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HomeSpits­ber­gen infor­ma­ti­on → Mid­ni­ght sun and polar night

Midnight sun and polar night

In the polar are­as, we are tal­king about a sea­so­nal cli­ma­te, in con­trast to the time of day cli­ma­te in lower lati­tu­des, whe­re tem­pe­ra­tu­re varia­ti­ons bet­ween day and night are more pro­noun­ced than bet­ween dif­fe­rent sea­sons. See also when to tra­vel.

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard

In Isfjord, the sun remains below the hori­zon from Octo­ber 26 to Febru­a­ry 15. The dates will vary a bit depen­ding on your exact posi­ti­on and the actu­al tem­pe­ra­tu­re laye­ring of the atmo­s­phe­re: in case of cold bot­tom lay­ers over­lain by war­mer air mas­ses hig­her up, the ther­mo­cli­ne (the lay­er with the abrupt tem­pe­ra­tu­re chan­ge) will act as a mir­ror, making the sun visi­ble even when it is actual­ly just under the hori­zon. As a result, the polar night may appe­ar a cou­p­le of days shor­ter than it actual­ly is, astro­no­mi­c­al­ly.

Polar night

Polar night in Advent­da­len near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The pho­to appears less dark than rea­li­ty. 07th Janu­a­ry short­ly after 1300 hours, 8 sec. expo­sure time, f 4.0, ISO 800.

We are tal­king about the polar night in a stric­ter sen­se when the sun is at least 6 degrees below the hori­zon. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, this is the case from Novem­ber 11 to Janu­a­ry 30. The who­le peri­od from Octo­ber 26 to Febru­a­ry 15, when the sun is under the hori­zon, but less than 6 degrees at times, is cal­led the dark peri­od (mør­ket­iden).

Polar night

Polar night in Bjørn­da­len. Also this pho­to appears brigh­ter than rea­li­ty. Light sources: the full moon, a hut and Bar­ents­burg out­side the pho­to on the right side in the distance. Ear­ly Janu­a­ry evening. 15 sec., f 5.0, ISO 1600.

It depends very much on the wea­ther at any given time what the polar night loo­ks like. The ran­ge of opti­ons is from pitch black when it is clou­dy to sur­pri­sin­gly bright when it is clear and the moon or a nort­hern light pro­vi­de some light. Then, it is pos­si­ble to move around in the field, to some degree and with care. You just have to ima­gi­ne a win­ter night in open, snow-cove­r­ed ter­rain at home to get an idea. You can actual­ly get examp­les for almost all sun­light situa­tions that you may expe­ri­ence in the high arc­tic also in mid lati­tu­des: all you have to do is to find a time of day, which will in any case be more or less clo­se to sun­ri­se or sun­set, that cor­re­sponds to a given sea­son in Spits­ber­gen. This way, you can get, at least for a few moments, an idea of the light that you may have in Spits­ber­gen for hours, days or even weeks.

Polar night and northern light near Longyearbyen

Polar night and some nort­hern light in Advent­da­len, not far from Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Also here, the pho­to appears brigh­ter than rea­li­ty. Ear­ly Janu­a­ry evening, 5 sec., f 3.2, ISO 1600.

From mid Novem­ber to mid Janu­a­ry, the weeks around the win­ter sol­sti­ce, you don’t see any sun­light at all: real polar night, the sun is 6 degrees ore more below the hori­zon. On fine, clear days, you may see the faint sil­hou­et­te of moun­tain tops on the sou­thern hori­zon, get­ting more pro­noun­ced in ear­ly Janu­a­ry. Towards mid Janu­a­ry, you can speak about twi­light during mid-day. The twi­light peri­od is get­ting lon­ger, and when the sun appears abo­ve the hori­zon on Febru­a­ry 15, you have alrea­dy got several hours of light both morning and after­noon. It is the kind of light you have in lower lati­tu­des just after the sun­set. When you can actual­ly see the sun depends obvious­ly on the ter­rain near your loca­ti­on. In Lon­gye­ar­by­en, the sun will come up abo­ve the moun­tains on the sou­thern hori­zon on 08 March.

The days are quick­ly get­ting lon­ger now, and the spring equinox will bring a nor­mal rhythm of day and night, but the sun will never be far from the hori­zon, a fact that can result in stun­ning light that may last for hours. It is ama­zing how quick­ly the light and the dura­ti­on of the sun abo­ve the hori­zon are chan­ging from day to day in late March and ear­ly April.

return of the sun in March

Return of the sun in March.

On April 20, the mid­ni­ght sun comes back to Isfjord: the morning of the polar day. In late April, the­re is no such thing as twi­light any­mo­re. In May and June, the sun is abo­ve the hori­zon all the time, making the light some­ti­mes a bit boring for pho­to­graph­ers.

Tundra in Adventdalen, late May

Tun­dra in Advent­da­len, late May.

The maxi­mum amount of day­light is around the sum­mer sol­sti­ce in late June. In mid July, the light is get­ting a bit war­mer again during the “night”, when the sun is slow­ly approa­ching the hori­zon again, but it won’t be befo­re August 20 that it actual­ly goes down for the first time for a few minu­tes.

Mid August evening light

The evening light comes back in mid August. Ice­bergs and gla­cier front. Negri­breen, Storfjord.

Simi­lar late March and April, just the other way around, the days are get­ting rapidly shor­ter: it is just one mon­th from the evening of the polar day on August 20 to the autumn equinox on Sep­tem­ber 23. Now, you are sud­den­ly back to a dai­ly chan­ge bet­ween day and night, as you know it from lower lati­tu­des, but with much lon­ger peri­ods of twi­light. The­se sea­sons of chan­ge can pro­vi­de beau­ti­ful and stun­ning light.

Evening light on Moffen, mid September

Evening light on Mof­fen, mid Sep­tem­ber.

In Octo­ber, darkness and twi­light are quick­ly get­ting lon­ger, limi­t­ing day­light to an incre­a­singly shor­ter peri­od around noon, befo­re the dark peri­od is com­ing back on Octo­ber 26. Now it is not long any­mo­re until the darkness of the polar night comes.

By the way, polar night and mid­ni­ght sun are slight­ly dif­fe­rent in Arc­tic and Ant­arc­tic, not just out of pha­se but actual­ly dif­fe­rent in length, in con­trast to what one might expect. Read more about this here: Polar night, polar day (spitsbergen-svalbard.com news and sto­ries, Febru­a­ry 2014).

Final daylight in late October

Final day­light in late Octo­ber. Fri­dt­jov­breen, Bellsund.

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last modification: 2021-03-13 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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