In yet another example of how average citizens are pitching in to help provide scientists with data, Rinkwatch, a Web site that launched January 8, asks people who own backyard skating rinks or work at a park that operates an outdoor rink to identify their location on a map and then “come back on a regular basis to tell us if the weather allowed you to skate or not,” says creator and former University of Ottawa professor Robert McLeman. Interest was immediate: In the first week of its existence, the site’s server crashed twice, and volunteers — at least 630 so far across Canada and the northern US — asked for and got a discussion forum. “[N]ature, climate change, backyard skating, the weather — that’s just gravy for Canadians,” McLeman says.
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What’s the Big Idea?
McLeman was already a leader of a similar nature-based group of projects when he relocated to Waterloo last year and joined the faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University. The project began when he asked a colleague, “Why aren’t we worried about backyard rinks as well as natural ice?” So far the site and accompanying user community have provided useful data, including a “magic number” for the mean temperature needed for ideal outdoor skating: 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius).