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Polar night falls on Antarctica's Davis Station but expeditioners keep bright outlook

Georgie Burgess, Saturday June 15, 2019 - 09:36 EST
ABC licensed image
Expeditioners at Davis Station wave goodbye to their final sunrise for several weeks. - ABC licensed

The 18 expeditioners at Antarctica's Davis Station have farewelled the sun and won't see it again for five weeks.

Things aren't much better for their Australian Antarctic Division colleagues — Casey Station will have just two hours of sunlight each day until next month, and Mawson Station is in polar darkness until June 29.

Davis Station leader Simon Goninon said working in Antarctica at this time of the year was "surreal", with long sunrises and sunsets on either side of the blackout period.

"It's like the horizon changes from day to day, and you're treated to something special every time you look out the window or when walking to work," he said.

"It's an amazing place to be."

The twilight zone

For much of winter the sun only appears briefly, with the rest of the day in twilight conditions.

Davis Station is located close to the polar circle, meaning the sun is below the horizon during the winter solstice.

When the sun reappears on July 11, it will be visible for just 49 minutes, with an astronomical twilight for the rest of the day.

"Living in twilight is definitely something you have to get used to," Mr Goninon said.

"It's a bit weird; you're walking to work at 8 o'clock in the morning and it's pitch black — it may as well be midnight."

Mr Goninon said living in darkness could be tough and the expeditioners looked after each other.

Temperatures drop to minus 38 degrees Celsius, but the expeditioners' spirits are lifted by dazzling auroras, as well as dinners and dress-up parties.

Marking the solstice at Davis Station is quite the occasion — the expeditioners cut a hole in the ice and jump into the freezing depths.

"It'll be pretty memorable, it's a big thing on the calendar," Mr Goninon said.

Keeping a routine

Chief medical officer Jeff Ayton said polar darkness was an "interesting phenomenon".

"Our bodies are made to work on a body clock and that is driven by light," he said.

"If we have the absence of light, we can get into some difficulties with synchronising our sleep-wake patterns."

He said expeditioners had to ensure a good routine and schedule when there was no light trigger.

"We haven't implemented any light boxes in Antarctica, but other nations have done that," he said.

"Everyone in Australia's Antarctic program is screened rigorously, medically and psychologically.

"We usually have issues around sleep — it might be one or two people who can't get synchronised with their sleep."


© ABC 2019

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