The iconic Rideau Canal Skateway in the Canadian capital – the largest outdoor skating rink in the world and a UNESCO Heritage Site – may not open this winter for the first time in five decades due to a lack of ice.
Ottawa is in the throes of its third-warmest winter on record, according to Environment Canada, with temperatures hovering just below freezing for most of December and January.
And they are now predicted to rise.
“Mother Nature has presented us with a major challenge this year,” Bruce Devine, the National Capital Commission senior manager responsible for the skateway, told AFP.
“Mild temperatures have made it difficult to make good, firm ice that can support the weight of our equipment and skaters,” he said.
Shawn Kenny, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carleton University, clears snow around a mini-weather station set up on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa on Feb. 8, 2023
Bruce Devine, senior manager facilities and programs at the National Capital Commission checks the ice condition on the Rideau Canal on February 8, 2023 in Ottawa, Canada
Pedestrians and runners along the snowy Rideau Canal on February 8, 2023 in Ottawa, Canada
Pedestrians walk along the Rideau Canal on February 8, 2023 in Ottawa, Canada
For the canal to freeze, the temperature must remain stable at -10 to -20 degrees Celsius (14 to 16 Farenheit) for nearly two weeks.
“Currently, the ice in several places is porous and not very good quality,” he said.
While he remains optimistic about what would be the newest opening ever, others worry that the skateway might not open at all this year.
A short cold snap is predicted. “Next week the (skating) weather will be more favorable,” said meteorologist Peter Kimbell. “But will it be enough, I don’t know.”
Chantal Dussiaume, 57, was pessimistic when looking at the ice conditions: “I got ice skates for Christmas so it’s a big disappointment.”
“I’ve heard so much about the canal and it would have been fun to go ice skating on it,” says Lani Simmons, 46, visiting from Bermuda.
Shawn Kenny, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carleton University, modifies the mini-weather station on the Rideau Canal
FILE PHOTOS: Skaters enjoy Winterlude celebrations at the Rideau Skateway, Ottawa
The 4.8-mile winding skate track through the heart of Ottawa is the size of 90 Olympic rinks, according to Guinness World Records, which confirmed in 2005 that it was the largest ever and has averaged 22,000 visitors a day in recent years.
They leisurely skated up and down it, enjoying views of parliament and quaint neighborhoods, stopping at heated huts or food stalls along the way to offer snacks and hot drinks.
Commuters were also skating to work with a briefcase in hand.
‘It’s in the DNA of local residents and attracts many visitors from far away,’ says Devine.
The skating rink normally opens at the end of December for 30 to 60 days of skating. But its opening has shifted later and for shorter periods over the years.
‘It’s a real shame for all companies and all people who enjoy skating’, says student Clara Harman-Denhoed (22). But the situation highlights “the impact climate change is having on us here.”
A jogger runs along the snowy Rideau Canal on February 8, 2023 in Ottawa, Canada. – This winter has brought wild and unseasonably warm weather to Canada’s capital, raising the prospect that the Rideau Canal skateway – the longest in the world – won’t open for the first time this season
A locked gate at a stairway leading to the Rideau Canal on February 8, 2023 in Ottawa
Snow covers the Rideau Canal under the Corktown pedestrian bridge on February 8, 2023 in Ottawa, Canada
FILE PHOTO: Skaters are seen sliding under a bridge at the Rideau skating rink
That position was echoed by Canada’s Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, who said on Tuesday, “This is another example of how our climate is changing in Canada.”
“I don’t think anyone saw it that bad,” says Davey Wright, who sells flat-baked dough sprinkled with sugar or cinnamon in canal side shacks.
Local businesses, after suffering from pandemic lockdowns and a disruptive trucker-led protest last year, are taking a big hit.
The city was forced to scale back outdoor activities for the annual Winterlude festival, which runs until Feb. 20, while hotel association president Steve Ball said bookings are very low.
“Skating on the canal is our blockbuster (attraction) and what people talk about is why they come back,” he explained.
The National Capital Commission has ordered a series of climate adaptation studies to try to keep the rink open earlier in the season and for longer periods.
Shawn Kenny, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa who studies climate effects on ice, has tried several solutions inspired by ski hills and seasonal ice roads in the Arctic, such as using snow blowers to blow ice crystals onto the channel to initiate icing. bringing, and clearing snow that acts as insulation.
He is currently testing thermosyphons, used in the far north to prevent permafrost from thawing under railways, roads, pipelines and buildings, to regulate ice temperatures on canals.
But he warned that adapting in the future may not be enough: “Eventually we will get to a point where it may no longer be possible to open the skating rink.”
HOW COLD DOES IT HAVE TO BE TO SKATE?
Everyone knows that ice forms from liquid water when it reaches 32°F (0°C), but just because frost has appeared overnight doesn’t mean it’s time to put on your skates.
That’s because this temperature is just cold enough for a thin layer of ice on ponds and lakes, which is fragile and can easily melt away.
Water freezes from top to bottom because after it falls below 4°C (39°F), it becomes less dense as it gets colder.
This cold water rises to the top and eventually forms ice.
The air temperature must remain below freezing for a long period of time for thicker ice to form under the top layer.
According to the Canadian Red Cross, ice must be about 6 inches (15 cm) thick for safe skating.
The reason ice feels slippery is that when solid surfaces, such as skate blades, move over it, the friction causes a very thin layer to melt.
The water reduces the friction between the object and the solid ice, making it smoother.
The amount of time it takes for a layer thick enough for skating depends on the water itself.
Currents and ripples, which can be caused by fish, mean that denser, warmer water is mixed with the colder water at the top, keeping it warmer.
Friction between the moving water and the surrounding air or surfaces also contributes to its warming.
Any impurities dissolved in the water can work to lower the freezing point. The salt in seawater means it freezes at about 28°F (-2°C).
The center of a body of water also takes longer to freeze than the edges, because the surrounding land helps absorb heat from the water it comes in contact with and cools it faster.
According to The Washington Postexperts say it takes about two weeks at temperatures near 0°F (-18°C) for lake or pond ice to freeze to a safe thickness.
The Rideau Canal Skateway has still not opened this year as Ottawa experienced its third-warmest winter on record, with temperatures hovering just below freezing so far this year.
Canadian Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said on Tuesday that this is an example of climate change in the country.