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Your questions answered, Part 1

Posted December 10th, 2009 by
The WAIS galley, where the researchers eat their meals.

The WAIS galley, where the researchers eat.

“Since the sun is up 24 hours a day, is the amount of light the same or does it dim  a little?  Is it hard to go to sleep?  Does the sun feel warm on your skin?  Is it weird going to bed while it still light out?”

This is a great question.  The angle of the sun does change during the day and plays a surprising role in the daily swings in temperature.  Though I can barely perceive the actual change in the position of the sun above the horizon, I can definitely feel the effects of the change in solar radiation in my tent.    When I go to sleep around 10:00 pm my tent is about 10°F.  When I wake up at 6:00 am, the combination of my body heat the solar radiation has warmed my tent to up to a balmy 60°F.    Now, the times are quoted are in McMurdo time, which is significantly west of WAIS Divide.  You probably need to add a few hours to get the proper local time.

As we approach the winter solstice (December 21st), the sun will get higher and higher in the sky.   The highest point it will reach is 34° = (90° – (Latitude of WAIS Divide – Tilt of the Earth) =   (90° – (79.5 – 23.5).   One thing I’d like to do is monitor the position and angle of the sun over time with a sun compass.

Maybe someone could figure out a way I could record my observation over a long period of time?

“Can you get a suntan?”

I wish I could get a suntan, unfortunately I usually end up with a sunburn. The sun is very bright here and snow reflects a huge amount of the light back up to your face.  If the sky is clear it is so bright that you have to wear the darkest commercially available sunglasses, otherwise you risk getting snow blindness.   If I walk into a building with my sunglasses on I will often run into things because it is so dark (but at least I look while I’m doing it).   Additionally, The UV index in Antarctica is through the roof because we are under the ozone hole.   A couple of times I’ve spent all day outside working in the snow and have gotten slight burn on my face even after I lathered up with SPF 50.

Seriously?  “How cold do you keep your freezer there since it so cold outside?”

It’s funny you asked about a freezer.  All the food we have is kept in a huge snowcave. The ice cores, on the other hand, have to be kept at -25°C. In order to maintain this temperature we actually have to cool the building in which we handle the ice cores.  That’s right, we brought AC units to Antarctica.  One of the sayings we’ve been toying around with as a motto for our team is something like “Scott, Amundsen and Shackelton brought stoves to keep warm in Antarctica, we brought freezers to keep cold.”    The other big joke we have is that when we are working with the ice cores inside the building, we actually have to go outside to warm up.

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