Monday, 5 June 2017

The Polar Night

Looking North at around midday, the sun no longer manages to break northern horizon.
When I arrived in Rothera back in early March it was light until about 9pm. Since then the days have been getting shorter, and the midday sun lower in the sky. In late May it got to the point that even at midday the sun failed to rise above the hills to the North. From then until sometime in mid to late July Rothera would see no direct sunlight. 
Fuchs house in the darkness. 18 or so hours of darkness a day just becomes normal. 
To mark the disappearance of the sun there is traditionally a little ceremony at Rothera. On Friday the 26th of May the flag that usually flutters on the hill above base was lowered. This is always done by the oldest person on base, which this year is Trev the chef. Around midday everybody gathered on the small hill behind base to where the flagpole stands. The wind was light  and the sky overcast and grey day, which added to the atmosphere of the occasion. The flag, by now pretty tattery after 10 months being battered by Antarctic storms and bleached by the intense UV of the summer sunshine, hung limply in the calm conditions.
Samways the station leader speaks.
Paul Samways, the station leader, said a few words about significance of the occasion and how privileged we are to be overwintering in Antarctica. Trev then stepped up, read a little poem that he had written about the occasion and then lowered the flag. This was followed by a shot of whiskey, a group photo and the rest off the day off. In six weeks of so, when the sun returns, the youngest person on base will raise a new flag. 
I am usually not really into flag ceremonies, they often feel a bit contrived to me. However, on this occasion, perhaps because it did represent something significant and also very apparent (the loss of direct sunlight), or perhaps just due to the dynamics of a small group on base, it did feel worthwhile. 
Trev the chef lowers the flag while everybody else looks on. 
The group photo after the flag lowering 
So far I have not found that 18 or so hours of darkness every day has had a negative effect on me. Rothera is only just South of the Antarctic circle, meaning that at even at mid winter there is a few hours of dusky daylight every day.  The fact there is some daylight each day combined with set work and meal times, certainly keeps my body happily ticking away with it's normal  24 hour cycle. The main downside of the darkness for myself is the fact that it limits opportunities to get out and do things at the weekend.
Weekend skiing and climbing is starting to get limited by the short daylight hours. Heading off on a skiing trip before dawn (I think this picture was taken around 10.30am)
The day after the flag down ceremony myself and Steve (one of the other field guides) had a day trip up one of  Stokes Peaks, which, with it's good views to the North was still just getting a little sunshine.  
One advantage of the darkness and lack of light pollution is the opportunity to see the Aurora Australis (the Southern Lights)