Monday, February 10, 2014

The many varieties of light in Northern Norway

Once again I was sent up north, and once again it stole my heart. This time I was in Tromsø for a full week of fun for the Arctic Frontiers Conference. I had been to Tromsø back in August on my way up to Svalbard, but one day in the summer is no way to experience what Norway rightly considers to be the "Paris of the North." And even if that is a stretch, for a town of over 70,000 sitting at about the same latitude as the North Slope of Alaska, it is pretty civilized.

The conference kept me busy from a working breakfast to an evening reception nearly every day, but I still managed to get out a little bit to experience the uniquely northern light. It's deceiving to say that northern Norway is dark in the winter, because despite the lack of direct sun, you experience a near constant sunrise/sunset for a good part of the day.

And as luck would have it, the week I was there also happened to coincide with the day that the sun broke back over the hills and reached the city for the first time since November. Being trapped in a windowless conference hall, the organizers were kind enough to rig up a live video feed of the sun returning and treated us with jam filled "solboller" or sun rolls. I managed to catch the 5-minute "day"
later in the week though.

Finally, no trip to northern Norway would be complete without a quest to see the northern lights. With a little luck, and some advice from Norway's leading aurora scientist (also a good colleague and fellow conference participant), I managed to organize a small U.S. delegation up a mountain tram on the outside of town where we led by an 80-year old Norwegian professor into the cold abyss. There, alas, was a small but impressive display of green plasma in the sky. Enough to say, yes, I had stood under a clear, cold sky and seen the crazy lights dance up above me.

Noon walk around the University of Tromso. Look one way and you have sunrise, the other sunset. Amazing.

Live video feed of the sun's arrival back in Tromso (for us unlucky souls trapped in a conference)

Slightly enhanced Northern Lights shot (taken using a 60-second exposure on my real camera, then colors highlighted). But I swear it looked like this in real life. 

Five minutes of sun for the dark northern soul.

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