Rise and Shine… Or Just Rise

The sun rose in the wee hours yesterday and, well, it’s still up there. We have entered the period of 24 hours of daylight. The next sunset will be on February 20, 2011.

Now, that all sounds well and good and rather exciting, but truth be told it does not mean 24 hours of sunshine. This is still Antarctica, after all.

So this, technically, qualifies as daylight:

Discovery Hut at Hut Point, midday

As does this:

Rock outcrop near Ob Hill, midday

Don’t get me wrong… it is still beautiful and strange and wonderful. It’s just not… sunny. Not quite. This morning as I walked over to the library for my shift as a volunteer staffer, a fog bank had enveloped half of the station. To my left, piercingly bright sunlight and a cloudless sky colored with the intensity of a blue highlighter.

To my right, dull gray nothingness. Buildings I knew were not even 100 meters away were invisible. I tried to take a picture but couldn’t capture the juxtaposition.

Last night, the Science Sunday lecture was brought to us, in part, by CNES, the French equivalent of NASA. I will admit that I never thought of France as having a space agency, but then they have an army, too, which is only slightly less surprising.

CNES scientists and engineers have been working with the same American team here that studies polar stratospheric clouds to launch those enormous, shimmering silver long-distance balloons that I was lucky enough to see take off in my first weeks here. The balloons go up to 60-65,000 feet and cruise around in the polar vortex, recording assorted meteorological data, ozone particles and other stuff that, when a kindly scientist wishes to explain his work to an audience of non-scientists, still requires the use of phrases like “refractometry metrics.”

Yeah, it was a little over my head. About 65,000 feet over my head, to be exact.

One thing I did learn that I thought was interesting was why weather satellites have such trouble recording accurate temperature data for polar regions. In mid- and low-latitude areas (where most of you live), the clouds are colder than the ground, so the satellite passing overhead is able to distinguish between what is cloud and what is ground. In the polar regions, however, because the ground is so cold, the clouds are actually warmer and often mistaken by the satellites for the ground.

Okay, reading that paragraph over confused me. It made more sense, or at least I thought it did, last night, after a long day of work and an hour of heavily-accented monologue about refractometry metrics.

If only you could squish the stratosphere and all its particulates in a touch tank and let me poke at them. Then I’d probably understand.


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