Here in Colorado, ski season is booming...well it should be. This year's snowfall has been disappointing, and future predictions for Rocky Mountain snow pack in this area is grim. Meanwhile, the Winter Olympics are in full swing in South Korea, but on our present course, most of the cities that have hosted them in the past will not be able to do so in the warmer future we are creating. The good news is that organizations like Protect Our Winters are already working to lobby policy makers to curb greenhouse gas emissions so that there will be a future for quality skiing in Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states like Utah.
I used to live in Alaska, so have several Facebook friends that race dogs and a few who compete or volunteer for long-distance races like the Yukon Quest and Iditarod. Seeing their posts got me thinking about whether anyone has yet to connect the dots on the future of dog mushing in Alaska. The Yukon Quest has already happened this year, and the Iditarod is set to begin on March 3. Of special note is that this year’s race will begin in Willow, just north of Anchorage. The Iditarod has two routes: a northern and southern route. Historically, each route alternated with odd years using the southern and even years using the northern. During the last two odd years, 2015 and 2017, however, the southern route had insufficient snow cover, thus necessitating the use of the northern route. Despite this year falling on an even number, in order to take advantage of sufficient snow, the Iditarod will follow the southern route for the first time since 2013.
Meanwhile, Arctic sea ice set a new winter record low this January for average extent. This follows a general trend of declining sea ice in the Arctic, but this is becoming more evident in winter months. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the earth. This is due to the complex interactions of changing ocean currents, receding sea ice, and ice-albedo feedbacks—all ultimately driven primarily by greenhouse gas emissions.
This decline in sea ice has allowed the now warmer waters to warm the surrounding Arctic air, in turn having widespread impacts on northern weather patterns. This will have implications for Alaska’s snow cover. Projections for future snow cover in Alaska indicate that the state’s Arctic portions at least will see among the greatest declines of any region in the Arctic. Both of the Iditarod’s routes are below the Arctic Circle, but the northern route is relatively close. And if the last few year’s March snow cover is any indication, the future fate of the southern route looks foreboding.
All that to say, now is the time to watch (or race in) the Iditarod while you still can.
Written by Chris Dunn