The following story by Andy Gardner is reprinted with permission from the Watertown Daily Times. It ran in early January, before the FISU World Conference games in Lake Placid, Potsdam, and Canton. The piece highlights Clarkson University's work to reduce carbon emissions through innovative sustainability projects, including at the University's Cheel Arena.
POTSDAM — Clarkson University is doing its part to save winter.
As preparations for the 2023 FISU World Conference games continue between Lake Placid and the north country hockey towns of Canton and Potsdam, recent investments in Cheel Arena are being highlighted to kick off a climate conference that accompanies the athletic contests.
The games, which are bringing more than 1,400 athletes from 43 countries to the region, have the theme “save winter.”
A series of speakers will explore the intersection of climate change and winter sports. In an announcement of the series, the organization stated more than 40 million people enjoy winter sports and recreation. “Save winter will help ensure we’re doing everything we can to reduce our impact on the planet and enjoy winter as it was meant to be enjoyed,” a launch page to the schedule states. “It’s about more than just snow — It’s about keeping winter for generations to come.”
The series will be at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts and also has a virtual component. Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos is among the first speakers.
The Cheel Arena Backstage Tour kicks off the event at 3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12.
From 2018 to 2020, Clarkson invested $40 million in a renovation of the arena into a heart of the campus with green energy improvements that maintain ice surface and temperature.
Cheel will host most of the men’s hockey qualifiers for the university games.
All of the efficiency and green energy improvements were installed at the arena during a project that required entirely new sections to be built to house the new machinery.
Behind the scenes, it’s all aimed at reducing carbon emissions, which Clarkson professors Erik C. Backus and Susan E. Powers say on a global scale is leading to drastic shifts in winters here in the north country. Ms. Powers also is director of Clarkson’s Institute for a Sustainable Environment. Mr. Backus is director of Clarkson’s construction engineering management program.
Global carbon emissions lead to what researchers call the greenhouse effect, which Mr. Backus says is “a long-known scientific effect.” He attributes that to bizarre weather patterns being seen more often in north country winters, for example the extreme storms seen in the last several weeks followed by long stretches of unusually warm weather.
“The more (carbon emissions) we put into the atmosphere, the more heat is trapped in Earth. Overall, it means the average ground temperature is increasing,” Mr. Backus said.
In the Adirondacks, “the natural snowfall cover has decreased more than a month” as a result, he said.
Climate Change Tip Off: Ticks
One observable long-term effect of this locally, Mr. Backus said, is the increased presence of ticks. In decades past they weren’t a problem. It wasn’t something people worried about when going into the woods in northern New York. Now in the early 21st century, they’re everywhere and can even be picked up in colder months leading up to winter after the leaves have fallen.
“The fact that we have ticks in the north country, even though deer carry them … we don’t have the cold temperatures that kill them,” he said.
Ecologists and environmentalists are also preparing for rattlesnakes, which can be found in the Catskills and south of the Adirondacks, to eventually work their way this far north and making the region a new permanent habitat. Again, that’s because the average winter temperatures are rising to a degree that doesn’t discourage the snakes’ northern migration.
“Really, you have to remember this is a global impact and a global effect,” Ms. Powers said. “There’s no geopolitical boundary that stops greenhouse gases.”
This is why, according to Ms. Powers, Clarkson favors green energy and sustainability projects like the Cheel improvements.
“It’s very important we do our part,” she said. “We really believe our students need to see these sustainable projects, learn about these systems, so when they go off they have that attitude to be part of the solution.”
“We’re responsible for the whole ecology,” Mr. Backus said.
Susan Powers, Director of Clarkson's Institute for a Sustainable Environment
The arena’s ice is cooled by a relatively new system that uses glycol instead of water to keep the surface cold and remove heat. It also improves the quality of the ice. The ice sits atop an eight-inch layer of concrete that has pipes running beneath it two inches down.
Mr. Backus said it’s a more effective means of cooling the ice than the former system, which used pipes that curved up and down beneath the concrete surface, at some points as shallow as two inches and as deep as the full eight inches in others.
The glycol solution has a dual purpose. It’s piped in cold, at about 17 degrees Fahrenheit or about -8 degrees Celsius. While it runs beneath the ice, it also absorbs heat and then takes it away through a series of pipes to what Mr. Backus described as “cooling towers” outside, where the heat is released into the air as steam with no pollutants.
The former system used chillers and a series of pipes that were designed for room/house air conditioning instead of cooling the ice.
The new chillers, located in one of the arena’s utility rooms, cool the glycol that’s pumped beneath the ice similar to “the effect of opening a pop can,” he said. When a carbonated can is opened, the carbon dioxide that makes the bubbles is under pressure and released when it’s cracked, cooling the exterior of the can. It’s the same principle. The glycol is put under pressure and released, bringing it down to the temperature needed to maintain the ice surface. It also doubles to cool the building in the hotter months.
On the heating side, the arena used to have a single boiler plant that has been replaced by four modular boilers that can be turned on or off as needed, and also have controls to regulate the heat output of each. They can be turned up and give off enough heat that Cheel could be used as an emergency shelter for severe winter storms that cut off power en masse.
All of the electricity Clarkson uses to power the Cheel machines is renewable. It comes from either the Moses-Saunders Power Dam in Massena or from Brookfield Renewables, who have several power dams in St. Lawrence County.
Go to http://wdt.me/ok7VSS for more information on the Save Winter conference and the Cheel Arena tours.
Tickets for FISU hockey games start at $10. To buy tickets, go to wdt.me/dbyJZW and click the ice hockey tab. The winners of the qualifier matches played at Cheel Arena and Maxcy Hall in Potsdam and at the Roos House in Canton will advance to semi-finals in Lake Placid at the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena. That’s where the medal games will also be played.
All games will stream live online at fisu.tv, with the finals being broadcast on ESPN and ESPN+.