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22 September, 2001

September 22, 2001

A Changing Season

Today is the first day of fall. If I were back home in West Virginia, a typical first day of fall would include crisp air, clear skies, and cool temperatures. I imagine the leaves changing colors and pumpkins everywhere. Fall is by far my favorite season.

Things are certainly different here near the top of the world. If you look at the lines of latitude and longitude drawn on a globe, you see that as you follow the lines of longitude from the equator up to the North Pole, the distance between them decreases until they meet at the North Pole. If you were able to walk around the world at the equator, it would take you months. If you were to walk around the world at the North Pole, it would take you a few seconds! The seasons are different here, too. Because the Earth rotates on a tilted axis, the sunlight is continuous in the north polar regions 6 months, then in the south polar regions for the other 6 months. Today is the autumnal equinox-- the first day of fall-- and the sun hits most directly in the middle of the Earth at the equator. It is a day where the day and night are of equal length all over the world (including the North and South Pole)!

Being in the northern polar region, the sun will now begin to shine longer on the southern part of the world than here. As the days pass, we will quickly move on to 24 hours of darkness. Because of our location near the top of the world, we are losing 37 minutes of sunlight per day. This means that in a few weeks time, we will have gone from 24 hours of sunlight to 24 hours of darkness if we stayed at our current location. Welcome to the Arctic fall!

Being in a polar region is very exciting, but some of the phenomena are very difficult for most people, including me, to understand. Imagine living here at our present latitude and longitude-- there would be continued darkness for the next 6 months! It would be strange not seeing a sun in the sky! I, for one, am thankful that our expedition is almost over and I will return to the bright, vivid, West Virginia fall of my imagination.

We've waited many days to see a sunset!

Coast Guard crewmember Elsa Sandoval took this picture of the sun preparing to dip below the horizon.

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