Janice Describes Her Visit to the Arctic Tundra

After standing at the geographic south pole, I desired to go to the opposite end of Earth--the North Pole, which is a spot in the Arctic Ocean. The closest I've been so far is Barrow, Alaska, the nation's farthest northern community along the Arctic Ocean. Barrow, the home of about 4,500 people, has been a habitation site for 1,100 to 1,500 years. It was known among the Inupiat Eskimos as Ukpeagvik, or "place where owls are hunted."

I may not have visited both of Earth's geographic poles, but I can at least claim to have touched both polar oceans. Even though my visits to the Antarctic and Arctic regions were during summer months, the oceans along the coast were frozen. In Antarctica, I saw seals laying on the frozen shoreline. In the Arctic, I did not see any wildlife along the shore and later discovered that this was a very good thing because polar bears have been seen along the coast, even in Barrow. Seeing a polar bear from a safe distance would have been interesting.

I was surprised at my first view of Barrow. The houses, businesses, and school buildings were all on stilts. Being on the Arctic coast, I wondered if the ocean periodically flooded the area. But the buildings are not raised above the ground for fear of flooding. Instead it is that the heat from the building will melt the permafrost beneath it resulting in the building sinking into the soggy ground.

During my time in Barrow, I stayed at the same hotel where Ernest Hemingway roomed while working on his book called "Alaska." This fact didn't inspire me to write a novel but I did wonder if, like me, Hemingway was energized by 24 hours of sunlight streaming into his room. I found the movement of the Sun around the sky interesting. At the South Pole the Sun appeared to be the same height above the horizon as it moved around the sky. But at Barrow, being at a lower latitude, the Sun moved at an angle to the horizon so that it was highest at noon and lowest at midnight but always above the horizon. I know because I was awake to see it.

During the summer, which is from about May 10 through August 2, the Sun does not set. There is 24 hours of sunlight each day. During the first half of summer the Sun's path in the sky gets higher each day, while during the second half of summer its path descends until part of it dips below the horizon. Between August 2 and November 18 there is daylight and dark periods each day with the daylight decreases each day until finally it doesn't rise and winter begins. Winter is between November 18 and January 24. During the second half of the winter period, the Sun's path rises each day until finally part of it peaks above the horizon. Each day the daylight period increases and again around May 10 summer begins and there is daylight all day every day.

So what happens during the dark periods? Do people go to work? Do kids go to school? Absolutely!! People have to work and go to school whether it is dark or light outdoors. If the temperature is warm enough, outdoor lighting is used for activities. In fact the dark is not as limiting as is the temperature which ranges during the year from about -56 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Even summer has an average temperature of about 40 degrees and in total, about 324 days each year have freezing temperatures for all or part of each day.