miðvikudagur, desember 21, 2005

the big day

Well, today is it. Today is the big one. The one we've been working towards since late June, when the light was so pervasive it seeped into our dreams. Today is the Winter Solstice, or sólstöður, the shortest day of the year. In Iceland this is quite a short day. Here in the south of Iceland, we won't get sunrise until 11:22 this morning. The sun will set again at 3:29 this afternoon. So 4 hours and change of daytime for us city folk. And when the sun does come up, it'll only squeak up to 2.4° above the horizon before dipping back under. This is not an Orlando noontime.

In the north of the country, on the northern half of the isle of Grímsey, the sun will not rise at all today. (Grímsey is the only part of the Land that crosses the Arctic Circle.) Next time you're asked to "take that car where the sun don't shine", think of northern Iceland in the winter. There's even a special lonely junkyard in the northern West Fjords for just that purpose.

For you readers who have not experienced this level of darkness, it's hard to communicate. You can understand it intellectually, as I did before I moved here, but nothing can prepare you for the jarring juxtaposition of 9:30 a.m. and pitch blackness out the window. Or you can not even understand it intellectually, like the British couple we rode back with on the bus from the airport on Sunday evening. They had planned a week-long Christmas holiday here. I said, "It's going to be hard to see anything. It's pitch black around 18 hours a day."

"Really?" said the chap. He said he didn't know that. He also acted as though he didn't believe me.*

So think of it this way: it's as though a huge black velvet theater curtain has been drawn across the country for a couple of months. The curtain opens slightly every day in the late morning and for a few hours some light creeps in through the crack. Then the stage manager closes it again for another long, velvety black night.


Blogger JB said...

* I am really curious about something, so I'm going to make a reader poll here, and you can answer by adding more comments.

When I was in elementary school, we learned that because of the tilt of the earth, when it was winter in the northern hemisphere, it was summer in the southern hemisphere. We also learned that the days were shorter in the winter season, because at that time the Earth was tilted away from the sun and so got less of it. We learned that in some places (very far north or very far south) there was midnight sun in the summer and no sun in the winter.

From all this, it seems logical and natural (to me, anyways) that the further north you go in the winter season, the shorter the days get. The further south you go in the winter, the longer the days get. So if you're taking a winter holiday in Iceland and flying north from England, you should expect to have shorter days. If you fly south to Florida, you should expect longer days in the winter.

So with that long-winded explanation out of the way, how many of you readers either:

- Would plan a winter trip somewhere in the north and not think about it being darker than where you live.


- Think the British couple are idiots.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

It's more a problem with the immediacy and _relative_ inexpense of travel. So, I would think about it were it me but they are not necessarily idiots. The UK is no picnic light-wise either.

I have also noticed that many people simply do not care that much about planetary matters. Don't notice the full moon rise, don't really think about the length of daylight changing, etc. So I would give them credit for going to Iceland on holiday. It is adventurous at least.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

As someone who just a few short weeks ago flew from ~45 degress North to ~45 degrees South - let me tell you I was well aware that we were in for a treat of 9pm sunsets and 5am sunrises in December. It was one of the big attractions of NZ to me. Plus the miles, I mean come on, we're talking like 25K miles from this trip alone. That's like instant OneWorld Saphire status baby.

I'm real curious about the height of the sun above the horizon - I think that might freak me out even more than the shortness of the day fellas.


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

And Merry Christmas fellas!!

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Winter Solstice already?? When is the Winter Solstice in Boston?

Just kidding... I'm not that dumb.

"In the north of the country, on the northern half isle of Grímsey, the sun will not rise at all today."
-- That sounds so cool..... "half isle of Grimsey".

Regarding your poll...
I believe that it's hard to know exactly how far north Iceland really is. I think most people know it's generally somewhere between the US and England, and it's small. However, I think it's farther north than one might expect. However, anyone who travels to iceland in December (hello! December!!) should have a clue unless they are illiterate.
- Paul L

Blogger JB said...

We're at about 65 degrees north here in RVK. That's sub-Arctic, but pretty damn far north, roughly on par with Fairbanks, Alaska. When you look for the North Star here, it's almost directly overhead.

Regarding the comment on light in the UK, we just flew through London on Saturday and the amount of light there was staggering compared to here. The sun is much higher in the sky there, and right now their day length is 7 hours 49 minutes, compared to 4 hours 7 minutes here. So maybe no picnic, but at least a couple of dry cheese sandwiches.


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