Climate Change Threatens to Halt Alaska's Sled Dog Races

Officials wonder how long sled dog racing will survive the warming temperatures, which threaten the very landscape of the race.

NPR's Emily Schwing reports on some recent climate-change developments that are affecting Alaska's Yukon Quest and Iditarod sled dog races. Officials and mushers are beginning to wonder how long the state sport will be able to survive these drastic changes with warm temperatures threatening food supplies and the landscape of the race.

The mushers have already begun to look at their environment and how they train their dogs with a different kind of race in mind. Open water is looked at with a wary gaze, as Hank DeBruin of Ontario tells Schwing about a recent close call he had:

"I was sleeping in my sled bag and I heard a roar, sounded like freight train. So I threw all my stuff in the sled bag, pulled my dogs and my sled up the bank a bit and turned around, and there was wide-open water where the sled was sitting five minutes earlier."

Dogs are also being trained to run more at night, when the temperatures are colder — better conditions for the dogs, who usually enjoy sub-zero temperatures. Likewise, the rising temperatures are causing mushers to pack their food differently. Usually, they break off frozen chunks of meat for their dogs, but food is now exposed to warmer temperatures, making it thaw and spoil easily. So, some mushers have taken to insulating their food. Raincoats for dogs and musher are also being packed within the sleds — more gear to protect against the new elements that are challenging the racers.

Climatologist Rick Thoman from the National Weather Service spoke to Schwing about the inevitable call officials may have to make one day, saying there could come a day in five or 50 years from now when the warm temperatures will affect whether the race will even happen. Officials already considered moving the starting line of the Yukon Quest race, but a drop in temperatures and a snowstorm allowed them to reconsider.

Being that these sled dog races are Alaska's official state sport, bringing in tourists, these warming temperatures may cause the state to shift its position to try and find another economic driver. Many people, from farmers to nations, have had to make hefty decisions from whether to stop growing a certain cash crop to stalling a sporting event. The world is, indeed, changing the landscape.

Read more at NPR.

Photo Credit: Frank Kovalchek/Flickr

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Saying no is hard. These communication tips make it easy.

You can say 'no' to things, and you should. Do it like this.

  • Give yourself permission to say "no" to things. Saying yes to everything is a fast way to burn out.
  • Learn to say no in a way that keeps the door of opportunity open: No should never be a one-word answer. Say "No, but I could do this instead," or, "No, but let me connect you to someone who can help."
  • If you really want to say yes but can't manage another commitment, try qualifiers like "yes, if," or "yes, after."
Keep reading Show less

Apparently even NASA is wrong about which planet is closest to Earth

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less