When I saw the NY Times headline today I couldn’t believe my eyes. “As Alaska Warms, the Iditarod Adapts.” I am not an Iditarod groupie, but I do like reading and hearing about it. It’s such an unusual sporting activity and was always the perfect way for me to introduce a unit on The Arctic to my students. Who doesn’t love dogs, right? We’d follow the progress of the Iditarod and learn about the racers and the dogs. Then we’d move on to icebergs, polar bears, igloos and the Inuit. They loved it!
The Iditarod is an event “that captivated the world in 1925, when a sled team, led by a dog named Balto, raced through blizzards to deliver lifesaving serum to Nome during a diptheria outbreak…. And since 1973, the competitive race has been run to celebrate that trek.”
But this year is the culmination of three winters in a row that have been the warmest on record in Alaska. Accordingly, dirty snow had to be brought in by seven train carloads so that the 85 dogsled teams could parade through Anchorage for 3 miles, 8 miles less than usual because of the lack of snow.
This is the kind of story that breaks my heart. It makes me seethe with anger toward those who still don’t believe in climate change. According to weather watchers, this could be the first year in history that temperatures have not reached minus 50 in Alaska, considered “deep cold” that is essential for preserving the conditions on the Iditarod trail. The dogs, used to typical temperatures of below minus 30, are “happiest at temperatures of zero to minus 30.” Now, when and if it snows, the snow often melts by noon.
This has caused racers to adapt to extremely variable conditions. The greatest concern is the dogs who can easily become distressed and dehydrated by the warmer conditions, and may even have to be pulled from the race. They are checked periodically throughout the face for signs of stress.
While I can see that this story could promote an exciting unit study of situations wherein people and/or animals must adapt to extreme and/or changing climactic conditions, it is not a unit I would look forward to teaching because of its implications. Having said that, it would be a powerful lesson to teach kids because it would make the fact of climate change very real to them. I am sure that many people would respond, “Well, big deal. Who needs the Iditarod anyway?” But the Iditarod is just the tip of the iceberg (pardon the pun); the implications for all of us are very widespread, profound and disturbing.
I’ll get off my soapbox now and wait to hear your responses. I know that you are out there and you care. After all, who wants to lose the part of our gorgeous national landscape that we see pictured below? Or the sense of fun and excitement that the Iditarod brings out in its fans?