Winter is Wonderful

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Inspiration for this post came from seeing some of the frigid temperatures others are facing. Fortunately, we are staying just above freezing at night here. My house has thin walls so I don’t run the heater when I’m sleeping. It’s hard to motivate myself to crawl out from under my blankets in the morning.

Arctic GearToday I have some photos from when I worked in the Alaskan arctic. The first shot is me standing outside in whiteout conditions. The tunnel on the hood and the fox fur keep direct wind off the face and maintain a pocket of “warmer” air. The outside temperature at this point was probably about minus 25C, but winter temperatures can dip to minus 50C or further. Whiteout is a peculiar phenomenon. Visibility on the ground drops sharply and the wind blows a lot of snow around. All travel is prohibited at this point. Our pilots say that they can have beautiful clear weather, but there is an impenetrable white area below them.

Bull Rail WhiteoutHere’s another photo of me in the whiteout conditions. I am standing in front of the bull rail where our trucks are plugged into block heaters to keep them warm and running. I am not wearing my overalls under my parka, just standard jeans, because it is so “balmy”. If we were staying outside longer, I would have suited up. We used a flash to light up the “horizontal snow”. The average snowfall in the arctic is quite low, but the dry air and cold weather ensure that what does fall hangs around. The slope is essentially a flat area about 300km by 1400km, so the wind can get whipped up pretty good.

ANWRFor contrast, I included a late summer shot. This photo is a publicity shot of a small part of ANWR (Alaska National Wildlife Reserve) which is always the subject of hot debate. It is supposed to remain pristine, but there is strong desire to get oil out of the ground there. With proper controls and modern drilling methods it can be done without harming the wildlife, but it won’t be enough oil to free us from OPEC.

Alpine 8-26-00I snapped a shot of one project while coming in for a landing. Almost the entire facility appears here. To the right you can see the landing strip. On the left side you can see the drilling rig and the pipeline trails off behind it. This is a good example of how modern drilling leaves a small footprint. From this one drilling pad more than a hundred directional wells can be bored out. Older technology required making several small pads connected by roads and pipelines. This site is only connected to other facilities in the winter when the ice roads get laid down. Maps of most of the North Slope look like Lorraine Swiss cheese. Notice the river and numerous ponds of all sizes. This shot must have been late spring; the snow has thawed, but the ponds are still mostly frozen.

Unfortunately, I was working long hours everyday I was there, so I don’t have any photos of the wildlife in the summer. Once the snow and ice have melted, this huge expanse becomes a thriving wetland area. Numerous varieties of birds arrive from all over the western hemisphere to enjoy the surroundings. Many scientists come in to take environmental studies. They get to photograph a lot of the birds.

That’s enough for tonight. I might throw a handful of other arctic peculiarities up later. But that’s enough for now. I hope everyone is finding ways to stay warm this winter.

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5 Responses to “Winter is Wonderful”

  1. fightingwindmills Says:

    I can’t stop laughing at that first photo. A face full of fox fur. Nice. It’s so fun to learn new things about you—like you’ve worked in the arctic.

  2. びっくり Says:

    I have a very odd history. Which makes it easy for me to play “Two Truths and a Lie”. We played this the other day. One person says three things about them. Two must be true and one must be false. Everyone else tries to identify the falsehood. If there are true things about yourself which seem unbelievable, it becomes easier to play this game.

  3. Stefanie Says:

    Thanks for the pictures! It makes me seem less cold. Since I’m in the city we don;t get white out conditions but outside the city in rural Minnesota there are always warnings during the winter and road closures. When the land is flat, there isn’t much to keep the snow from blowing when the wind kicks up. I notice your parka has reflector strips on it which helps you show up nicely in the snow. What an excellent safety idea.

  4. びっくり Says:

    Yes, there are broad yellow bands of active reflectors and narrow white bands over the middle of them. These show up very well from incredible distance with just a little light shining on them. All of our outer gear has a lot of that. It wouldn’t do to get lost in this kind of place.

  5. びっくり Says:

    I forgot to mention that the jacket is also made from Nomex III. It is highly resistant to fire and acid.

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