Sunset

On November 14, 2016 we bid farewell to the sun. We will not see it rise again until January 28, 2017. The days had been getting shorter and shorter, the sun barely rising above the horizon, then just skimming along to set again moments later. Now it has set at last.

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TAWO against a colorful noon sky

We still get a few hours of civil twilight for 4:40 hours around midday where the horizon is well defined and it’s too bright to see stars. For about 90min on either side of that we are in nautical twilight with the brightest stars visible as well as the horizon, but lights are necessary for outdoor work. The next 90min are in astronomical twilight, and from 5pm to 5:40am it is truly darkest night.

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This graph shows the hours of daylight, twilight, and night for our latitude. The jogs in the lines are from the daylight savings time shift. Today is broken down on the bottom.

Many people have asked if I find the darkness, or lack of sun, depressing or difficult. I do not. I am only here for several months each year and the darkness makes this place feel even more special. It opens up the world of stars and auroras that only a handful of people get to see. It is beautiful and sublime, a perfect balance to the inescapable harsh sun of the summer. Aside from the outside lights on our buildings there is no light pollution. There are no trees or mountains to obstruct the horizon. It is like being on a calm sea – the dome of the sky immense and infinite. Stars shine and twinkle brightly, points light in the blackness. Satellites glide among the stars, occasionally flaring in the sunlight so high above. Meteors streak brightly now and then. Solar storms release energized particles which interact with our magnetosphere. This engendering the aurora borealis which glows and dances silently across the sky in fluid colorful ribbons fading in an out, glowing green or yellow or purple. (See my previous post for more info on auroras: https://antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/aurora-australis/) It is truly magical.

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Auroras reach towards the disappearing sun

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Looking up at Cassiopeia and auroras. The green LiDAR Shines up from the MSF and a satellite streaks across the sky.

We are now definitely in winter and temperatures have fallen lower and lower, reaching -53F yesterday! Here is a temperature (Celsius) graph from late September.

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Last week the full supermoon (closest since 68 years) coincided perfectly with sunset. We had some beautiful views of the enormous moon as it rose and set against be bruised earth shadow.

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Supermoon rising beyond the berms

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Panoramas

summit_16-17_flickr-105Looking to the North at dawn – the green house is still in darkness, the shop just visible behind the drift, and the 50m tower in front of the sun.

sunrise-panoLooking to the South a little while later – the Big House at sunrise!

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November 7, 2016 · 13:55

Winter

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After 4 days of weather delays the final turnover flight made it to Summit on November first. We unloaded several hundred pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and various other resupply items then refueled the plane and loaded it up again with bags and passengers. The fall crew had finished their tour of duty and were heading home at last. The rest of the afternoon here on station was mostly spent settling into winter rooms and unpacking the fresh food and supplies.

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Freshies!

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The walk in refrigerator, aka “freshie shack,” stocked up for winter with fruits, vegetables, and dairy. It is cooled with outside air and warmed with heat reclaimed from the generators (a little electric heater on the far wall augments heating when temps get super cold)

Fresh food, aka “freshies”, is a big deal in the polar programs. A few stations (such as the South Pole) have green houses and are able to grow some fresh food, but most stations do not have such facilities. As with everything else, freshies must be shipped in from elsewhere. For McMurdo and field camps these come from New Zealand. Here in Greenland it depends on the season – in the summer (Apr-Aug) we get supplies via LC-130s with the NY Air National Guard out of New York state, so food and cargo can be shipped directly from the US. In the winter the hercs are deployed to Antarctica and so for the few crew turnover flights (Oct and Feb) we rely on chartered Twin Otters from Iceland.
Even a few minutes’ exposure to extremely cold temperatures will blacken banana skins and wilt lettuce so freshies from Iceland are sent up in styrofoam boxes to prevent freezing while being transported to and from the plane. We won’t get any flights until February so the freshies we get at the Oct turnover are it – We have to make them last as long as possible. Lettuce goes the fastest and there isn’t much we can do to preserve it so we try to eat that first. Cabbage, carrots, potatoes, beets, onions, and squash can last for months and can also be frozen. Even apples, bananas, and oranges will last weeks to months before we are forced to freeze them.

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Earth’s shadow to the North

Now that turnover is complete the station is relatively calm and quiet. We are stocked up with food and fuel and are looking good for the months ahead. Winter is a drawn out marathon compared to the frenetic summer season – there’s less overall to do, but everything takes longer. We won’t get another plane until late February 2017 so it’s just a matter of keeping ourselves alive, the station functioning, and our year-round scientific instruments, such as NOAA’s observatory and ICECAPS, in working order.

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An almost noon sun behind the Big House

It is now officially winter and it’s starting to feel like it. Today the sun rose at 9:13am and will set at 1:20pm, tomorrow it will be 9:22am and 1:12pm…the last sunrise will be on November 14th (www.timeanddate.com/summit). Temperatures are variable, but they are dropping lower and lower. Current conditions here are publicly available at: summitcamp.org/weather. On Thurs evening we reached a new low this season of -52F and with the cold and the dark come auroras!

Welcome to Winter!

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Fall-Winter Turnover

Schedule a plane and you’ll get a storm…or so it seems more often than not!

Our first flight since mid-August was scheduled for Thursday Oct. 20th, but it was delayed a day due to extremely high winds Wednesday evening and into Thursday. We were hunkered down in Con 1 here (see last post) and made the best of it. On Friday morning I woke early to start weather obs. Because we are not an official airport the station supervisor is required to provide current weather observations in METAR form starting 3 hours prior to take off. The flight was scheduled to take off from Akureyri, Iceland at 9am which meant with the 2-hour time change I had to get up at 3:30am to start obs. We only have a handful of flights so that’s fine with me. Thankfully the winds calmed down significantly and the weather looked good. The obs only take 10 minutes or so every hour so I had plenty of time to make a big breakfast for everyone.

Here are a few sample obs:

M BGSM 200750Z 15006KT 9999 FEW100 M27/M30 2992 RMK CLDS DSNT HGT EST SDG/HDG (a beautiful day with 6kn winds, clear horizon, a few clouds at 10,000ft and -27C)

M BGSM 201150Z 150T31KT 0100 -SN BLSN VV003 M22/M24 A2865 RMK 8sc SDN/HDN (a less beautiful day with 30kn winds, 100ft visibility with falling snow and blowing snow, socked in with only 100ft visible vertically, -22C, and no surface or horizon visible)

In the summer we use LC-130 Hercs – big lumbering beasts that can haul thousands of pounds of cargo and dozens of passengers. In the winter however (Sep-Apr in Greenland), the ski equipped Hercs are put to work down in Antarctica and we rely on Twin Otter planes. They are much smaller than hercs, but they can take off and land without much of a skiway and have no temperature limitations. We use them often in the deep field of Antarctica as they do not need a skiway to land.

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On Oct 21st the Twin Otter took off on time and we got everything here ready – fuel tanks were pre-warmed and staged, the skiway was tracked and the flags cleared of frost, baggage/cargo going out had final weights taken and was staged in the SOB, and I switched on our air to ground radios. The Twin Otter stopped at Constable Pynt (Nerlerit Innat in Greenlandic) on the coast of Greenland to refuel and I got a note from the airport there that they were on their way!

When they were about 15min out I got a call on the radio from the plane asking for current weather conditions, confirming outgoing weights, and requesting fuel. We were ready and waiting with the fuel tanks and snowmobiles with sleds at the flight line. The 6 incoming passengers had just arrived from sea level and would not be used to the 10,500ft elevation or the cold. An hour later the incoming passengers were settling into the Big House and the plane was fueled, loaded,

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Training the new science techs

and on its way back to Iceland.

 

The past week has been a whirlwind of training and turning over duties to the new crew. Half of the incoming winter crew has been here in past seasons so that helps tremendously. The other two have a lot to learn, but they have both worked down in Antarctica so they have a good idea of what to expect and are almost fully up to speed. The new energy and enthusiasm is revitalizing.

 

The second flight of turnover was scheduled for October 28th. Unfortunately, while weather here at Summit has been decent, weather in between Iceland and Greenland has been poor and they have cancelled 4 days in a row now. Weather delays like this are not uncommon, but it’s never easy on morale especially with those pax due to leave. This flight is the last one until crew turnover in February. It’s bringing in fresh food and a few resupply items for the winter season and will take out the

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remaining fall crew. Everyone except me is leaving – I’m here through February.

While I don’t have to do any turnover myself I do have to do weather obs until the flight gets here. Now that daylight savings has ended in Greenland I have to get up at 2:30am to start obs…

The Green House looking intense at night

The Green House looking intense at night

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Early dawn and a partial moon at 7am in late October. The structures are the MSF and 50m tower.

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Hints of Hurricane at Summit Station

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Over the last 2 weeks we’ve had back to back wind storms with lots of drifting and blowing snow. On Wednesday, however, we got hit by the tail end of hurricane Nicole, by that time classified as a “post-tropical cyclone.” In a matter of hours our winds went from 20kn to over 60kn.

We follow similar weather criteria as the USAP: Condition 3 is visibility greater than 2000ft and wind-chill above -90F. Condition 2 is visibility between 2000ft and 200ft and/or wind-chill below -90F. And Condition 1 is the worst with visibility less than 200ft and/or wind-chill below -100F. When wind speeds exceed roughly 20knots snow is picked up reducing visibility and creating a white out. We’ve had a few cases of Con 2 recently with visibility under 2000ft, but I had yet to call on Con 1. Flag lines run between all the main buildings on station and during a storm all travel is monitored with radio calls including route and destination and check-in upon arrival. It can seem cumbersome at times, but it is also important to know where everyone is and that no one gets lost.

The day had started warm and a little windy with 20kn winds, but after midday they increased rapidly to 30kn then 40kn…finally hitting a peak sustained wind speed of 61kn gusting to 63kn! Unfortunately 53kn was the highest I saw on the station screen displaying current conditions.

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Current Conditions: -4F and 53kn winds

That was by far the highest wind speeds I’ve seen up here, though I doubt it broke any records. Winter and early spring storms can be vicious on the ice sheet. The Big House, up on stilts, rocked as each gust buffeted the structure. At around 35kn we went into Con 1 and I made the call over the radio. I could no long see the Green House from the Big House. Travel was restricted to emergency or well-coordinated necessary activity with no solo travel permitted. Two people were in the Green House and went down to the SOB together to get the mechanic and bring him back. Visibility was down to just tens of feet and we ran a rope line along the flags between the Big House and Green House. Even in those high winds it was not hard to follow the flag line, but if something were to happen, if someone were to be blown over and injured or become disoriented, the consequences would be disastrous. So we are cautious and careful.

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The storm was brief, however and winds died back down to 35kn pretty quickly. Overall the station fared well. A few large empty propane cylinders that are stored on the deck were blown over and there was significant drift growth around station. The buildings are far from perfectly sealed and we found several small drifts inside where ice and snow had been blown through a tiny crack. Walks around the berms revealed completely buried pallets in places and a few lighter items that had blown over, but not too much damage. We are prepared for potentially bigger storms through the winter.

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Wind speeds off the chart!

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Aurora Borealis

It’s a chilly evening in the heart of the ice sheet with temps hovering around -40F. We are outside, however, to witness a fantastic display of auroras! Tripods frost up, breath freezes on gaiters and hats, plastic becomes brittle, and above us the sky is alive.

I’ve written about auroras in a few previous posts here and here so I won’t go into too much detail, but a brief summary is that auroras are caused by energized particles from our sun striking gas molecules in the atmosphere (much like neon displays). The colors are due to which molecules are excited – green is caused by oxygen around 60 miles up while nitrogen causes the red-purple auroras. Solar storms and flares release waves of charged particles which can be predicted and tracked. To see the aurora forecasts and where they might be visible check out NOAA’s Space Weather page here: www.swpc.noaa.gov. NASA also has a fantastic page on Aurorae with photographs of aurorae on other planets!

Auroras dancing over the Big House

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The green line coming out of the far building in the last image is the CAPABL LiDAR I discussed in my previous post. The red light is the 50m tower.

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Lidar

It was lightly snowing last night, ice crystals falling from high, thin clouds as I walked from the Big House to the Green House. Looking towards the MSF there was just enough ice in the air to illuminate the ICECAPS LiDAR – a laser measuring cloud matter, phase, and crystal orientation. ICECAPS is a relatively large, long-term project researching cloud characteristics and their impact on climate. This knowledge is crucial in developing climate models as well as understanding our changing climate. More information can be found here: www.esrl.noaa.gov/arctic/observatories/summit.

Most of the time the laser is invisible, however with just the right conditions enough light can be reflected back to show the brilliant green beam. If you look carefully you can also see the vertical laser, however this is weaker and thus less visible. Beautiful science!

*If you are familiar with LiDARs you may have seen this spelled LIDAR, lidar, LiDAR, or LADAR – according to NOAA’s Digital Coast Blog all spellings are correct though LiDAR is gaining in popularity. 

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The ICECAPS LiDAR here at Summit

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The LiDAR at NOAA’s ARO facility at the South Pole Station

 

An example of the LiDAR data:

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Halos

Auroras may grace the polar skies at night, but the day sometimes brings phenomenal halos and sundogs. It’s hard to describe the intangible beauty of these phenomena – vibrant spots of rainbow on either side of the sun, glowing pillars of light from the sun, a brilliant stream of light encircling the sky parallel to the horizon…a good display is simply awe-inspiring.

In general atmospheric optical phenomenon (sundogs, halos, rainbows) are not uncommon. Frequent halos and sundogs can be seen around the world when ice crystals in the atmosphere reflect and refract light. Infrequent halos are more often seen in polar regions or at high elevations with colder temperatures and more ice in the atmosphere. A common occurrence with halos is “Diamond Dust” which is essentially a ground level ice cloud filling the air with glittering ice crystals.

All photos below were taken by me, click on any of the images to open the full photo with caption.


The different crystal shapes generate different optics, however ice crystals form in hexagonal symmetry, thus while the crystal might be long or short (columnar or plate-like) the internal angles are always the same. Here at Summit the ICECAPS project, housed primarily in the MSF, is researching these crystals and cloud formations to better understand the complex processes involved in these systems.

The following website is a brilliant source of information regarding atmospheric optics and identifying features: www.atoptics.co.uk. An impressive full list of optical phenomenon can be found here: https://wikipedia.org/Atmospheric_optical_phenomena. For more Summit specific photos and information check out the Polar Field Services blog, Field Notes.

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Photograph of a good halo display – 22° halo, upper tangent arc, 46° halo, and parhelic circle at Summit Station, Greenland

 

Below are some of my favorite photos of optics that I have witnessed in the Arctic and Antarctic. If only I’d had my wide angle lens in past seasons! Click on images to bring up caption and full picture.

 

According to atoptics.co.uk, 120° parhelia are infrequent, but not super rare. They are often faint and short lived however, I have only ever seen them twice. Below is a panorama at Summit showing bright 120° parhelia.

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Bright sundogs, 22° halo, and definite rare 120° parhelia! (Summit)

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Looking opposite the previous photo – the 120° parhelia can be seen along the parhelic circle (Summit)

Moon halos are not uncommon either, but require a nearly full moon and darkness as well as halo forming conditions.

 

Other interesting optical phenomena include the green flash and fogbows. The green flash lasted a few hours at the South Pole Station in 2013 (check out my post from that sunset with more green flash photos here). This photo was taken through a telescope. It’s a bit blurry due to heat waves and light distortion near the horizon, the same process which causes the green flash to be visible. Fog and fogbows are a frequent occurrence at Summit, Greenland.

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 Happy belated equinox and sunrise at Pole!

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Autumn

It is autumn on the ice sheet; Nights are growing longer and darker, days ever slightly colder, the winds are variable and often brisk. We often have freezing fog and rime grows on everything.

It’s been a month since the last plane departed from Summit Station and the five of us have settled into our roles and routines. The two science techs monitor the year-round science on station, troubleshooting issues, launching weather and ozone balloons, conducting accumulation surveys, and GPS measurements to calibrate ICEBridge data. The Mechanic keeps our lights on and water running – but he is also busy catching up on all the little projects from summer, tuning up snowmobiles, winterizing equipment, and cleaning the shop. Our heavy equipment operator has put the CAT D7 bulldozer to work completing the winter berm and pushing snow away from the station buildings. He’s made significant progress, but there is an infinite amount of snow and he’ll be busy until his last day here. As the station manager I have familiarized myself with the station and all the little changes that have occurred in the last year. I do all the admin/paperwork/email for the station as well as lead up safety and communications. This past month I’ve put my heavy equipment skills to work in the loaders cleaning up station, consolidating cargo, placing items on the winter berm, and doing water runs.

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Mostly we’ve been busy preparing for winter – making sure everything is up above grade, flagged, and photographed. We’ve winterized the summer buildings and moved them up to the berms. Air vents are covered, windows and doors secured, everything that shouldn’t freeze has been moved inside. Heavy equipment that won’t be used through the winter is parked up on berms, the air intake and exhaust taped up, the batteries disconnected and moved inside.

The station is nice and quite with just 5 people. While the summers are exciting and non-stop, the winters are slow and steady with time to catch up on projects. The summer professional cook is missed, however everyone takes turns cooking now and it’s fun. If nothing else, we’re burning so many calories in the cold and altitude that everything tastes good!

We’ve had a lot of overcast and cloudy days this month, though we’ve also had a few amazing sundogs and other atmospheric optics – more on that in my next post. Temps have dipped down to the -30F range, but our average day is around 0F to -10F with 10kt winds.

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A fog bow above station

Summit Station is at 72°N. For comparison Barrow, AK is at 71°N, Eureka Nunavut is at 79°N, Reykjavik Iceland is at 64°N, Longyearbyen Svalbard is at 78°N, and McMurdo Station in Antarctica is 77°S.

At 72°N we’ll have two and a half months (10 weeks) of 24 hour darkness, but unlike at the South Pole where there is one long day and one long night, we do have some day and some night for most of the year. In mid-August when the last plane left the sun was rising at 0305 and setting at 2205. Today it rose at 0555 and will set at 1857.

Below is a graph showing sunrise/sunset times for Summit in 2016 (note: times will shift one hour back in Oct for daylight savings)

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Summer’s End

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The summer season is coming to a close and Summit Station is as busy as ever wrapping up projects and preparing for winter.

The last Herc for the year is scheduled for Aug. 17th. We’ll be left with 5 souls on station and a lot to do before the storms hit. Autumn comes fast on the ice sheet with high winds, monster drifts, and reduced visibility. As winter approaches daylight dwindles and temperatures drop as well, though most of our preparations are for the storms.

To winterize station we move the handful of summer buildings (carp shop, summer berthing, storage units, short term science space etc) away from the main station. We park equipment out in the flat white and put all implements and drags on small berms raised above grade. All cargo on station is consolidated onto pallets or crates and placed on one long berm above grade as well. With nearly a meter of accumulation each year and an infinite amount of drifting possible things get buried. It’s just one of the difficulties of life here. So we mark edges and corners with colorful flags atop long pieces of bamboo. A lot of effort is put into marking, mapping, photographing, and documenting where things are put.

We are in the midst of turnover here – as the station manager this means I am in the office long hours reviewing SOPs and where documents are stored, as well as emergency plans, schedules, and tasking to be done before winter comes. The rest of my crew has been here since June and are mostly settled into their roles. I held this position last year so most of it is review, but there are some changes here and there and it’s good to go over everything before we’re on our own. The next flights won’t be until mid-October when a Twin Otter will fly from Iceland to Summit to change out part of the crew.

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