At the Eureka Weather Station (80N), the sun is four months below the horizon, from 21 October to 21 February. During the polar night, there are very few instruments able to study the atmosphere and our instrument, the star-photometer, is one of them. Shortly before the annual fall servicing trip to Eureka, while operating remotely our instrument during the first dark hours of the season, it appeared that the star-photometer was disturbing the operation of a nearby instrument. In order to investigate the situation further, I had get ready for joining this arctic trip on only three day notice. Beyond the work challenges, going to Eureka is always a fantastic and exciting trip into an unusual environment, every time offering new experiences.
Yellowknife (NWT), our hub for arctic trips, is probably the most accessible place on Earth to see the Northern Lights. The aurora is usually best seen between 11 PM and 2 AM, if the sky is clear. Due to the different time zone, that’s between 1 and 4 AM on my biological time. Given the very weak chances to see an aurora on the specific overnight stay there, I went outside around midnight. My effort was rewarded with this divine view near our hotel.
The next day, after 8 hours of flight, we landed safely in Eureka, just in time for dinner. The cook who had made my favorite pineapple cheese cakes was on duty. That was a delightful surprise! On the other hand, the station manager made a worrisome surprise: there were about 40 arctic wolves around. This was a bit stressful, since I have to regularly walk alone outside at night to check my instruments (~150 m away from the main station), without any protective fence.
At our facility there were many animal tracks everywhere. Given the news, I worried that the wolves had made them. A few days later I calmed down after realising that the tracks were made by 10-15 large arctic hares. They had decided to use the area around my instruments as their playground, and fed on grass under the snow. They were cute and careless, acting almost playful with me. After few wolves came by the main station few days later, I didn’t see any more hares around.
Concerning my duty, the entire servicing mission faced more than the usual engineering challenges. First, there were two blackouts, with consequences that delayed the initial work schedule by almost a week. More dramatically, all three main parts of our facility (dome, mount and photometer) stopped working after only one night of measurements. The photometer came back to life after being powered off overnight. I can’t explain why, but I’m glad it did. The dome refused to close, which I fixed by bypassing a temperature sensor. The worst of all, however, was the death of the mount’s controller box. Fortunately, the equipment failures stopped. Investigating the cause of them consumed most of my time in Eureka. On the positive side, being on site enabled me to check the faulty mount’s control box in depth and bring it back with me for repairs. The time I had to investiage the signal noise affecting a nearby instrument, was very limited due to other troubleshooting. Nevertheless, I made some progress isolating the source of it, which has to be confirmed when the facility is fully functional again.
Near the end of my trip, I went with a few people to see the wolf pack, which tended to hang around near the airport. It was the largest arctic wolf pack ever seen in Eureka! My face may look photo-shopped on that background, but it’s not!
There were also several muskoxen around. Manfred, our old lonely muskox friend was also around, but I didn’t see him personally this time (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Manfred-Manpage/253428851375215).
By the time I departed Eureka, the Sun was already gone for the winter, but it was still possible to see it at noon during our first refueling stop, in Resolute Bay. We were blessed with such a nice view of the sun pillar and sun dogs. These are caused by horizontally oriented hexagonal ice crystals in the air. A basic explanation of this fascinating optical effect can be seen at http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/guides/mtr/opt/ice/sd.rxml. To me, it looked like a tunnel, with the sunlight symbolizing the end of my Arctic journey.
– Liviu Ivanescu
PhD student, Université de Sherbrooke/Université du Québec à Montréal