Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sunrise, Sunrise…

HDR of the sun on Sept 26, 2013

HDR of the sun from DZ on September 26, 2013

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun
And I say it’s all right

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter
Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

“Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles

The longest night has finally come to a close. After four months of solid darkness the light returned quickly, growing steadily brighter each day. It’s been six months since we last saw the sun’s golden light. Technically the sun breached the horizon on the equinox, September 22, however due to atmospheric distortions it was visible on Saturday September 21. We’ve had a number of stormy days of late providing us with a few glimpses here and there. It circles us now, skimming the horizon, rising in imperceptible increments – a slow and steady spiral.

On Saturday morning I walked out to the ‘end of the world’ – the edge of activity here at the South Pole. Beyond stretched the polar plateau unbroken, unmarked, hundreds of miles of snow and ice ending abruptly to drop off into the sea.
By the time I reached the edge, with all signs of life and human presence behind me, I was well frosted up. My fleece neck gaiter was thick and stiff with ice, a little area melted by my warm exhalations. My eyelashes were coated with thick globs of ice – freezing together or to my gaiter if I was slow in blinking…I pulled off my thick mitten and melted them clear with my bare finger tips, dropping the chunks of ice onto the snow by my feet. I had learned the hard way not to try with just my glove liner. It froze to my eyelashes and then my hand was stuck to my face and my eye was still frozen shut – starting to panic I yanked my hand away, pulling out half my eyelashes with it…which I guess got the ice off too…but not something I wanted to repeat. It was amusing to be sure, but a little uncomfortable.

My eyes open and free of ice I snuggled down into my warm layers, pulling my hood up against the wind, narrowing the gap between hat and gaiter. I stood blinking at the horizon. Thermal layers within the atmosphere distorted the sun shifting it like a mirage – a wavering, shifting orb of incredible sunrise_HDRbrightness and beauty. My eyes watered and I remembered you’re not supposed to stare at it…blinking, I looked down at the snow by my feet, a negative image of the sun burned into my retinas. I felt both over and underwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the light, by the emotions from the past six months, by the thoughts of the season ending and having to face the beautiful and terrible world again, of having to deal with cars and advertising and money and strangers…so many people! Overwhelmed by joy in the sun’s return, in awe of its utter magnificence and yet at the same time by a sadness at the knowledge that unless I return for another winter I will never again see the southern stars pirouetting overhead at noon, or the aurora australis dancing across the sky, illuminating the frozen plateau in a wash of green.
Simultaneously, I felt underwhelmed – a sentiment of “Well, that’s it then.” Resignation. The sun came back and life goes on. These next six weeks will fly by and then I’ll be off and away. I struggled with a deep, welling sense of regret and ache at the troubles and drama of the season, at the fact that a small number of angry people had decided they didn’t want to be here and had tried their very best to bring us all down. That’s been the hardest part of all – the people, but it always is.

“The exceeding brightness of this early sun
Makes me conceive how dark I have become.”
― Wallace Stevens, The Palm at the End of the Mind: Selected Poems and a Play

Sunrise here is not as quick and dramatic as at lower latitudes. I took an entire month to transition from the first hint of dawn to the sun itself rising above the horizon. There’s no point in standing and watching it, all you’ll see is the sun sliding sideways 15 degrees per hour. So after a few minutes my fingers were numb and my toes began to complain of cold. I shook myself, glanced up at the sun one last time and turned to walk back to the station. The wind was in my face and my skin ached with the windchill below -100F. The area between my eyes was uncovered and I felt the budding of an ice cream headache. I held my mitten over the gap of my eyes, careful not to let it freeze to my eyebrows or eyelashes, and listened to the crunch of snow beneath my feet as I trudged back towards the station. I thought about returning to the real world, to a world where the sun rises and sets every day! 364 times more than here.

The sun reflecting off the station

The sun reflecting off the station

HDR Sunrise on 19 Sept 2013

Axillary fuel tanks at the end of the world

Auxiliary fuel tanks at the end of the world

Sunrise on 21 September 2013 at the end of the world

Sunrise on 21 September 2013 at the end of the world

Back inside I got a cup of tea and noticed I was wearing my ‘inside clothes.’ I had absolutely no recollection of changing. I decided I was hungry and went to get a bowl, but by the time I got to the bowls I forgot what I was there for and so got a spoon to stir my tea and returned to my room…I woke one morning recently severely confused as to whether it was 6am or 6pm – had I laid down to close my eyes before dinner? Or was this a new day? TOAST.

Sunrise Dinner

Sunrise Dinner

A friend of mine passed away last month in a climbing accident. We worked together on the Juneau Icefield in 2008. The sunrises and sunsets on the icefield are some of the most spectacular I’ve ever witnessed. Breaks in the clouds during this long sunrise reveal an awe inspiring display, reminding me of Kevin’s description of the sky on the icefield: The snow gave way to sky and an explosion of contrast between white earth and ferocious sky drew the air from my lungs and left me feeling entirely insignificant.
Rest in peace Kevin Volkening

The satellite domes near the end of the world

The satellite domes near the end of the world

Venus passed the moon early in September over the course of a few hours.

Venus passed the moon early in September over the course of a few hours.

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HDR pictures of the Pole

Some HDR pictures I took this week. The sun is only 6.2 degrees below the horizon now and the light is starting to get beautiful…Only -69F today!

The Ceremonial Pole

The Ceremonial Pole

Geographic South Pole

Geographic South Pole

Dawn at the South Pole - window covers are down!

Dawn at the South Pole – window covers are down!

Station2_HDR_Sept03

The red lights are still on at DZ, and my triwalls are nearly buried

The red lights are still on at DZ, and my triwalls are nearly buried

Starting to excavate the LO and VMF arches

Starting to excavate the LO and VMF arches

Sastrugi

Sastrugi

One of the few photos of myself in a Big Red

One of the few photos of myself in a Big Red

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Yesterday a few of us went up on the roof to help replace the covers for the aurora cameras and to install a few pieces of meteorology equipment. The sky was illuminated with streaks of pink and purple. Only 7.7 degrees below the horizon now!

Sunrise from the roof of the station

Sunrise from the roof of the station

Andrew adjusting his camera settings

Andrew adjusting his camera settings

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September 2, 2013 · 22:44

Dawn

The full moon reflects off the snow and ice on polar plateau

The full moon from the roof of the station

Dawn is upon us. The sky grows lighter each day – swallowing the stars and washing away the auroras. The first faint glow was just visible in the second week of August, by now it’s taken over the sky. Right now it looks like it does at 530am in Denver, or 5:18am in Seattle…with the brightness of the sunrise circling the horizon 24/7, getting just a little lighter each day.

Out for a stroll at -97F (-130F windchill)

Out for a stroll at -97F (-130F windchill)

On clear days now it’s bright enough to see the sastrugi, to see footprints in the snow, and even to label my triwalls without a headlamp! The sky is a deep blue still speckled with stars and hints of aurorae. This month has been stormy, and on cloudy days it’s dark, a veil of clouds sliding across the horizon taking back what light was just revealed, but it’s lighter than black…on the darkest days of June and July it was hard at times to know if one’s eyes were open or closed. The sun hit its low point of 23.5 degrees on June 21, the solstice. Today it’s at 8º below the horizon – Nautical Twilight. 3 weeks until sunrise!

It’s no warmer outside, but just seeing the light is rejuvenating. It feels like a light at the end of the tunnel, a beacon pulling us forward day by day. I know it’s completely illogical, but there were days when it felt like it was never going to return. Like we would be stuck here forever – the stars spinning round and round above us, the same petty dramas played out on repeat. A skipping record. We still have two months left, so we’re far from done yet, but time is progressing. We’re getting closer to the now nearly mythical first plane.

Life inside the station this past month has lived up to the reputation of “Angry August.” This week however, it’s a new month. The window covers will come down and on the 21 the sun will rise above the edge of the world – a new day.

Days since the last plane: 200!
Days since sunset: 165
Days since midwinter: 73
Days until sunrise: 18
Days until first plane: 59*

*We’re scheduled to get a Basler and a Twin Otter through here in mid-October, but they’ll just be refueling. There will be no cargo/freshies/mail for us and no one but the crew leaving with them. “Our” first plane will be a C-130 Herc scheduled for Nov 1, but that’s always subject to weather and mechanical delays…that date isn’t by any means set in stone, it’s more like the middle of a bell curve.

The station in the vestiges of the long antarctic night

The station in the vestiges of the long antarctic night

The LO and VMF arches nearly buried on Aug 8

The LO and VMF arches nearly buried on Aug 8

Sunrise at DA on August 17th

Sunrise at DA on August 17th

The last of the visible auroras

The last of the visible auroras

Sunrise Profile

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