Antarctic “Seasons”

Arriving during the Winfly season this year has been a pretty incredible experience so far. First off, the term “Winfly” refers to the fact that we arrive on one of the few winter flights to deploy to Antarctica. There are three “seasons” (in the working sense) here in Antarctica: 1) Winter, 2) Winfly, and 3) Summer. The core of the science research conducted in Antarctica takes place during the summer season (roughly beginning of October through end of January). The Winfly season (mid-August to the end of September) is mainly a time for us “science support” folk to get things started up and get ready for the summer research season. The term “science support” refers to any personel on station that is NOT conducting his/her own science research — including Laboratory staff (such as Bev and I), mechanics, carpenters, cooks, janitors, etc.; the purpose of these personel is to support the station so that scientists can come down to do their research, hence the term “science support.” Similarly, we have a short term to describe scientists who are actually here to do their research: “grantees.” This term stems from the fact that the only way to come down to do proper research in Antarctica is to earn a research grant from the National Science Foundation, which runs the USAP (United States Antarctic Program… are you keeping track of all the acronyms??). We also sometimes call the grantees “beakers,” after the iconic science beaker and probably also the Muppets character (see Muppet Labs Experiment 2Q975). The last of the Antarctic working seasons is the winter season (February through mid-August). If you stay in any Antarctic station for the duration of the winter, you are “wintering over,” and thus we call you a “Winterover” (whether you are in science support or a grantee). Outside of the summer season, the only passenger flights to come into Antarctica all take place during the first week of the Winfly season.

So what’s so special about the Winfly season? Well, if you didn’t know, during winter the sun does not shine on either of the polar regions of our planet, leaving them in complete darkness 24 hours of the day (seasons in the southern hemisphere are opposite those of the northern hemisphere, so the Antarctic winter lasts from Feb. until Aug.). In contrast, during the summer  both poles of our planet are fully illuminated by the sun (24 hours of daylight!). Winfly, as you may have guessed, is the transitional period between winter and summer in Antarctica, and THAT’s why it’s so special. During the Winfly season you actually get sunrises and sunsets every day! At the end of Winfly the sun will rise and it will not set again for over 4 months!! Additionally, because we are at high latitude (far from the equator), the sun will only hover above the horizon and will move sideways in an arc, rather than upwards toward the high part of the sky. This results in really really long sunrises and sunsets! And THAT is a pretty amazing sight to see.

Here are some of the recent sunsets we have seen. Enjoy!!

Mt. Discovery just across the frozen Ross Sea from McMurdo Station, under the low-angle sunlight.
Hut Point, with Scott’s Discovery Hut and Vince’s cross, at sunset.
Catching a beautiful Antarctic sunset at Hut Point.
Sunset over the frozen Ross Sea at McMurdo Sound, and Hut Point in the distance.
Watching the start of the sunset from the back deck of the NSF Chalet. The hues in the sky were particularly purplish this day.
Abe playing on the frozen ocean at sunset, so happy to be in Antarctica!!
Bev can’t contain her joy at being back in Antarctica for the sunsets!
The light breaking through under the cloud cover, illuminating Hut Point and the frozen Ross Sea.
Perhaps the most radiant and colorful sunset we’ve seen in Antarctica yet!!




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