A new study, published in the journal PLoS One, has revealed that there is a significant relationship between increased drownings in the winter and climate change. According to the study, regions that have experienced a sharp increase in average winter temperatures are also experiencing more drownings.
The study, which was published last Wednesday, analyzed data collected in 10 countries in the Northern Hemisphere: U.S., Canada, Germany, Sweden, Japan, Italy, Russia, Finland, Latvia and Estonia. Many of the drownings that were studied happened when temperatures were just below freezing point. It was also observed that many increases in drownings occurred in Indigenous communities, where the people depend on the ice for their customs as well as for survival.
The research showed that those affected by the drownings varied demographically. For instance, the most affected were children under 9 years old followed by teenagers and adults from ages 15 to 39.
People who are accustomed to walking on icy landscapes may assume that the ice is stable enough without thinking about recent temperature fluctuations. One of the lead authors of the study, Sapna Sharma, explained that people may not think about how climate change is already impacting their everyday lives. Sharma, who is also an associate professor of biology at York University, said that we no longer have to just think about polar bears when we talk about climate change. The drownings are evidence enough that this crisis can affect anyone in any part of the world.
“I think there’s a disconnect between climate change and the local, everyday impacts,” Sharma said. “If you think about climate change in winter, you’re thinking about polar bears and ice sheets, but not about these activities that are just ingrained in our culture.”
According to Sharma, colder temperatures can be deceiving, especially at a time when the temperatures keep fluctuating. “It might be minus 20 Celsius today and tomorrow and the weekend, but last week it was 15 Celsius,” Sharma said. “Well, we might have forgotten as individuals that it was warm and sunny last week on a Tuesday, but the ice didn’t forget.”
If the temperatures are milder than usual, the ice will not be as thick as one might expect. Robert McLeman, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier, explained, “Milder temperatures mean that the ice is not as thick, or not as solid as it would otherwise be. And so people are going out onto it and not realizing that the ice is rotten.”
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