurier in 2013, has provided people who enjoy outdoor skating an opportunity to make a change.

Individuals who like to skate outdoors can contribute towards helping scientists measure the impact of climate change by inputting information about the status of outdoor rinks in their community on the RinkWatch website.

Robert McLeman, an associate professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, is a co-founder of RinkWatch and he discussed the motivation behind the launch of this science initiative.

“Canadians love to talk about the weather and they love to talk about hockey and skating. It’s one of these ways that we can connect environmental science to the general public by creating this project,” he said.

“The idea was that people have outdoor skating rinks or rinks in their neighbourhood parks and they could submit data about skating conditions. We can use that as scientists to track the effects of climate change and maybe it starts a better relationship between the public and scientists.”

RinkWatch connects the public with scientists and its tremendous growth over the five years of its existence shows how much the people have appreciated this opportunity.

Since its conception in 2013, RinkWatch has gathered valuable data and information on more than 1400 outdoor rinks.

The challenge for RinkWatch moving forward will be sustaining that consistent growth without seemingly becoming repetitive.

“There’s a few different things we’re working on. Just in the last week, we’ve updated the website. It just looks and feels newer. We’re going to add new functionality to it; more activities to encourage users to keep coming back,” McLeman said.

“We do a lot more on Facebook now than we ever used to because that’s where people are on a frequent basis. We’ve also got two students working with us who are our ‘social media gurus’ and they’re helping generate interest using our Facebook and Twitter feeds, so there’s a variety of things we’re trying out.”

Not only has RinkWatch generated a lot of interest and awareness amongst people in different communities, it has also managed to attract the attention of the National Hockey League (NHL).

RinkWatch is a great opportunity for everybody, including non-skaters, to help the fight against the ever-growing problem of climate change.

The NHL produced a documentary, interviewing co-founders Robert McLeman and Colin Robertson about the importance and the process behind the foundation of RinkWatch.

The film can be found on the RinkWatch website.

“The NHL is very interested from a corporate social responsibility approach. They have an office called NHL Green and what they look for ways to make the NHL’s operations more environmentally friendly and lend the NHL’s support to environmental initiatives. They’ve taken an interest in RinkWatch and obviously they care about skating too,” McLeman said.

“You’ll see a really cool video on our website that they made about us. It’s a documentary that is produced by the NHL and so this month the NHL is launching its annual corporate social responsibility report and they’re going to feature RinkWatch in it and they’re going to promote us, so we’re pretty excited about that,” he added.

McLeman has also started his own podcast called ‘RinkTalk’, which can be listened to on the RinkWatch website. The podcast involves conversations about outdoor rinks and skating, along with discussions about climate change as a whole.

It’s easy to see how and why RinkWatch has had so much success over its first five years.

Behind the scenes, the RinkWatch team is constantly innovating, creating and making sure that the initiative is accessible as possible to everyone.

When asked what the main goal was for RinkWatch going forward, McLeman identified sustained relevance as a key factor.

“The goal is to keep [RinkWatch] going and to keep people interested in it. If you want to talk about climate change, you really do need lots of data over multiple years. We’ve been able to do some interesting research and we’ve published a few journal articles,” he said.

“But to really get a good picture of the long-term climate variability, we want around 10 years of data, so we can tell a better story of what’s going on.”

RinkWatch is a great opportunity for everybody, including non-skaters, to help the fight against the ever-growing problem of climate change.

If the first five years are any indication of what’s to come, RinkWatch is only going to get bigger and better.

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