The Arctic offers a varying array of light conditions throughout the year. Typically, regions are defined by their seasons; how cool, how warm, how wet and how long? This area is no exception to that standard, but it also holds true that the extreme difference in light throughout the year is a defining factor. The sun is the most notable element in terms of light but some of its side effects also provide unique instances of light. We’ll examine these changes one season at a time.
In winter, the Arctic is encompassed with darkness. The sun departs for 40 days in Wiseman, dipping beneath the southern horizon. For approximately four hours each day, the sun will light up the southern sky as it lingers just below the horizon. Various shades of pinks, yellows and oranges fill the sky and illuminate any nearby clouds in the vicinity. Shining opposite in the north, tinges of purple and deep blue reach out from the horizon. Above the valley floor, the mountain peaks also reflect these colors as they stand tall enough to fall within the sun’s range of light. For the enterprising individual, a climb to the top allows for a glimpse of the sun before it returns to the valley’s floor.
The light that exists is visually pleasing in winter, but it is its stark absence that is the defining feature. Nights are long, with the darkest of times allowing the first stars to become visible around 3:30 PM and remain until past 10 in the morning. The night sky offers its own version of aesthetic delight. With an absence of light pollution in the area, one’s view of the night sky is uninhibited. Thousands of stars litter the night sky, often providing a backdrop for the aurora borealis as its green and yellow bands streak across the sky.
As the year wears on, more and more light fills the skies as the sun finally crests above the horizon and continues to rise at half its diameter each day. Winter slowly evolves into spring. With this transition, one finds themselves in long days of light. No longer is the sun low on the horizon but high in the sky.
One is still treated to the dark, star and aurora filled skies at night, but opportunities become numbered. By the end of April, night has passed. Stars are no longer visible due to the amount of light present.
Soon after, the sun jumps, and remains, above the horizon marking the transition from spring to summer. For over a month, it starts in the north and travels in a high elliptical before returning to its starting point. At the northernmost settlement in Alaska, Barrow, they experience 84 days where the sun circles round and around. This abundant daylight provokes an intense amount of activity. Plants quickly shoot up to full growth and people are active at all hours, uninhibited by a lack of light. The thought of winter’s dark is far from the mind. However, the summer solstice marks the high point. From then on, the area loses 8-10 minutes of light each day, culminating in the return of night by early August.
As summer fades into fall, the light steadily vanishes day by day. The intense darkness of winter is not far ahead wand with it a gloomy sensation. Gone are the long days of summer until the next year, a seemingly far too distant time. As fall moves into winter, the darkness encroaches the land and the cycle begins again.
I’ve read elsewhere that despite the lack sunlight in the mid-winter period, the Arctic has more visible light (daylight, twilight etc.) than any other place in the world. The extreme nature certainly provides a challenging aspect at times for its inhabitants. I have yet to find an area that matches the Arctic in terms of light and it is one of the reasons I continue to call this country my home.