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On Top of the World!

01/24/2011, 9:47 PM by Lollie Garay
Lollie watches the sunrise in Barrow on  Jan 24<br/><br/>Credit: Marc Fischer
Lollie watches the sunrise in Barrow on Jan 24
Photo Credit: Marc Fischer


Lat 71° 4N Long 156° 5W

Current temp: -42° F

Wind chill: -61° F


After 16 hours in the air, I arrived in Barrow last night and into coldness I had never known! I had watched the landscape change dramatically from the window in the airplanes all day long. The sun had come up shortly after my departure from Houston just before dawn, so I had daylight for most of the trip. As we began the flight over Alaska however, I wondered when we would find the dark of winter I was expecting. We left Anchorage in cloudy, but light skies. By the time we reached Fairbanks (interior of the state) we had dusk. Then, in a matter of an hour we gradually descended into a total darkness. We were at the top of the world!

Actually, Sunday was the first day the sun rose again in Barrow. It sets in mid November and stays below the horizon for about 2 months. Today it appeared just over the horizon as we finished lunch around 1PM and then dipped down again around 2:30 (local time). However, we've had varying amounts of twilight that began around 10:30am and is just now fading at 4:15pm.

I've learned that there are several types of twilight! According to sunrisesunset.com, there are three. Astronomical Twilight is when the Sun is 18° below the horizon. Before the morning AT and after the evening AT, the sky view is so faint that it's almost impossible to see the horizon.

At Nautical Twilight, the Sun is 12° below the horizon. Before AM and after PM NT, and in the best of atmospheric conditions, the horizon is indistinct, objects are distinguishable, but outdoor operations are not possible.

During Civil Twilight, the sun is 6° below the horizon, which is clearly defined in good atmospheric conditions. Before AM and after PM CT, artificial lights are needed for outdoor work.

So, our work on the ice can be done with good light during the middle of the day. However, we were not able to set up camp on the ice today. At the science meeting this morning the issue of safety was foremost.  Native Elder Charlie Hopson led the discussion about the dangers of working outside in these extreme temperatures. The temperature at that time was -41°F with a wind chill of -65°F . It was decided to wait until midmorning to make a final decision.

By the time we met around 11 AM, the temperature had dipped to -43°F, and the work outside was cancelled. We were supposed to be setting up tents to work in to help buffer the cold and wind. It would have taken  at least a couple of hours to do that, and we would have to get to the site by snowmobiles, so there was no way to do that safely.  The forecast for the week predicts a slight warming- how warm is warmer??

Looking out the window, its' nighttime and the cold is seeping through the floor and walls of the small house we're staying in. Last night, as I walked out of the airport here, the first taste of cold air hitched my breath! This is going to be quite an adventure!


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