Tag Archives: Aurora Borealis
It has been a month since we arrived on station and we have settled into our roles. Every week seems to bring some form of excitement to keep things interesting, and we’ve had a few good wind storms, but thankfully nothing too dramatic. We are doing well and the station is running fine.
When we arrived it was full on autumn, the sun rose at 8:30am and set at 4:34pm. It was blustery with lots of blowing and drifting snow. Temperatures were erratic; cool, but not terribly cold. Over the past month we have shifted into winter. The sun began rising later and setting later…each day losing 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes of daylight. Finally, earlier this week on November 13, the sun rose and set for the last time. A mere 1 hour of daylight: 10:46am-11:48am. Unfortunately, that day was cloudy and cold and we did not get a proper view of the sun. But the days since have had beautiful periods of dusk and dawn, the sun stopping just short of breaking the line of the horizon. It’s a magical time with vibrant colors, long shadows, and the potential for auroras though we haven’t seen much yet.
The lowest temperature we’ve seen so far was -67.5°F on Nov. 12. Not the coldest I’ve been in, that was -107.9°F at the South Pole in 2013, but it’s pretty chilly. There seems to be a shift at -40°F where materials become a bit more brittle, the cold just a bit more sharp. Around -60°F there is another step; the solid steel of the loader tracks creaks and crackles, bamboo shatters, leather becomes solid, and your exhalations whoosh loudly past your ears as the moisture freezes instantly.
As the temperatures have dropped it has grown darker. Below is a solar chart showing hours of daylight in light blue, twilight in greys, and night in black throughout the year at our latitude. The x-axis is months of the year and the y-axis is hours in the day. The break in the graph is daylight savings time here in Greenland. The white double-line on the right is the showing today – which is also broken down at the bottom. You can see that between late May and August the sun never sets while between mid-November and late-January it never rises. Here is my post from sunset last year: Antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/sunset.
This just a fascinating affirmation of grade school physics and astronomy – proof that our earth is tilted 23.5degress off the elliptic and spherical. For comparison, here is a graph of today at the South Pole – the sun rises and sets just once a year at the poles (which I wrote about here) so you can see they go from 24hrs of daylight on the equinoxes to 24hrs of twilight and night.
And this is a graph of Nairobi which is very close to the equator, you can see there is very little change in daylight throughout the year.
Regardless of the cold and the dark there is work to be done inside and out. We try to wait for good days (warmer temps and lower winds) to do the more involved outside tasking, but we still need to add snow to the melter to make water, fuel the generators, move between buildings, and check on scientific instruments.
On January 28th the sun returned at last! We’ve had periods of twilight each day, but the sun has not breached the horizon since November 13th. Unfortunately, it was cloudy on Saturday…but it is getting noticeably brighter each day and we will have plenty more sunrises and sunsets before we leave at the end of February! Today is cloudy again, but technically the sun rose at 10:52am and set at 12:44pm. Unlike the South Pole, where there is only one sunset each year (see my post on that here), Summit Station gets many sunrises until May 6 when it will rise and remain above the horizon until setting again briefly on August 7th.
On the 27th the sun was very close to the horizon; a brilliant golden glow and colorful clouds hinting at its presence. On clear days this past week we have been admiring the defined earth shadow (another nice explanation of the phenomenon can be found here from Sky and Telescope) and beautiful pastel skies.
The new moon on the 27th meant it was a very dark night and we had a stunning view of the stars and Milky Way as well as a few curtains of aurora. Standing beneath this spread of stars with the infinite depth of the universe spread out around us is awe-inspiring.
Inside our buildings we maintain our routine. We have all but finished our fresh food and rely now on frozen, dried, or canned provisions. Everyone is growing tired and looking forward to returning to the ‘real world’ soon. Part of the issue is that we are at 10,550ft above sea level here at Summit and the physiological altitude is often much higher (we’ve seen atmospheric pressure equivalent to 12,500ft this winter). Even after initial acclimatization to the altitude it’s physically exhausting. People generally don’t sleep well up here – whether due to lack of oxygen or too much/too little day light, and after a few months it’s hard to ever feel well-rested. There’s also the mind numbing routine and isolation: We’ve been cooped up in a handful of buildings with no where else to go for months now. We all knew what we were signing up for and everyone is doing quite well, but the last 2 or 3 weeks are the hardest of any season and we’re all showing signs of Toast. There is some debate as to whether this is a “real” phenomenon – whether there is actually a medical cause (lack of T3 or vitamin D or something), but regardless it affects almost everyone in winter-over crews. Some of it is comical: short term memory degrades and you walk into a room forgetting what you were doing, then do it again 2 more times. People start a sentence or a story and forget what they’re talking about half-way through. Words become hard to remember: “Do we have any more of…umm, that thing that water goes through to make coffee?” or “Have you seen my book?…and by that I mean, my hat?” And simple math becomes especially difficult. On the flip side, frustration levels run high, tempers shorten, sleep becomes difficult, and physical energy runs low. It’s a time to remember to think before you speak, and to have extra patience for everyone who is likely feeling just as burnt out as you.
It’s also a time to be aware that we are not running on “all cylinders,” and to add to that folks are excited about post-ice plans and may not be fully present and focused on the tasks at hand. We will talk about staying present and being aware of our surroundings a lot, but we have made it through the darkest times and are down to the last month of our season now!
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.
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.
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.
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!