Pond Inlet Midnight Aug 2 2011

Pond Inlet at midnight on August 2, 2011. Photo: Eric Solomon

The Arctic represents two-thirds of Canada’s coastline  and nearly 40 per cent of its land mass, but most of us know very little about it. With the Aquarium’s Luminescence exhibit focusing on light in the ocean  this winter, we thought we’d talk a bit about light in the North.

As the Aquarium’s director of Arctic Programs, I have the great fortune to be able to travel north and get to know the wonderful people and amazing natural beauty of the Arctic. In the process, I’ve learned a lot about life in the North and had many misconceptions corrected.

You’ve probably heard about the sun staying in the sky for many days in a row during Arctic summer. And you’ve probably heard about long, dark Arctic winters, which doesn’t make winter in the North sound terribly inviting, does it? Well, that depends on how you look at it. Last year, I received a note from a friend in Pond Inlet, Canada’s third most northern community. She said, “… this is the start of a happy and warm season in the community!”

Was she talking about the Arctic winter or Arctic summer? If you guessed summer, you’d be wrong, but understandably so. She goes on to say, “It is when people connect with each other, and spend a great deal of time at home with friends and family.” Despite the weather, this is a warm time of year in communities throughout the Arctic.

What about the darkness? On November 19 at 12:29 p.m., the sun set in Pond Inlet and it won’t be seen again until January 29 – but that doesn’t mean it’s dark. The sun continues to get closer to the horizon as noon approaches; most of the time, though, it just never quite makes it up and over.

Pond Inlet noon Jan 2011

Sometimes, when atmospheric conditions are just right, the sun can appear mid-winter in the High Arctic. This was taken in Pond Inlet January 7, 2011 at noon. Photo: Courtesy of the Pond Inlet Environmental Technology Program.

In Vancouver, we get about half an hour of twilight after sunset, during which no artificial light is needed. Twilight lasts up to 10 times longer in the Arctic, and on November 19, Pond Inlet still had over five hours of light as bright as a cloudy day in Vancouver. In fact, there are only 11 days during the winter in Pond Inlet when you would need lights around the clock. The rest of the winter, there is some time each day where no lights are needed.

As we move south from Pond Inlet toward the Arctic Circle, there are fewer “dark” days during winter. Fewer than half of Canada’s Arctic Communities actually experience any period of round-the-clock darkness.

That still might not make you want to spend your December vacation in Canada’s Arctic, but it does highlight how little most of us know about such a vast expanse of our country and the perspectives of those who live there. For our part, the Vancouver Aquarium is more committed than ever to build greater awareness and understanding of Canada’s Arctic.

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