SciQuilt – When Snow is a No-Show for the Iditarod

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March 3, 2022 by Dr. G

*Note that this is the same post as found on the AGU GeoEd Trek blog.

The following is the quilt I am submitting to the Stitch Your Science 2022 virtual event, themed on climate science. As the quilt calls attention to the impact of warming temperatures on the Iditarod, I share the story here, with hopes that everyone will consider further sharing this quilt and discussing the race, the Arctic Report Card, and more with students, colleagues, family and friends.

Large quilt with batik fabric hanging
“When Snow is a No-Show for the Iditarod”. Completed by Laura Guertin on February 28, 2022.

The year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of a race that honors the legacy of the Alaskan sled dog and Alaska Native people who have used dog sled transportation for millennia. Also referred to as the “Last Great Race on Earth”, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race takes mushers and their team of up to 16 dogs pulling sleds filled with equipment and food 1,049 miles from its ceremonial start in Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The race takes place each year on the first Saturday in March.

The Iditarod is designed for snow, but in the more recent decades of the race’s history, unseasonably warm winters and upper-level wind patterns have caused part of the trail to be left without snow and instead be a trail of grass and gravel, a route of unfrozen rivers, streams, and ponds in the low-lying Alaska Mountain Range. This required the route of the Iditarod to be shifted 250 miles north to Fairbanks, Alaska, three times – in 2003, 2015, and 2017. NOAA’s Arctic Report Card documents that the winter temperatures in Alaska’s central interior are warming more than double the rate of winter warming in the lower 48 states and global average. Some question the safety and longevity of this race that celebrates tradition and culture.

I created a quilt in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and to acknowledge the impact of warming temperatures. This video is an overview of the quilt, and a full description with additional images can be found below.

Starting at the bottom of the quilt, the dark batik fabric was used to represent colder temperatures, with the sleds facing to the left to symbolize the race heading from east to west across Alaska. As one moves up the quilt, there are golden arrows for warming temperatures – three sets of arrows representing the three times when the race was shifted to the north because of environmental conditions. The batik fabrics with the sled dogs and mushers also becomes lighter in color moving up the quilt to represent the warming temperatures over the years. At the top, I placed a question mark, questioning how much longer this race will be able to continue because of the warming temperatures across Alaska, a point driven home by mushers and dogs on the warmest color of fabric for the quilt hanger.

All of the fabrics used in this quilt are from The Quilted Raven in Anchorage, Alaska. Titled “When Snow is a No-Show for the Iditarod”, this quilt was completed February 28, 2022, and measures 45 inches across by 49 inches in height.

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