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Ottawa's Rideau Canal Skateway facing uncertain future due to warm weather trends

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As warm weather continues to hamper the skating season on the iconic Rideau Canal Skateway, enthusiasts are concerned about its future viability.

With only seven days of skating this season due to adverse weather conditions, there are questions about whether the world's largest skating rink might face permanent closure.

Lucille O'Connor took to the canal Tuesday morning for her first, and likely last, day of skating this season.

"The conditions are poor to fair, but I would say it's pretty good if you skate along the edges," she says. "I usually skate the whole canal, and I do really good conditions only, but this year, if I didn't do this, I wouldn't do it at all. We're having more warm mix with the cold than I remember having."

Despite the efforts of National Capital Commission (NCC) crews to prepare the canal, temperature, rain and heavy snowfall posed significant challenges. The Skateway is reliant on weather conditions and this season has seen record-breaking warmth.

"We just had to do it. We've been skating for years on the canal, and we really missed not having the canal last year," says Ottawa resident Lise Perrier. "We will come back tomorrow for another skate if we can. It won't be open for much longer. There's no doubt in my mind that it's global warming."

"We've been skating for years on the canal, and we really missed not having the canal last year," says Ottawa resident Lise Perrier. (Tyler Fleming/CTV News Ottawa)

With above zero temperatures and rain expected in the coming days, the skating season could shut down for good. David Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, says a handful of abnormal Ottawa winters does not make a trend, but the reality is the overall temperature is on the rise.

"The average temperature in January, the beginning of this century was say, -11 average of the highs and all the lows. Well, we see that being maybe by 2030 -8 and by the middle of the century to maybe 2060 of -6 or -7," he says. "That will be the challenge. It may be certainly a winter that will be shorter; it'll be a winter that you will still get those cold bouts of weather, but they won't be as long and they won't be as intensely cold. So this is the challenge that people face."

The NCC says it has been assessing and preparing for the impacts of climate change for several years and continues to learn about the effects of milder winters on the Skateway.

Along with a variety of approaches, like early ice flooding that could help build ice faster, the NCC is also monitoring weather and water temperatures and using the data to explore potential adaptation strategies, including a partnership with Carleton University to help identify strategies to adapt ice surface operations to the impacts of climate change.

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