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Climate change makes winter ice more dangerous

The authors compared death records and temperature data in Canada, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Finland, Russia, Sweden, Italy, Japan, and the northern United States. They analyzed about 4,000 total records over a period of 26 years, although the time period varied depending on the data available in each country.

The researchers found that more drowning in cold weather occurs in the spring, when daily low temperatures rise too much to support stable ice structures. At the same time, these warmer temperatures make it more fun to spend time outdoors, which means more people are spending time on ice.

Northern Canada and Alaska have higher drowning rates, even in very cold temperatures. Dr. Sharma says it̵

7;s probably because people are simply spending more time on the ice. Indigenous communities close to the Arctic depend on waterways for food and transportation, which means more time on the ice in winter and an increased risk of drowning.

The coronavirus pandemic can also put more people at risk.

“If this winter is anything like this summer was,” said Dr. Sharma, “A lot of people spent time in cottage country in Ontario because we just can not go anywhere.”

She said ice with seated water, slush or holes in the surface was generally unsafe. “Snow cover is when it gets difficult,” said Dr. Sharma. “People think there is so much snow on the ice, the ice must be thick,” but snow can also act as insulation and melt the ice faster.

“We, as individuals, need to adapt our decision-making,” she added, focusing on how changing winters are affecting local rivers, lakes and streams. “It may not be as safe now as it was 30 years or 40 years ago.”

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