The Three Stages of Twilight

We have one week left of nautical twilight before civil twilight begins (Sept. 7). Two weeks after the onset of civil twilight is the equinox (Sept. 23). At that time the sun will rise above the horizon 24/7 until the next equinox (March 20).

Astronomical twilight: the sun angle is between -12 and -18 degrees below the horizon. 7 weeks before sunrise. The result being a faint glow; starlight is more visible than the diffuse sunlight.

Nautical twilight: the sun angle is between -6 and -12 degrees below the horizon. 5 weeks before sunrise. Significantly bright stars are visible to the human eye and the ice's horizon is visible at this time.

Civil twilight: the sun angle is at -6 degrees below the horizon and lasts until sunrise. 2 weeks before sunrise. Head lamps are not needed outside during this time and it's safe to say that it's light out there. Given our crisp and steep snow drifts the long shadows cast by civil twilight and sunrise pose a risk to outside hikers because one cannot easily perceive the depth of a trench next to a drift.

Below is a chart showing daylight times for given latitudes at different times of the year. At the bottom right-hand corner is 'where' we are at now at the South Pole. -90 S latitude + Sept. 1 = continuous daylight. But, as of now, that daylight is more like early morning light, aka twilight. To the human eye twilight is a photographer's paradise. That is, if you're like me and are infatuated with taking pictures of sunrises and sunsets. To the world of science twilight is the beginning or ending of many things. For the rest of this post consider twilight to be the pre-sunrise twilight, not the pre-sunset twilight I enjoyed in February 2010. As the sun rises higher beneath the horizon (oxymoron?) it's obvious that there is more light in the sky, but there is more going on to what the eye can see. Sublimation, ozone depletion and increased atmospheric circulation are three major events that begin with the polar sunrise. Sublimation is evaporation of ice directly to water vapour, caused by insolation. I.e., disappearance of frost and drifts around our station. Ozone depletion I will cover much more later on when the ozone hole is born above our heads, which may be sometime late this week. Increased atmospheric circulation locally means that the surface air temperatures will be getting warmer. Unlike the majority of the world, this landscape is bright white. Hence a high albedo shown in the graph below. That means that most of the sunlight is reflected back into the atmosphere. Even though the sun is coming we barely get to enjoy it's thermal radiance, which is a good thing because if we did then we may very well likely be subject to dangerous UV radiation too. Image source.

Here's what twilight looks like from above at noon on August 31st...

And here's what it looks like 12 hours later.

Here's what it looks like at 6 AM.

Here's 4 AM.

4 AM again.

6 AM.

8 AMish.

And this is what it really means for us... opening up the station. With adequate light outside we are going to take down our window coverings next week and this begins the station opening. From then on our community will be doing everything from opening up the outside summer camp, cleaning the bandroom, deep cleaning the bathrooms, shoveling awaying snow drifts and plowing the ice fields for the summer crew. The chart below has all the tasks that need to completed, the times they need to be completed and who needs to do them.

So let's get started eh?


Happy Freezing Camper

I first came to Antarctica seeking an environmental and culinary challenge and that pursuit was exacerbated when I journeyed to the South Pole. I believe that humans would not survive in a place like this with simple, natural clothing and materials. Numerous times I've dazed at the Milky Way wondering if we're supposed to be here. Should humans live in a frozen dessert where no other lifeform exists because it's too bloody cold? Tents and boots and nearly everything we use here has to be engineered in a way that can withstand the coldest temperatures on Earth. On the contrary I will say this, real fur and down coats are a miracle in this cold. Scott's team didn't stay long at the South Pole when they were the first ones to arrive in the summer of 1911 with their sleds and dogs. It was warm for them; warm being -50 F or hotter. During a winter at the South Pole human survival depends on synthetic materials, diesel generators, hand warmers, etc. I decided to put it all to the test and camp outside for just one night while it was in the -80s to see how well I could fare with the bare necessities.

Yesterday our full moon set and according to some Native American cultures this moon is called the 'red moon'. Indeed was it red. Unfortunately, high altitude clouds moved in obscuring the majority of the moon show.

The next day (Friday) around noon I recieved word from our meteorologist that a cold front was on it's way. I decided then that I would camp outside that night and snag photos of the twilight as the sky cleared up the following morning. Back home when I go camping I bring a book, fishing pole, mp3 player and food to cook over a fire... but here, all of those things would freeze and since it's so dry, fires anywhere near the tent are a danger. The only warmth that's available outside at South Pole comes from within or those small hand and toe warmers, which aren't of much use at -80 deg F. It takes like 5 warmers in each glove and boot, plus several in the coat and many in the sleeping bag just to keep the body at -98.6 deg F.

What I brought with me was two extreme cold weather sleeping bags, a fuzzy blue blanket, 8 packs of hand warmers, 3 packs of foot warmers, an extra pair of gloves, socks and long underwater, lots of cookies, two bottles of hot water, radio, head lamp, emergency kit and camera. I wanted to see how little I could get by with and for how long. If at any time I felt unsafe I would make my way to the nearest warm-up shelter (2.0) that was about 5 minutes away. But realize that 5 minutes of bare skin exposed to -80 deg F and wind will freeze flesh in less than a minute. I didn't want to have to make any emergency exits nor face the pain of extreme cold, so as soon as I got to the tent I took a few quick photos and created my cocoon.

Next to the Scott tent was the pole marker. I basically slept ontop of 90 S latitude.

After the quick tour I began unpacking all the goods inside the tent. Every second that the sleeping bags and clothing are in open air the closer they get to being -80 deg F. Outside the tent it was -80 deg F and inside it was about -79 deg F. The only thing the tent helped with was blocking out the wind.

Dis be a photo of right before I climbed into the cocoon. Snow and ice were beginning to grow all along my face mask. I knew that once I got inside the sleeping bags there would be no late night potty breaks or snacks for once the seal on the cocoon was broken everything would freeze again in minutes.

It struck me that I had no watch on me, which makes sense because I haven't owned a watch in nearly a decade. I ran outside to make a quick 'twilight dial'. The sun does a complete circle below the horizon every 24 hours, thus a line from the center of twilight to the opposing horizon point = 180 degrees = 12 hours. My check-in time was scheduled for 8 AM; I allotted myself 12 hours to try to sleep in the tent.

Lights out. Kind of.

The hardest part of the night was living inside the sleeping bags. Inside them I kept myself still wearing the Big Red and wind pants, boots, food, water bottles, warmers, camera, head lamp and radio. It was jam-packed. The zippers froze and my hands froze trying to zip the zippers. I had to zip a bit, hide my hands in warmth, roll ontop the zippers to warm them up and start again. It took me over a half an hour to zip everything up and find a suitable resting position that was subject to change every 15 min. throughout the night. Once everything was zipped up I had to go pee, great. I ignored the urge and focused on something else, like not being able to breathe due to the really thin air and little head room inside the sleeping bags.

I laid down at 8 PM and slept lightly until I could feel my bag getting really cold. I found that the warmers had ran out of juice and hot water bottles were now cool. In sleep the human body cools down and I could feel my own body temperature going down. Inside the station I awake every morning to a BPM of about 40 and body temp. of 93 deg F. Outside in the tent it would be too risky to match those body mechanics because the body needs to radiate heat in order to keep the surroundings warm; produce a positive feedback system. Food (sugars) could have made me warmer, but you know what, I didn't want to risk anything and the sauna with a big glass of hot coffee was sounding reallllyyyyy nice. When I crawled out of everything I observed the change in the twilight position and estimated it to be around 4 AM. 8 hours in -80 deg F, not too bad with just a few hand warmers and fancy sleeping bags.

I ran around a bit to get my blood flowing again. I camped in 50 deg F weather at high altitude in Alaska a year ago and froze my butt off due to the wetness of the environment, but this wasn't too bad. I never thought once that I was going to get frostbite or hypothermia. Claustrophobia, now that's a different story haha. Everything looked different with the clouds gone and twilight glowing. I felt like I had conquered something, probably just my own curiosity as to feel what it's like to sleep outside at the South Pole.

Time to pack up and get back to reality.

While hiking back auroras began dancing in the darkside of the sky. In reciprocity I did a little green cloud dance ;)

Once inside I found out that it was 4:40 AM. My 'twilight dial' was a success.


The Good Morning Supper

Over the months we've grown together as a family and now with the sun rising light shines upon the changes we've undertaken.

A winter at South Pole can change a person, I don't know how to really explain it, but to sum it up... it strengthens a person. For the entire 6 months of our isolation we've faced emotional, physical and mental challenges. All of which we have conquered so far; this be the essence of human evolution.

In just a couple weeks we will lose site of the auroras and now I realize how much I've taken them for granted. Usually I go outside and see a big green dancing cloud, no big deal. Once they're gone I think I'm going to miss them. But, to see sunsets and sunrises will supplement those eerie night clouds.

Tomorrow the full moon sets. I have my fingers crossed so that it remains clear.

Our home is frozen.

Yet inside we keep a fire. Beginning with fresh breads...

And perhaps ending with the most unholy burger bar on this continent.

For instance, here is JT3's super-de-duper chili and bacon dog.

Out of all the photos I've seen this season, this one explains the 2010 winter at South Pole. The characters, the props, the simple green, our blankets, Shelby's water bottle, parmesan cheese... it all makes sense and only the Polies that have lived this journey understand what I mean. This ain't no 'the last supper', this is a new beginning... this is... a good morning supper.

Group photos by: JT3 & Debzilla


Twilight + Full Moon

I'm sorry if I have been going on and on about twilight, but every time the clouds dissipate and the sky glows I get excited. Sure, I really enjoyed the blackest black night on Earth with trillions of stars and galaxies and auroras, but enough is enough, time for some sunshine! The moon is pretty close to full and that coupled with twilight means we can actually see outside. I went out for 2 hours to help pull frozen food from the berms and we didn't need a head lamp.

We walked through fields of cargo and machinery. Each box and machine was coated with layers of snow, giving it a very old, wasted-away aura as if this place had suddenly been hit by an ice age several months ago.

The summer camp buildings reminded me of WW11 bunkers. As you can see below, the moon is our temporary sun.

Here's a shot of all the cargo berms in the distance.

Here's Debz digging through one box for some frozen chicken egg rolls for my lunch tomorrow. This dudet rocks, thanks Debz. Consider the berms the frozen food section. There are items out there that have been inaccesible all winter due to darkness and bad weather, but now we can get those egg rolls with no problem.

Here I am pulling the food on a sled back to the station.

This is the doorway into the LO where we record our materials inventory. That snow drift keeps getting bigger and bigger.

After I scored the egg rolls I ran back outside to chill in the tent. A bone-chilling thought came over while I was admiring the moon from inside... I'm in a teepee at the most southern spot on the globe, my face being whipped by 10 knot winds and -90 F temps. with the windchill, my eyes being blinded by full moon light and to the corner of my eye is the morning yawn of twilight, my hands and feet really toasty and my eye lashes sticking together, frozen, each time I blinked. All my thoughts coalesced into one deep and foggy sigh of bliss; now I know, this is what I came here for.