Reflections on the shades of light and colour in an Antarctic winter

Midwinter blues and greys

The sun last rose fully above the horizon at Davis Station on June 2nd. Since then, we’ve at best had only civil twilight. As a North Queenslander, a long twilight is something of a novelty for me! Up there, it’s mostly just bright day, slightly less bright day, quick and glorious sunset, then blink and it’s dark… No time to grab your camera, you’ve got to plan ahead.

I haven’t had that problem here. Sunset and sunrise last so long you can afford to wander inside, add a few more layers of warm clothing, choose a good vantage point, tweak the camera settings and capture yet another awesome scene. We’re still getting at least a hint of colour on the horizon most days.

Things appear different in the twilight. The sky, snow and ice become various shades of blue-grey. One of the grounded icebergs in the bay has dark blue streaks reminiscent of a boiled lolly. I’m ok with those kind of midwinter blues. The moon has been big and bright in the daytime, hanging low on the horizon too. A friend challenged me to send him a pic of the bleakest view I could find here. Sorry to disappoint, I can’t find one. It’s all too beautiful!

Now that the sea ice is well and truly frozen, we’ve been getting out in the Hägg on field travel training, sea ice drilling and visiting huts around the Station Operating Area. On a recent visit to the Sorsdal Glacier, the light was just perfect for accentuating details in the ice that would ordinarily be obliterated by bright sunshine. Cracks and crevices become stunning features, the huge mass contrasting against a moody sky.

The lack of surface contrast some days, where the terrain looks flat and featureless, can make Hägglunds travel a bit challenging and slow. It does give more time for the passengers to admire the iceberg vistas though, until the Häggs lurches over the next invisible bump.

Less daylight can also play havoc with our health and routines. We take Vitamin D supplements and have a therapeutic light box that helps realign our circadian rhythms. Some were hoping it might be for a tanning bed. I planned ahead for the inevitable pale skin and brought makeup a shade or two lighter. The cold adds a little rosiness to the cheeks that somewhat improves the selfies, but most of my latest pics have my face safely hidden away beneath layers of balaclava and fleece buffs. I’ve had frosty eyelashes more than a few times from condensation while out hiking.

The buildings are now lit outside with orange lights. I can safely say it isn’t to avoid attracting bugs! The snow around the workshop sometimes looks more like sand dunes. Returning from an evening recce to one of the Apples, we could see the warm glow of station lights from the sea ice. An inviting ‘Welcome Home’.

We’ve still got a few more weeks before the next sunrise. All eyes will be on the horizon. To our friends and family experiencing this stunning part of the world through our eyes, there is still plenty to see. We won’t keep you in the dark!

Rae Madison