The sun returns in Tromsø

While I got a lot of sun in Obbola (320 km south of the polar circle) between the years, Tromsø (340 km north of the polar circle) had to wait to see the sun again.

Last Sunday was the last day of the mørketid – the polar night. Monday at lunchtime the sun was above the horizon but not above the mountains. Anyhow everything has become much brighter compared to mid-December.

Yesterday I took a promenade from my new apartment. While Tromsø lay in the shadow – at least were I walked – I saw the snowy mountains of Kvaløya having pink tops. There the sun was already visible.

Today I was at Telegrafbukta round noon. I was not alone – round 200 other people waited for the sun, were barbecuing, taking selfies or a winter bath. On the sea a flock of eider ducks occasionally wa diving for food. And then it appeared from behind a mountain – the sun!

Welcome sun! The polar night is over, the winter will continue for at least three months. But every day the sun will rise a bit higher.

Farewell Obbola

As almost every day the last weeks I went to the coast yesterday. This place is less than 100 metres away from Annika’s and my house in Obbola. It was partly cloudy but the upcoming sunrise made the clouds and ice extremely colourful. I waited for the sun to rise and then went back to my home office room to continue working.

Today I have other plans. After three weeks of being home – part vacation, part work – it it time to travel back to Tromsø. Normally I do this by train and bus, this time I travel by car. After I’ve found a nice flat in Tromsø I took my Norwegian car here to fetch some more stuff.

Such as a box of books, kitchen stuff, an uplighter, an Ivar bookshelf, my acoustic bass guitar, a bulky winter sleeping bag and more stuff that I want to have in Tromsø. Now my car is full but I still can use the rear-view mirror.

I guess I might need my down parka for if the weather forecast is correct it might be -25 °C on my way back to “work home”. But not today where I only have to drive round about 200 km to Gagsmark to visit friends and stay over. From there its 470 km go drive to Kuttainen (Saturday) and then 300 other km to Tromsø (Sunday).

Farewell, Obbola!

It gets even colder

After the first days of the new year with temperatures down to -26 °C it got even colder.

4. January

In the morning temperature is between -26 and -27 °C and despite the weather forecast the sky is clear.

At lunch time I take another promenade along the coast. The sea ice Baltic Sea looks extremely cold due to the frost patterns that cover everything.

In the afternoon it gets colder and in the evening the temperature sinks below -30 °C for the first time. I go out and take a photo of our tree in our garden. It’s the very same tree under which Annika and I got married three and a half years ago – barefooted. Now it is covered in frost and Orion and Sirius are in the sky.

Luckily I have a lot of very warm clothes. To go out I only had to slip into my down suit and my Russian rubber boots, put a hat and woollen mittens on and I won’t freeze at all.

5. January

Twice I was awake and outdoors this night to enjoy the cold air and the starry sky. At 3:18 the thermometer shows -33.4 °C, the coldest temperature ever I experienced being at home!

These days a lot of places experience temperatures below -40 °C and less and many people (including us) have trouble with their cars or heating. Near Arjeplog a guy measured -51 °C with a laser thermometer the day before. That’s exceptionally cold even for Northern Sweden.

In the morning it was time for Annika and me to repeat a known experiment in the cold that we never tried out by ourselves: Throwing hot water in the air and seeing it freezing almost instantly into a cloud of ice dust. While my photos are ok-ish, Annika took gorgeous photos with my Nikon showing me doing this experiment. It works best with temperatures below -30 °C, which we had.

While I write this article in the night to the 6. January it is still cold, but “only” -22 °C. You get used to the cold after some days. And yes – I love these cold and crisp winter days a lot! The weekend will still be cold, then it will get warmer. Much warmer! On Tuesday, four days from now, it may be 40 degrees warmer than yesterday morning with day temperatures round +6 °C!

 

 

The year 2024 starts cold

1. January

It’s midnight. Clear sky, -13 °C. Annika and I stand in the snow outside of our house with a drink to toast with and some sparklers to set alight. Farewell 2023, welcome 2024! Happy new year!

The next morning Annika and I stand outdoors again. No sparklers needed, the sun rises over the frozen Baltic Sea and turns the sky orange.

When we start a little cross country ski tour at lunch time the temperatures already have dropped to -18 °C. Before we drive home we take a small detour to our favourite beach Vitskärsudden where we watch the sunset over the sea. Sunrise and sunset on the same day – that was long ago.

2. January (yesterday)

In the night it has become colder. -25 °C shows the thermometer in the morning. I bring Annika to the bus station by car but first I have to scrape ice on the windshield. Yes, I am a bit overdressed in my down suit ;-)

On this day I am outdoors twice. First to catch the colours before sunrise …

… then to take a lunch promenade to Vitskärsudden. Despite the sun it is still round -22, -23 °C. The Baltic Sea is frozen as far as I can see and the low hanging sun is accompanied by colourful parhelions.

I thought the down jacket would be too warm but I gladly put the hood on when it started to get a bit windy.

In the evening it gets colder. -26.9 °C, the coldest temperature I experienced here in our home in Obbola since we moved there in May 2020. While I worked from home Annika took the bicycle back from the bus station. Brrr!

3. January (today)

Another cold day with temperatures between -22 and -26 °C. Although I have to work I go out several times. First shortly after sunrise. The sun is damped by clouds and looks like a very mysterious eye.

Then I take another tour at 11:00, this time with back country skis. What a beautiful day!

I go out a third time to watch the sunset, but clouds cover the horizon. At least I take a photo of the large, wooden barrel of unknown origin that stands in the water – now frozen – of our shallow bay.

… oh I forgot, I was out a fourth time, this time by car to get some things done. Luckily I had camera and tripod on the back seat, because the frosted trees in the cold artificial light looked really special.

I really love this cold weather. Only taking photos can be a bit of a hassle because sometimes you have to take off your gloves and then the fingers can get cold very fast. Beside from that: great!

 

The third ice station – MSS and SUNA

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

It is 13 June. Kronprins Haakon has approached 6.5° W in the Fram Strait and today we’ll start our 3rd ice station.

The weather seems to be better in the morning so I go out to fly the drone after breakfast. But this time I do not manage to get enough photos for the aerial orthophoto that is supposed to show the whole ice station.

It is probably a combination of wind and drift. The drone uses GPS to keep its position. The ice floe doesn’t. It drifts in the wind and so the drone seems to be drawn off-course all the time. We may have a drift of 0.6 knots, that’s almost 20 metres per minute.

At the same time it is windy in 80 metres height. This exhausts the batteries pretty fast and finally I have to cancel the flight operation. No orthophoto today. Sorry.

Just some non-drone photos from the morning.

In the afternoon I have the opportunity to join Anna and Julie from the oceanography team. Part of their work is done from the ship and part from the ice. Now they will put two instruments into the water: An MSS measuring turbulences and a SUNA measuring nitrates, one of the main nutrients in the sea. Both instruments also act as CTDs and measure conductivity, temperature and depth. I won’t go into detail because I’m not a scientist and this is not a science blog. I only want to mention that conductivity is used to calculate the salinity. By temperature and salinity you can learn whether the water is Arctic or Atlantic. (Is this correct, oceanographers?)

MSS

The first thing was to get ready the MSS. It needs some preparation to first connect battery, converter, power adapter, computer and the MSS and then start the software. Some of the connections are quite fragile. The MSS is connected to the computer and sends continuous data that is shown on the display. When it is put into the water, a recording is started. Then the MSS is supposed to fall freely. Therefore there has to be an amount of extra cable in the water but not so much that it would get tangled. The cable is more than 200 metres long and the recording is manually stopped when the depth has become constant. Now it’s exercise time: Bring up the instrument again. The MSS is still sending data but it is only used to know when to slow down with winching up the instrument.

Normally a series of three casts is done in a row. That helps to find and correct faulty measurements.

SUNA

The SUNA is much easier to power on and to deploy. I’ll help Julie a bit with preparation, then I put the instrument into the water. 50 metres down – nice and evenly – and then 50 metres up again. The instrument is surprisingly heavy even under water. So I’m learning a lot about scientific measurements and get a bit of workout as well today.

While I pull up the SUNA I get informed by other scientists how expensive this instrument is and that there probably is no insurance. Thank you for that ;-)

It happens quite often, that scientists do measurements not for themselves, but for colleagues. So it is the case with the SUNA. The data is collected here and now but then send to other scientists that will process the data later.

Other measurements

On this ice station we have the luxury to work by the open water and do not have to cut a hole into ice which is more than one metre thick. Soon we get neighbours: other scientists getting samples and measurements. As usual all guarded by a polar bear guard that carries a flare gun to scare off polar bears and a rifle. Today it is Harald, our cruise leader.

An unexpected encounter

Julie and Anna have started another series of MSS casts. Dima and Cora are passing by, doing another transect. Rupert is their polar bear guard. After a while I look into their direction and see the four figures of the transect team near an ice ridge. Three are clad in the usual colourful overalls, one figure – further to the right – is white. Why? Is it a piece of ice? No, it is a polar bear standing on its back legs. All these observations and thoughts of mine probably just took a second.

I directly call Harald: “Polar bear, over there”, pointing in the direction. The bear is on all fours again and hidden between the ridge ice. Harald takes the VHF to inform everyone. So Rupert, the polar bear guard of the team that is nearest to the bear gets the information as well.

Dima and team turn around and come to our place. The bridge has spotted the polar bear soon after I did and now we hear in the VHF, that the polar bear is moving away. Perfect! We stay alert for a while, then research is continued.

I however follow Dima to the ship. When the polar bear should decide to come back it’s one person less on the ice.

Usually it is one of the three bridge watches who spots a polar bear. Then the VHF will be used to inform everyone about:

  • in which direction is the bear (1 to 12 o’clock)
  • how far is it away
  • what is it doing (standing, going away, heading to the ship …)

We will never know, why the polar bear was not spotted earlier. One guess is that it had slept all the time well hidden from view. When Dima came nearer with the Magnaprobe, the “beep” of the instrument may have woken up the bear. But it’s still just a guess.

Later at the daily 6 o’clock meeting we talk about this encounter. Harald shows a sketch that he has drawn on the digital whiteboard.

Personally I felt save all the time because there were two experienced and fully equipped polar bear guards nearby. I think however that my communication to Harald although fast could have been more precise. Well, I’m still learning …

This was an interesting day on the ice. I’m only a bit sulky because I didn’t manage to get the drone photos I wanted to.

The second ice station – drone flying and more

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

9. June – looking for a floe

We are in the ice again. While D., the ice expert looks for the best floe to work on together with the captain, I use the time to prepare the drone, including a spare one. The rest of the morning I’m mainly on the bridge doing polar bear watch. We are lucky, no polar bears are around and all the people can work on the ice without any interruption.

9. June – drone flying, first try

After lunch it’s time to get out on the ice and do a second series of aerial photos. I prepare the drone, do my preflight check following my checklist and bring the drone up into the air. While the drone is gaining altitude I can feel wind speed increasing and the wind becoming gusty. I fly to the starting point of the area to cover and start doing the first slice of images. The remote control issues a wind warning. I try to continue but realise that flying the way back takes three times longer than flying the way there. This exhausts the battery a lot and it becomes clear that I cannot fly drone today, at least not in 80 metres height.

I use some time to fly the drone in lower altitudes to train a bit and take some photos. The wind calms down a bit and I try to make a so-called “tiny planet” image. Yes, it worked:

The rest of the time I used to take photos from the researchers, including some detail photos.

 

10 June – following a transect

The next day brings beautiful and calm weather. I will follow D. and C. who will walk a triangle over the ice. D. uses a Magnaprobe to measure the snow thickness each step. C. pulls a sledge with a GEM2, that measures ice thickness with a radar. I just follow. Behind me: the polar bear guard. No group goes out without. Since we move quite slowly – D. has to push a pole into the hard snow with every step – I have time to take photos.

It is really interesting to hear D’s comments on the snow and ice we are traversing. Anyhow I feel guilty. Shouldn’t I have tried to fly again?

10 June – drone flying, second try

I’m lucky. We are back at the ship early and the time to leave has postponed a bit. While D. and C. are calibrating the GEM2 I’m going to the ship and then to my room to fetch the drone. I’m quite sweaty, the water- (and air-)proof Regatta suit is no fun when temperatures are round 0 °C. It’s too warm.

And then I’m back on the ice. I’m lucky, the conditions are good and soon the drone is in the air.

(Photo: Ann Kristin Balto, Norwegian Polar Institute)

While I fly the drone it gets cloudy. This makes the snow on the ice floe a featureless area of white. Instead of looking for visual hints I count seconds, seeing nothing on the display. Will it work?

After the third flight (I have three batteries) I think I’ve covered everything I wanted. Time to take an oblique photo of Kronprins Haakon.

When I’m back I upload the photos and start calculating the orthophoto, which is a photo stitched together with perspective correction and geo information. The first result using a fast algorithm is awful. Positioning on some elements is wrong and we have more people and snow mobiles on the ice than in reality. The slower algorithm works much better. Only some of the ice floes are blurred. Perhaps they turned while I took the photos.

Perhaps I’ll create a visually better version at home. Here I don’t have the time and patience to do that.

This day confirmed again: I have a great job, even though a cruise is only some weeks a year.

 

A day cruise to Finland

A day cruise from Sweden to Finland and back.

HolmsundVaasa: 11:15–16:00. VaasaHolmsund: 16:30—19:00. The ferry is not faster on the way back but the Finnish time is one hour ahead.

Just some photos:

What a wonderful vårvinter kayak tour!

Yesterday the weather was calm and sunny. A perfect day for kayaking! Perhaps to Vitskärsudden, our favourite beach?

Chapter one – Bredskär

Kayaking needs a bit of preparation, especially in winter. After we have fixed a problem with Annika’s rudder, dressed ourself and went over the ice to the northern tip of the islet Lillskär we are ready to start our tour.

Annika goes first, I follow. We turn left and paddle along the edge of the ice.

Sometimes we cross fields with crushed ice. Many of the ice slices are thin and in the waves they sound like tuned bells.

We paddle along the island Bredskär. The waves are shallow and there is hardly and wind. I have to make a short stop to take a picture of the “ice monster”, then I follow Annika to the sandy bay in the northeast of the island.

We continue following the coastal line until we come to Bredskärssund, the sound between Bredskär and Obbola. As expected the sound is covered with ice and we have to return.

Time for …

Chapter two – Vitskärsudden

Slowly we paddle back enjoying the exceptionally beautiful weather and the ease of movement. Leaving Bredskär behind we cross the water heading for the rock that marks the entry to Vitskärsudden.

Arriving there more ice fields wait for us. Here are many layers of thin ice and it is not easy to find gaps to put the paddle in. Often it just glides and slides away.

It is not possible to paddle into the bay. It is covered with ice floes, many of them thick and large. But we do not want return home – too beautiful the day – and decide to paddle to the islands Obbolstenarna where we shortly have been two days ago.

Chapter three – Obbolstenarna

The way there is easy. No mentionable wind, just open water. In front of the islands there is another ice field, but it is small and easy to cross.

The next ice field is thicker. We try to break through but decide to go round. We just follow the coastal line.

In the south we go round an ice cap. According to the nautical map there is no island, just a shallow with some rocks.

Again I take a small detour to take a photo. This time to a large ice block.

Then we paddle north. First along the islands …

… then …

Chapter four – Home

we are leaving Obbolstenarna behind and head home. We enjoy the effortlessness of our today’s kayaking but we got a bit hungry. 10–15 minutes later we stand on the ice near our house.

We take a tour selfie then we drag our kayaks back home. First over the ice, then through the snow.

Thanks for the fabulously beautiful tour, Annika!

Annika tracked the tour with her smart watch. Here’s a small map. I added some names.

Back in Obbola – 20 hours

Sunday 10:30

After a breakfast in the sun heated winter garden Annika and I dress for a kayak tour. Special challenge today is not the frozen bay but the deep snow in our garden. I plunge through the snow, Annika is taking snowshoes while dragging the kayak behind. We are walking over the ice to the small skerry island Lillskär and then turn left until we approach open water. There we start the tour. I give Annika a push, then be both are sitting in our kayaks hopping forward until we reach open water.

We paddle to the islands Obbolstenarna. The way there is fast, a clear sign that we have tailwind. And true, the way back takes much longer. Yes, we are cold, but the winter garden is very warm and soon are we.

Sunday 17:00

A friend from Stockholm is visiting us today. Time to dig out our barbecue place. The two benches are covered with 20-30 of snow and it takes a bit of digging, until they are usable again. On the photo you still can see last day’s ski track crossing the bench.

Sunday 19:00

It gets cold and we have moved to the winter garden again. Blue sky, blue sea, blue snow, blue hour.

Sunday 20:23

A bright greenish light crosses the night, much faster than a plane. What was that? Many other sightings in Sweden confirm my thoughts: it was a bolide, an extremely bright meteor. I never saw anything like this. Since it was a matter of seconds, I couldn’t even think of taking a photo.

Monday 5:45

I wake up. Unnecessarily early for having vacation. Anyhow I peek out of the window. A beautiful morning, and with -13 °C a cold one for beginning of April. I pull ski pants and a down jacket over my pyjamas, slip into my boots and go out to take photos and wait for the sun. The icy edge at the horizon is already sunlit and I can see a weak light pillar above the island Bredskär. Fifteen minutes later the sun rises over the forestal island and I enjoy the sun for a short while.

Monday 6:30

When I’m back in the house it is still early. Time to take off the warm overclothes and continue sleeping …

 

12 more photos of Longyearbyen

This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.

3 March

It is the first evening of Annika’s and my stay in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Svalbard. We already strolled through the settlement after arrival. Now it is dark but the full moon illuminates the end of the road of Nybyen, one of Longyearbyen’s districts. What a special feeling to be in one of the world northernmost settlements on Earth. And a slightly tense one. It’s the edge of town, are there any polar bears around?

8 March

When you are in Svalbard you have to keep distance to animals to protect them. The animals do not follow this rule. This is a Svalbard reindeer, an own species of reindeer living here. It is looking for food in the middle of the city.

9 March

I didn’t expect to see ptarmigans on Svalbard but on our guided minibus tour we get to see a whole flock, again in Longyearbyen. Magnus is so kind to stop so that I could take a photo from the road.

10 March

This day is quite warm for Longyearbyen: Only -8 °C. When I took this photo however it was windy. Average wind wind 16 m/s, gusts 21 m/s and snow is blowing in the streets.

12 March

Annika is on her way home, I’ll stay for another week and today I enjoy the beautiful weather by the coast. The mountains on the other side of the fjord Isfjorden look quite near today – especially through the big telephoto lens.

15 March

I take an after work stroll along the coast and through town. It is cold and even with the modest wind of 6 m/s windchill is below -30 °C. It looks arctic, it smells arctic (the nose hairs freeze together immediately) and it feels arctic. No wonder – I am in the Arctic. Even the petrol prices show, that you are not in mainland Norway any longer. Petrol is cheap because Svalbard has reduced taxes.

18 March

Another walk in town. Up the hill to Taubanesentrale (the central of coal mining cableway), down to the center and up again to the elevated way in the east, part of the avalanche protection.

19 March

Sunday. Tomorrow I’ll fly back to Tromsø, today I’m quite lazy but finally I walk to the coast again because of the wonderful weather. Even with my hood on I can hear something above me. I look up and see the first two seagulls since I have arrived here. It is two glaucous gulls that draw large circles above the coastal line.

I try even to take pictures of the incredibly coloured mountains on the other side of the Isfjorden but the turbulences in the air make clear pictures impossible. I’ll keep it in my memory as I’ll do with my whole stay in Longyearbyen.