Warm winter threatens opening of world's largest natural ice rink

The world's largest natural ice skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, Canada, may not open at all this year because of unusually warm winter temperatures, reports The Washington Post. The rink is usually open from January to March, but has delayed its yearly launch due to "persistent above-average seasonal temperatures and current ice conditions," staff said.

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The Skateway opens when the ice is at least 30cm thick, which requires between 10 and 14 cold days in a row, CNN reports. That means temperatures need to be between -4 and 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The lack of cold weather is largely attributed to climate change. Studies predict that Ottawa's winters will be approximately five weeks shorter by 2050. Climate change "has been sneaking up on us so stealthily," commented Jay Johnson, a kinesiology professor at the University of Manitoba.

The closure has been worrisome to the people of Ottawa. "The Rideau Canal and festivals that take place across Canada to celebrate our winter life are woven into the psyche, rituals, and experiences of citizens," Johnson remarked. The Skateway was designated the largest natural ice rink by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2005, and the Rideau Canal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, the Post continues.

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The rink usually gets one million visitors per season. "We remain hopeful that we'll be able to welcome skaters to the Skateway this year," said a spokesperson for the National Capital Commission, which manages the site.

Johnson warns that the ongoing closure should underscore the danger of climate change: "These examples should feel like bludgeons that hopefully capture our full attention."

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