OTTAWA, March 6 (UPI) -- The future of Canada's iconic national sport -- ice hockey -- is under threat from human-caused climate change, researchers say.
As global warming prevents ice from freezing over, they say, ice hockey stars of the future will find fewer frozen lakes and backyard rinks to practice on in the hopes of following in the footsteps of some of the great professional players like Wayne Gretzky, who grew up skating in his back yard.
Researchers point to the world's longest skating rink, the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa, which was closed earlier this year due to warmer-than-usual seasonal temperatures.
In a study published in Environmental Research Letters, researchers from McGill University and Concordia University calculated the annual start date and length of the outdoor skating season from historical weather data across Canada and analyzed changes since the 1950s in step with global warming.
A large proportion of the 142 meteorological stations studied recorded significant decrease in the length of the skating season over the past half century, the study found.
Extrapolating from the recorded data, the researchers say a complete end to outdoor skating if possible within the next few decades in areas such as British Columbia and Southern Alberta.
"There is not much akin to skating outdoors, and the creation of natural skating rinks depends on having enough cold winter days," researcher Damon Matthews from Concordia said.
"It is hard to imagine a Canada without outdoor hockey, but I really worry that this will be a casualty of our continuing to ignore the climate problem and obstruct international efforts to decrease greenhouse gas emissions."