Tag Archives: Sunset

Ice to Ice

Phase II has come to an end. It was a great season and an especially interesting experience with both summer and winter operations. The new crew arrived right on schedule on October 8th via two Twin Otters from Akureyri, Iceland. The following week was a whirlwind of turnover with the new crew: training them on equipment and procedures, reviewing protocols and paperwork, getting them accustomed to the 10,550ft elevation and -30F temperatures and helping them get settled in with all the various idiosyncrasies that make up Summit Station.

On October 16th we officially handed over the reins. Two Twin Otters were scheduled to land just after noon, but the day had dawned with 20-25 knot winds and a fair bit of blowing snow in the air. Visibility was below their minimums with a worsening forecast. Still, the weather in Akureyri, Iceland and in East Greenland was clear and beautiful and they were going to try. As the day progressed we continued to submit hourly weather reports – the Phase III manager doing the observations. I stood by to answer any questions and assist with preparations for the flight. They had off-decked that morning on time, so while we were mentally prepared for them to cancel we also had to be ready to go. As their ETA drew closer the visibility stayed between 300-400 meters. The SOB was barely visible from the Big House.
The first Twin Otter called on the Air to Ground radio when they were about 15 minutes out asking for a current weather observation and confirming that they would attempt a landing. They could see the skiway markers, it was a localized storm, only a couple hundred meters high, and the wind was coming straight down the skiway. The mechanics pulled the loader and fuel tanks out to the taxiway, turning all their lights on to increase visibility, and the science techs readied their snowmobiles to transport freshies to the Big House and pax bags to the plane. We held our breaths and strained to see the plane in the whiteout as they reported over the radio that they had landed safely…”Norlandair 4 is on deck…but, we’re having a hard time seeing the flags, would it be possible to get a snowmobile escort to the fuel pits?” We escorted them in, began fueling, and unloaded the fresh food for Phase III. The pilots were unfazed and friendly. The second plane landed a few moments later without issue.

The first plane fueling with blue sky above

The first plane fueling with blue sky above

Norlandair!

Norlandair!

When we deployed in June 2015 we flew commercially to Scotia, NY where we boarded Air National Guard LC-130 Hercules planes and flew north to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland via Goose Bay, Canada. After a few days in Kanger we continued onwards up to Summit still on the Hercs. Redeploying now in October the LC-130s have flown South leaving Greenland for a period of maintenance before beginning the main summer season in Antarctica. Travelling to and from Summit then is done via Twin Otter – flying East with a quick stop in Constable Pynt on the rugged and isolated coast to refuel and Southward to Akureyri, Iceland.

I’ve never been East of Summit in Greenland and at first it’s the same flat white. The storm is indeed localized, not 15 minutes away the clouds clear and the sastrugi glitters in the sunlight as we cruise above.

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Fair weather just away from Summit

But then darkness appears on the horizon: mountains. Undulations form on the surface and a slope becomes apparent. I can see the ice flowing together and pulling apart, forming a more defined glacier – crevasses gape, indicating an increase in veloIMG_2677city. There’s no scale to show how huge they are. A nunatak appears, the tip of a mountain peaking above the ice. Then more – the ice lowering gradually, revealing mountains. Soon the ice is flowing between rock. Sheer granite walls rise above massive, epic, classic glaciers. Jagged peaks reach to the sky, dribbling rocks down their flanks to the ice below. Perhaps it is simply because I’ve seen only the flat white since May, but it is stunning and I can’t contain my excitement as I move from window to window. The sun is starting to set and the light is beautiful. It’s an inhospitable land: impossible to traverse. Perhaps some lichen or moss exists here, maybe the occasional bird, but there can’t be much else. Precipitous cliffs press against crevasse riddled ice as far as the eye can see. Further on, liquid water appears and the ends of the glaciers crumble into the dark reaches of the fjord. Icebergs! The sun sinks lower, behind the mountains, bathing the landscape in gold and pastel pinks and blues and we begin our abrupt descent to Constable Pynt. Not much more than a landing strip scraped clear of snow and some fuel tanks, it’s a quick stop and then we’re off over the far North Atlantic, heading south now to Iceland.

Inside the Twin Otter - the pilots up front, then the ferry fuel tank (extra fuel for the long flight) and us in the back.

Inside the Twin Otter – the pilots up front, then the ferry fuel tank (extra fuel for the long flight) and us in the back.

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Crevasses

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Constable Pynt, East Greenland

Refueling in Constable Pynt

Refueling in Constable Pynt

Arctic foxes (one white one brown) at Constable Pynt

Arctic foxes (one white one brown) at Constable Pynt

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It’s dark when we land in Akureyri. The town lights gleam and the air is laden with the smell of fall; the sweetness of decaying leaves, the hint of fresh grass and life, the salt from the sea. It’s windy and we couldn’t be happier. The next morning we fly on to Reykjavik and after a long layover, back to the U.S.

Reykjavik Cathedral

The cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland Oct 17

It was a record fast turnaround for me this year. Less than 48 hours to unpack and repack, take a bath, enjoy some crisp fruits and veggies, then back to the airport. Greenland to Antarctica in less than a week!
This year I’ll be working as an equipment operator on a small traverse shuttling materials from Byrd camp to WAIS Divide. There are no plans for a camp in the near future at Byrd, so much like last season (Pig DiggersWAS Recovery) it will be a skeleton crew working to return material back to McMurdo where it can be used for other projects. WAIS Divide is a fairly significant camp as far as deep field camps go – a staff of 15 will support a number of science groups operating out of there. Byrd however, will have a crew of just 4; their primary task being to excavate the cargo stored out there and either return it to WAIS Divide via our traverse or fly it back to McMurdo via LC-130 Herc. As far as traverses go ours will be pretty minimal with just two of us driving Tucker Sno-cats over the 100-mile stretch between the two field camps. In the field, far from the main stations, we will have no internet access though we will be carrying satellite phones and a portable HF radio.

Byrd has a long and varied history – from a year-round station to a summer only field camp. The Antarctic Sun did a nice piece on the history of Byrd history: Antarcticsun.usap.gov

I also reviewed some of it’s history back in 2012-13 when I was working as the equipment operator out there for the summer: antarcticarctic.wordpress.com/byrd-surface-camp-2012-13

So thanks for following along this summer! And stay tuned for the next grand adventure…The West Antarctic Support Traverse 2015-16!

Kiwi graffitti

Kiwi graffiti in Christchurch, New Zealand Oct 22

Welcome to Antarctica!

Welcome to Antarctica! Getting off the C-17 in McMurdo, Antarctica on Oct 23

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Sundogs

A beautiful sundog just before sunset today

A beautiful sundog just before sunset today

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Aurora Borealis

Aurora behind the Big House

Aurora behind the Big House (HDR)

A month since the last plane and a month yet to go, we’ve settled into our respective winter roles keeping the station running and warm. Our focus so far has been to get everything stored for winter and we’re almost there. All the cargo has been moved to the berm, the buildings have been dragged out away from the main station, and our HEO has been working diligently to clear as much snow as possible from around the remaining buildings before the winter storms begin in earnest.

It’s definitely autumn here on the ice sheet. The sun is setting around 7:00pm now and rising around 6:00am, and by 9:30pm or 10:00pm it’s properly dark outside! It catches me off guard…I know it sounds odd, but I’m used to the ice being either light (summer) or dark (winter). I’m not used to seeing the sun set below the great flat white each day, and how fast it changes!

Along with the darkness comes stars, and auroras! We had our first sighting this week. While I’ve seen the Southern Lights this was my first undeniable glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights.

The MSF, 50m Swiss Tower, and Auroras...

Aurora Borealis over the Mobile Science Facility (MSF) and the 50m tall Swiss Tower…

Auroras illuminate the sky behind the 50m Swiss Tower

Auroras illuminate the sky behind the 50m Swiss Tower

Named for the Roman goddess of dawn, Aurora, the Northern and Southern Lights are formed by the same process. In summary: charged particles carried by the solar wind are deflected by Earth’s magnetosphere and carried towards the polar regions where they interact with the upper atmosphere releasing photons – light. For a more thorough explanation please refer to my previous post here…or check out these websites for more information:
http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/phenomena/aurora
http://odin.gi.alaska.edu/FAQ/

As these charged particles are released by solar flares and carried on the solar wind, aurora events can be forecasted somewhat, though the accuracy is even less than predicting the weather. (http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-3-day-forecast)

The aurora is a beautiful and magical phenomenon, but it is not rare – it is happening nearly constantly day and night! The light emitted is so faint however, that it can only be seen at night. Every planet with a magnetic field has auroras at the poles – those that don’t, such as Venus, still have the occasional aurora, but they are more random and not specifically polar.

Ultra violet aurora on Saturn.

Aurora on Saturn seen in ultra violet

Over the past few days we’ve had stronger winds and more blowing snow in the air, while this has obscured the night sky it did illuminate the normally invisible LiDAR instrument shining through it’s little window in the MSF roof. A very strong laser, the LiDAR instrument is part of a suite of experiments that compose the ICECAPS project that are studying precipitation and cloud properties over the Greenland ice sheet. Check out the official Polar Field Services blog for a more complete summary: polarfield.com/blog/tag/lidar

The CAPABLE Lidar visible in the blowing snow

The CAPABLE Lidar visible in the blowing snow

The NOAA Observatory webpage has some interesting information on the MSF and the ICECAPS project found at: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/arctic/observatories/summit/
The University of Wisconsin website also has a webpage with information on ICECAPS: http://icecaps.ssec.wisc.edu/

Temperatures have stayed fairly warm so far (between 0F and -20F), though we have had the occasional dip down to -40F. The general trend is that it’s either clear, calm, beautiful, and very cold (-30F to -40F)…or windy, overcast, snowing and warm (+5F to 0F). As the winter progresses and the days get shorter temps will continue to fall. It won’t reach the coldest temps seen at the South Pole in winter, but it gets cold enough!

For those who might be curious, Summit’s weather data is publicly available at: summitcamp.org/status/weather

And HDR image of the SOB in the dark.

The SOB at night – the generator exhaust illuminated by the building lights. (HDR)

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August 26th 2015

August 26th 2015

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Summer’s End

Summit (298 of 7)Winter is coming – temperatures are starting to drop and the nights are almost dark. The final flight period is over and summer has officially come to an end.

It was a full season – raising the TAWO building, supporting a number of interesting research projects both large and small, and sending out a bunch of material no longer needed on site. We had 26 LC-130 Herc flights this summer and now the Guard has returned to New York to prepare for the upcoming Antarctic season./static/images/status/weather/weather-tempout-lastweek.png

Now we have closed for winter and there are just six of us left on station: Manager, Mechanic, Heavy Equipment Operator, and three Science Techs (PFS, NOAA, and ICECAPS). We still have HF radio and a satellite internet connection (though still limited bandwidth so no youtube or skype videos). Our next contact with the outside world will be in mid-October when the next crew arrives on a Twin Otter from Akureyri, Iceland. They’ll care for the instruments and station from October through February.

In the meanwhile we have our work cut out for us to winterize the station. Pallets need to be moved to the berm, buildings need to be dragged out away from the main station to limit drifting, and vehicles need to be winterized and parked away from station as well – and everything needs to be flagged and mapped! The winter drifting is unimaginable – huge pallets and whole buildings can disappear beneath drifts of snow. Come spring there’s too much snow to shovel all by hand so heavy equipment is used, however it’s all too easy to destroy things when you’re not exactly sure where every buried item is! So we must flag everything, photograph everything, map everything and hope that any changes are recorded with as much detail as possible.

It’s almost eerily quiet with everyone gone – 19 people left on the last plane. With no cook we’ll each be taking turns cooking, and travel even on station is more tightly controlled. Everyone carries a radio. It won’t get fully dark until November, after we’re gone, but the sun is setting earlier and earlier: tonight it will set at 9:30pm and rise at 3:51am. A week from now it will set at 8:45pm and rise at 4:24am. There have been some beautiful sunsets so far!

So thank you to everyone who participated this summer season!

The Summit Summer Crew

The Summit Summer Crew

The last plane...

The last plane…

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All quiet in the Big House

All quiet in the Big House

Summit (297 of 7)

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Sunset over the fuel pits on August 14th, 2015

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Summit Sunsets

Sunset on August 6, 2015 at Summit (photo by

Sunset on August 6, 2015 at Summit (photo by “Medic Luke”)

At 72° 35’46″N 38° 25’19″W Summit is above the Arctic Circle. This means that for a few months each summer the sun never sets and the winters are long and dark. Unlike at the South Pole however, where there is only one sunrise and sunset each year (see my old post from Pole about sunsets here), Summit gets several months in the spring and fall with sunrises and sunsets. The last sunrise here was on May 6th, 2015 and last night, on August 6th, the long day ended. Though the sun technically set at 12:22am, rising again just 37minutes later at 12:59am, due to atmospheric distortions it didn’t visually appear to go below the horizon at all. Several people stayed up to watch, and the light was beautiful. It changes fast at these latitudes – tonight it will set at 11:54pm, rising again at 01:26am. This makes today unusual in that we have two sunsets on one day! One at 12:22am and another at 11:54pm….all a matter of arbitrary time zones (we’re on the same time as Kanger), but it’s kind of interesting nevertheless. It will continue setting earlier and rising later until November 14th when it will set for the last time, not to rise until January 28th! For more information about sun rise and set times and lengths of twilight check out this link: http://www.timeanddate.com/sun/greenland/summit-camp The North and South poles each have one sunrise and one sunset per year due to the tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun. If the earth’s axis were perpendicular to its orbital plane the sun would appear to just skim the horizon year-round at the Poles and the rise and set times of the sun around the world would stay constant. It’s a beautiful confirmation of our planet and its position in space …

A diagram showing daylight on Earth on the equinoxes. (Wikipedia)

A diagram showing daylight on Earth on the equinoxes. (Wikipedia)

The US Naval Astronomical Observatory has a neat website that allows you to search for full sun and moon rise/set tables based on your city or lat/long. Check it out: http://aa.usno.navy.mil/data/docs/RS_OneYear.php 2015 Chart for Summit Station, Greenland: Sunrise&set Table 2015 And finally…one of my favorite things ever: www.solarsystemscope.com/daylightmap Pull the scroll bar
at the top to the right to speed up time, to the left to reverse. We’re roughly in the middle of Greenland, so try fast forwarding to Nov 14 and compare that to Jun 21, our longest day, or to Aug 6, our first sunset. Enjoy!

August 6, 2015 - First sunset (photo by

August 6, 2015 – First sunset (photo by “Medic Luke”)

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The End of Summer

The summer season at Summit Station has come to a close and they have now begun the first phase of winter. Unlike the South Pole; the winter crew is comprised of only five staff (manager, mechanic, and three science technicians) and they’ll swap out crews in October and again in February. And while there will be plenty of darkness, they aren’t at the Pole itself so the sun will keep rising and setting for a while yet – each night growing a little longer than the last.

August was a busy month and I was kept occupied with moving material to the winter berm, carefully organizing it for (hopefully) easy access during the winter and with the intent to minimize drifting as much as possible. We also created a detailed map itemizing pallets and locations with lots of photographs. Come April and opening, the berm will inevitably be buried under snow. The goal is to know what is there and where it all is so it doesn’t get lost and forgotten. During the final week we took down tent city, organized extra bamboo flags, cleaned up all the summer projects and generally tidied camp up for winter. The last few flights brought in extra food to last until April. The Hercs will return to NY for maintenance before heading down South to begin the Antarctic season from Oct-Mar. The winter flights will all be via Twin Otter.

This was a short season for me, and I’m back stateside to enjoy the tail end of summer here. Thanks for following! ‘Till next time…

Tent city all cleaned up

Tent city all cleaned up

A setting sun

The sun setting over the fuel pits and new drifts

The shop looking nice with the setting sun

The shop

The Greenhouse in the golden light of the arctic midnight sun

The Greenhouse in the golden light of the arctic midnight sun

Farewell Big House!

Farewell Big House!

The summer crew leaving Summit

The summer crew leaving Summit

The final herc that took us home

The final herc that took us home

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Sunrise…Sunset

At 72 degrees North, Summit is within the Arctic Circle. The sun doesn’t set for much of the summer, however since the Solstice on June 21, it’s slowly been sinking lower during the night. At the Poles the sun circles with almost no change in degree above the horizon between noon and midnight. Here we’re 18 degrees from the Pole so it follows an ellipse, sinking closer to the horizon in the night and swinging high into the sky during the day. While it still isn’t getting quite dark enough to see stars it’s definitely becoming dusky.

Today the sun rose at 3:27am and will set at 9:41pm, though it stays fairly bright throughout. Here’s a good page to check out for more information on weather and such: Summit Almanac and Weather. The nights are getting longer by 12 minutes each day!

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A chart showing sunrise and sunset times for our coordinates.

To make your own chart by either your city or latitude and longitude check out this page.

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5pm Aug 21 at Summit

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Sunset on Aug 14 at 10:15pm

The shop at

The shop at midnight on Aug 20

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Sunset at the South Pole

Sunset
March 21, 2013: The Equinox – the technical date that the sun, as a point, sets at the South Pole. On a perfectly spherical earth, with no topography, no atmosphere, no height above the ground the sun would be exactly halfway below/above the horizon on this day …Of course this isn’t the case, so our sunset is a little more variable. Since reaching a peak height of 23.5deg (the tilt of the earth) on the December solstice the sun has slowly spiraled towards the horizon. For the past few weeks we have witnessed increasingly beautiful displays of gold, pink, and purple light. Shadows stretch exponentially and the sun spins around us, just skimming the horizon, moving as much as 15deg an hour. Inside it has become noticeably darker, with lights turned on in the galley and my room nearly dark at night. This is a pretty big deal for us winter overs as the sun rises and sets only once a year here at the South Pole – events witnessed solely by those who commit to winter here, a total 1389 people (197 women)since 1957.

A good visual (thanks wikipedia) of variuos dusk/twighlight terms.

A good visual (thanks wikipedia) of variuos dusk/twighlight terms.

Due to a combination of phenomena, the sun is still visible today and will likely remain so for a few days yet. Even after the orb ducks below the horizon we will have a few weeks of light, phasing from daylight to civil twilight (0-6º below horizon) to nautical twilight (6-12º below) astronomical twilight (12-18º below) and eventually to full darkness. The moon rises and sets on a two week cycle, the brightness of which can be significant, so we will not be in full darkness for the entire winter. That said, it will be pretty dark for a good ~4 months.

The next moonrise is March 26th, but the sun won’t show it’s light again until the next equinox (vernal for us in the Southern hemisphere, autumnal for those of you further North) on September 21, 2013.

The latest update from the Coldest Journey which has just begun their trek to the Pole:
www.thecoldestjourney.org

A few factors that influence the actual sunset are variable topography, air densities, and thermal inversions. The topography at the South Pole is not completely flat and uniform as it might seem, gradual undulations over miles create nearly imperceptible hills and valleys. These become noticeable this time of year with the sun appearing to be right on the horizon at noon and a few degrees above at 5pm. Strong thermal inversions exist here as well which can significantly refract the light, making the sun visible many days after it has technically set. The refractive effects of our atmosphere can make the sun appear to be flattened or squished against the horizon, or deceptively higher than it actually is, and is the cause of the green flash (LOTS more on the green flash and refraction here: http://aty.sdsu.edu/) – a phenomenon that has been visible for several hours in past years. Today it’s quite cloudy, but here’s a photo of a green/blue “flash” taken in 2000 by Rodney Marks:

blue flash And some more from 2003 (photographer unknown):

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And here are some of my photos of the sun taken this year:
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And so begins the longest night…

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Filed under Antarctic, Science, South Pole, Winter