Aurora Lightshow in Tromsø

Hooray – finally the polar light and I were awake the same time!

It’s not the first polar light this season. But either there were clouds or it vanished when I was at the bay Telegrafbukta for taking pictures or I just slept. Today however I was lucky and was at the right place at the right time.

 

Kayaking into the dark

It seems, that summer is over. It’s less a matter of temperature but light. Next night will be autumnal equinox and today’s sunset was already at 18:47. Tromsø has almost the same longitude as Budapest.

Anyhow the Thursday paddling of Tromsø Havpadelklubb – the Tromsø sea kayak association – still hold place today. Next week will be the last time for this season. Today we had perfect conditions: No waves, no wind and 10 °C. We had many a summer day worse than that here in Tromsø

May I present, that is D5. It’s one of the many rental kayaks of the association and my standard choice. My own kayak is in Sweden.

Today we were 15 people heading to the island Grindøya on the other side of the sound between Tromsøya and Kvaløya. OK, let’s start …

First we paddled along the coast, then we started crossing the sound. From the boat houses to Grindøya it is round about 4 km.

This time we did not paddle round the island like in June or two weeks ago. Instead we headed for a beach at the northern tip and made a break there. I had a piece of soft chocolate cake with cashew nuts, a welcome leftover of the three day data management workshop that I joined this week. And while we stood or sat there it started getting dark.

Some of my fellow paddlers already had switched on their lights on the way to Grindøya, now we all illuminated our kayaks and ourself. It’s less about seeing but about being seen. There is commercial shipping on the sound. We prepared our kayaks and departed.

While we paddled back it got darker and darker. It’s really a special experience to paddle through the dark in a group. You hear the drone of the city, occasionally interrupted by an airplane or a motorcycle. But that’s far away. Our own sounds are near: soft conversation and the little noises of the paddle entering and leaving the surface of the sea. And since you see less and less, hearing becomes more and more present. And anyhow I tried to paddle as silent as possible not to disturb the quietness.

When we arrived at the boat houses of Tromsø Havpadelklubb it had become dark. The tour lasted only an hour and a half plus a half hour break. But the peaceful sound of kayaking calmly through the darkness lingers still in my ears.

 

 

 

 

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 9: P5, the first ice station

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Day 9 · 27 February 2022

Yesterday we have arrived at P5, our first ice station. In the night the ship left the ice for some plankton nets and trawl. Today morning it carefully moves back to the chosen ice floe. After breakfast the activities on the ice will start. A station with a tent quite near the ship, another one some hundred metres away and A. and B. who do transects of ice and snow depths will wander around somewhere. (A transect is a path along which a series of measurements of the same type is performed.)

A lot of people will be on the ice but not me. The meeting of the previous evening revealed that I will not the enter it today and my status for the next day (tomorrow) is “additional”. Although I understood that the cruise leader did not want to send all people directly onto the ice – especially since it is not very thick – I was disappointed.

After the meeting I tried to ask the cruise leader for the reasons but I communicated quite demanding and stressed her unnecessarily. Today I apologised to her. Even while I write this article I am ashamed for my behaviour. That was not my best hour.

Today I will be involved in the ice station anyhow, but from the ship.

Polar bear watch

Here in the northern part of the Barents Sea we are in the habitat of ursus maritimus – the polar bear. These animal are threatened and need our protection. At the same time they are dangerous and we have to protect ourselves. So the most important thing – both for humans and polar bears – is to avoid encounters on the ice.

That’s where the polar bear watches come in.

Before anyone may enter the ice already three polar bear watches stand on the bridge on deck 8. Each watch has a segment of ca. 150° to watch so that the segments overlap. Than the polar bear watch will have a single task for one hour: constantly watching the segment – with and without binoculars. As soon as a polar bear watch discovers a polar bear on the ice he/she uses the handheld VHF, a two way radio to make a radio call, for example “Polar bear at 10 o’clock, 1000 metres, moving to the ship”. All team leaders and ice bear guards and the cruise leader have a VHF as well and can discuss plans that mostly will result in leaving the ice.

Today I will have three polar watches. 9:30, 12:30, 14:30 +2h. Since I know that this task is very important I am quite nervous while I walk up the staircase to the bridge.

At least the windows that still were salt-encrusted from the storm two nights ago are cleaned. Good for the visibility.

The VHFs are also used to sign in and out people on the ice. As soon as someone enters it a call is emitted: “Bridge, bridge, this is A. B and C on the ice”. The same procedure when people are back on the ship. The person in charge is also on the bridge and will move magnets on a chart to keep track. A bit like a non-magic version of the Weasley Clock in Harry Potter. (Thanks Annika for this metaphor!)

At 9:30 I start my first watch at the port side of the ship. It is a good beginner place because it is farthest away from the ice stations. For one hour I constantly scan the ice from the open water at the stern to the ice at the bow. Sometimes I use the binocular and scan the horizon, sometimes I use my naked eyes to get a better overview. Sometimes I look down to the ship. Some of the ice floes look like polar bears but first they do not move (and soon I know them by heart) and then polar bears are not of this cold blueish white but more a yellowish, creamy colour.

These photos I made after my watch. My job is to watch the ice, not to take selfies for this blog or mobile photos through my binoculars. Yes, I use my own, because I love them more than those on the bridge. I realise that I own these binoculars for almost 40 years. The oldest piece of equipment I brought on this polar cruise.

The biggest challenge: Do not think! Don’t follow your thoughts. Because then you may still look through the binoculars but without paying attention. The 59th minute you do the same as in the 1st minute. Watch the ice. Watch the ice. And again, watch the ice!

So that’s my day. Watch the ice. Take a nap. Eat lunch. Watch the ice. Relax. Watch the ice. Fight tiredness. Eat dinner. Until …

MSS casts on the sea ice

… the cruise leader comes to my chair while I am eating fish, potato gratin and beetroot. She asks me if I was ready to go on the ice at seven. Tomorrow? No, today. What? I mean, of course! I shall follow Z. who will do three MSS casts to measure CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) and turbulence in an ice hole. I shall dress very warmly. The first opportunity to be on the ice and see how this measuring works. Wow!

At 19:00 I stand outside on the deck waiting for the others. I have to stand outside because I’m dressed in two layers of wool and this non-breathing Regatta suit and I already started sweating while changing clothes.

Half an hour later the snowmobile has left me at the green tent. Officially I only got 30 seconds for taking photos – every extra minute will extend the observation time of the three polar watches – but since Z. has to do some preparations I have some minutes to take snapshots in the dark. And to feel very happy.

Then it’s my turn to help. While letting down the MSS needs some experience pulling up is just some mechanical work. Z. did the first one, I do the two others. Z. observes the computer display and signals me when I shall slow down. All I have to do is winding up. Easy work and time for a chat.

After the three measurements Z. is content and calls K. to fetch us with the snowmobile.

This activity from ship to sea ice and back to ship took less than an hour but I will never forget it. Standing in the dark on the ice of the Barents Sea on a place nearer to the North Pole than to my work town Tromsø is just impressive and I feel that I have a strong relation to it.

Next time however I will dress less warmly. It was only -15 °C outside and I had too much clothes on. Alone the Regatta suit is warm and the tent was heated to protect the sensitive electronics.

And you? If you had such an opportunity would you take it or do you prefer warmer locations?

And to those of you who have such an opportunity for me: contact me asap.

I couldn’t sleep

I couldn’t sleep. Not at all! At 1:30 I gave up and went out for a walk. And took some photos. Black and white. By the coast. Snow showers.

Now I try to catch some sleep. Good night!

____

Not I see, that the 2nd JPEG has quite strong colour artefacts. I may correct that. Later.

Aurora hunting – failing and cheating

It’s always the same: when you wake up in the night and see the polar lights illuminating the sky it doesn’t mean, that you can take good pictures of them. In the time you need to dress, take camera and tripod and walk outside to a nice place it’s likely that they disappear again. Polar lights are shy fellows.

Last night it was the same: I saw a nice aurora from my sleeping room. But when I arrived at the bay Telegrafbukta no distinct aurora was visible anymore.

Anyhow the sky looked a bit pale. Clouds or polar lights? Let’s take a handheld photo with a long exposure. Cl… …ick.

Yes. The sky is definitely green. I set up the tripod, configure the camera and wait.

Nothing happens.

So I start taking a long expose shot of the sea, the mountains and the lights of Kvaløysletta.

And you can see the polar lights, at least a bit. No surprise because I exposed the photo for 30 seconds with ISO 560 and an exposure of ƒ/3.2. That puts enough light onto the sensor to catch even faint polar lights that are hardly visible to the naked eye. So this is not really an aurora photo, it’s more cheating.

Before I went back to my bed I wanted to take at least one photo with some kind of a motive. It became a shed nearby, illuminated by the moon and again with a faint polar light in the background.

Today I have to go to bed early, I have to catch up on sleep.

The first polar light of the season

This article is part of the series “2021-07: Back in Tromsø”.

Is the polar light shy? It was quite bright, when I peeked out of the window of my tiny room in Tromsø. It got pale when I took pictures at the bay Telegrafbukta. And it got really bright after that while I was returning home because clouds had been gathering.

Anyhow, it’s the first polar light of the season 2021/22 and therefore worth photographing.

There was another light at least as fascinating as the polar light. Plankton that was washed ashore. This plankton was bioluminescent and glowed blue-turquoise. I have a real ugly photo for the records. When this a common phenomenon I’ll try to take better photos some other time.

Gratulerer med dagen from abroad

Today is syttende mai (17th of May), the Norwegian national day. On 17 May 1814 the The Constitution of Norway that declared Norway to be an independent kingdom was signed. That’s why Norway turns 207 years today. Gratulerer med dagen – Happy birthday!

The first time that I was in Norway was the turn of the year 2003/04 together with a friend. Although the weather was really miserable – storm and rain – I was so fascinated by that country, that I travelled there one month later again to find a job as a developer.

Well, I didn’t find a job. I couldn’t speak Norwegian, didn’t have much programming experience and the dot-com bubble was still present.

2005, one and a half year later I visited Tromsø for the first time of my life after a week of hiking on the Hardangervidda. I had less than two days to discover this town but since then it has been my favourite town in Scandinavia.

Anyhow I didn’t think about moving there. The same year I had been in Northern Sweden twice and preferred the colder winters there. In addition to that I was a bit scared of mørketiden – the seven weeks in winter, where the sun stays below the horizon. Five years later I moved to Sweden.

This year however I was sure that I will be in Norway for syttende mai, since I’ve been working in Tromsø since last October.

Well, at least on the papers. Due to Covid 19 we were strongly advised to work from home, which I can better in our house in Obbola/Sweden than in my tiny room in Tromsø. On 22 November 2020 I took the plane to Oslo, another one to Stockholm and a third to Umeå. Since then I’ve been working and living home in Obbola. In five days I’ll have been here for half a year.

It feels a bit like a dream. Did I really work in the office of the Norsk Polarinstitutt in Tromsø? Together with others? Walked the 1.7 km from my shared flat? Enjoyed the first snow in the mountains? Took a kayak course?

Only when I miss my down sleeping bag (in Tromsø), my macro lens (in Tromsø), my rain parka (in Tromsø) I realise that I still have my flat there. And of course when I have to pay the monthly rent. And that’s a lot because it is ridiculously expensive to live there.

At time I’m forbidden to travel to Norway even though I have a job and a shared flat there. It’s unclear when I’ll be allowed there again. Until then I have the blog articles as memory of my two months in Tromsø to remember, the knowledge that I’ll be there again but most of all a wonderful time home.