Not Enough Snow for the Iditarod? We are in BIG TROUBLE!

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!

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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?

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11 thoughts on “Not Enough Snow for the Iditarod? We are in BIG TROUBLE!”

  1. An even sadder realization. Decades ago Exon’s own scientist said this would happen. (I imagine other oil companies and their scientists were also knowledgeable.) The company also realized that if there was major melting it would be easier and cheaper to drill. (I wonder how long we have before there is no turning back.)

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  2. The effects of global warming are endless. And we probably don’t even realize all of the effects…not that I follow the argument incredibly closely, so maybe there are scientists who have projections that we should all heed.

    In another type of response, I came across this gorgeous photograph collection of female Iditarod racers–thought I’d share it because your students might like it, especially the female ones! http://www.outsideonline.com/2060331/meet-women-iditarod#slide-1

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    1. I LOVE these photos. Thanks so much for sending them to me. These women are so inspiring…all of them. I got a big kick out of the 62-year-old with her dogs running in pink! Students would love this, don’t you think? Also, this is such a uniquely American event. Something positive for a change!

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  3. I guess many of us studied/followed the Iditarod in the past, and I too saw that sad news of having to bring in snow. Some of the politicians are still fighting the idea, the proof. They must have money backing them from those who won’t make changes. Thanks for bringing this up, & it would be a good study for older students especially.

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  4. Every time I read about the dwindling arctic, my heart hurts. I remember the first Earth Day and worrying what will happen to Earth. Soon we will live in the dystopian world if something isn’t done.

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    1. My heart hurts, too. And I am beginning to feel so helpless about it. Everyone around here is still running around in their SUVs and producing mounds of garbage that they don’t bother to recycle. We have become our own worst enemy, yet most people are still in denial. Big Sigh.

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  5. While man-made global warming is real and dangerous, we should also keep in mind that our perception of the biosphere as stable and unchanging is also wrong. Not only local events (volcanoes, droughts, hurricanes) but also immense rapid temperature swings (little ice age, 1816 the year without a summer) have long been part of the planet’s history, especially during this particular geologic era.
    It is probably too late to bring weather back to the previous equilibrium of the 19th century. Although that is unfortunate, worse would be what is becoming the standard responses _ hysterical overreaction or passive resignation. A lot can be done to mitigate climate change, and much of it is happening already, and it is important to keep pushing to have the political will to continue.

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  6. Some deniers, like Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, should be tried for crimes against humanity.

    (Also, Barbara, you should be tried for something after that “tip of the iceberg” pun; unforgivable. ; )

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