Monday, December 6, 2021

Skating on thin ice

As water across the park starts to freeze, I thought I would share an interesting paper published this fall that I came across in the Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, published at Union College. 

The study outlines the potential impacts of climate change on elite hockey athlete development in the North Country, focusing on the potential outcomes of shrinking access to outdoor ice during warming winters. 

The paper, “The Impact of Climate Change on Hockey Expertise in the North Country and Adirondack Region of New York,” analyzes two emissions scenarios and arrives at widely divergent worlds. Jon Rosales, an environmental scientist who studies climate change at St. Lawrence University, authored the paper with four others. 

If the globe reaches targets outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement and keeps warming to 2 degrees Celsius, it’s possible that ice cover in the Adirondacks would stay relatively consistent between now and the end of the century (never mind the fact that the globe is not anywhere near those goals currently). 

But if society stays on a business-as-usual path and continues carbon emissions apace, it’s possible there will be no ice cover at all in the North Country by the end of the century (at least none that lasts more than five days in order to accommodate skating). 

“Under current policies and measures, if a future North Country player logs 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and play this century, increasingly those activities will not include doing them on outdoor ice,” according to the paper. 

The wide range of outcomes – from little change in ice cover to literally no more skateable ice – underscores the importance decisions made in the coming years will have on people living in the coming decades. 

The paper is interesting in how it connects the potential effects of climate change to real, on-the-ground impacts to communities and their established ways of life.

The paper assumes that a youth athlete would need to accumulate 10,000 hours of practice by the age of 18. But indoor rinks than North Country can only supply so much ice time. Players with Canton Minor Hockey could acquire about 25 percent of the 10,000 hours by age 18 through indoor practices and open hockey time, according to the study. The rest has been made up with time skating outdoors.

Hockey has been popular in the Adirondacks since the 1920s, and Lake Placid’s identity as a hockey mecca was solidified with the famous “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Since 1980, the communities of Potsdam, Canton and Massena alone have given rise to 13 NHL players, according to the study.

The paper points out that around the world there are already signs of shrinking ice cover and reduced participation in skiing, skating and other winter activities. Studies suggest that under high-emissions scenarios, areas around the globe could experience 80 percent shorter winter recreation seasons by 2090. A significant loss of ice and snow cover in the North Country would have a dramatic impact on the region’s character. But it’s a problem not up to Adirondackers alone to solve. 

“A warmer climate decreases opportunities to spend time participating in all snow- and ice-based recreation activities, including ice hockey,” the authors wrote. “Our investigation suggests that global climate policy, that is, what humanity does about climate change, determines whether the North Country can maintain its identity as a region for elite hockey player development.” 

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.




3 Responses

  1. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “if society stays on a business-as-usual path and continues carbon emissions apace, it’s possible there will be no ice cover at all in the North Country by the end of the century.”

    Tell that to the conservative leadership in our country! It will fall on deaf ears! It will have to take all of us to start feeling the effects of climate change, and all of the other changes effecting us; it will have to hit their wallets the hardest before the ‘sleepers’ wake up! Of course, as is most often the case….it will be too late by then. Personally I think it already is too late. I think we’re in for some rough times ahead due to our apathy and/or ignorance!

  2. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Hockey has been popular in the Adirondacks since the 1920s, and Lake Placid’s identity as a hockey mecca was solidified with the famous “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics.”

    Yeah but what about those glaciers that just vanished from the face of the earth, glaciers that were there for millennia! What about those millennial glaciers that are melting rather rapidly as we chat! Let’s drill for more oil while we’re at it….what do ya think?

  3. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “The paper points out that around the world there are already signs of shrinking ice cover and reduced participation in skiing, skating and other winter activities.”

    Shrinking glaciers too! Nope, the earth is not warming. It’s fake news!

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