The Mystery Of The Polar Night
Our polar expeditions mainly take place during the summer months in each region, allowing travellers to experience long periods of daylight and maximise the time they have to explore. However, this means we often forget that there is a natural phenomenon which has the opposite effect to the Midnight Sun which makes the Arctic and Antarctic glisten magically. This natural event, which occurs throughout the winter months in each region, is known as the Polar Night.
What Is The Polar Night?
The Polar Night is a period where the sun is not spotted above the horizon for more than 24 hours at a time. Due to the way light rays are bent by our atmosphere, the Polar Night is shorter than the period of time that the Midnight Sun lasts for. It is also interesting to note that, due to the elliptical shape of the Earth’s orbit, the Polar Night is a week or so shorter within the Arctic Circle than it is at the South Pole. The darkness is thought to last around 180 days, on average, at our planet’s northern and southern extremities.
How Dark Are We Talking?
The level of darkness will vary depending on how far you go inside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. Most inhabited areas are more likely to experience what is known as Polar Twilight, but close to the poles it will be practically pitch black. There are actually various stages of Polar Night which range from Polar Twilight to Astronomical Polar Night, where the latter is defined as a time when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon or more. Most settlements are situated in the area covered by what is known as the Civil Polar Night.
What Is The Effect On Humans?
In the majority of towns and cities, life continues as normal. Children go to school, adults go to work and there is still a wealth of activities that take place throughout the day, albeit with the aid of headlamps sometimes. It has been known for cases of depression to increase during the Polar Night, but most people that have experienced this phenomenon before will see no change in behaviour.
So Nature Takes Some Time Off During This Period, Right?
Far from it. In fact, this is the best time to witness one of the most spectacular natural occurrences; the Northern Lights. During the Polar Night, the lights stand out better against the dark sky and so they are much easier to spot.
Due to the fact that the Polar Night occurs in winter, most people believe that Arctic ecosystems begin to shut down during this time. However, new evidence has come to light which seems to show that they continue to flourish. Inspired by the sight of bioluminescent organisms in the water, a group of scientists decided to investigate the level of natural activity during the Arctic winter. They found that species such as zooplankton were continuing to reproduce, scavengers like crabs and whelks grew in numbers and seabirds even overwintered, developing ways to find and catch their prey in the dark.
If you would like to go in search of the Northern Lights and experience the Polar Twilight for yourself, we have a range of Polar cruises that depart during the autumn months. Call us today for more details or submit your enquiry online.