Anna Simpson, 6th year POA PhD Candidate
Imagine a time when you’ve watched the sun sink just below the horizon and the sky and clouds reflect spectacular shades of oranges, yellows, pinks and lavenders. Now imagine this scene playing out for hours because the sun is moving in a wide, low arc just above or below the horizon. This is what the sky looks like at latitudes above the Arctic Circle around late fall/early winter when the sun sets for a few months. I experienced this multi-hour sunrise/sunset for the first time in the Beaufort Sea in November 2022, while participating in fieldwork onboard the R/V Sikuliaq.
As I was preparing for the cruise, I knew it was going to be dark for much of the time due to the proximity to winter, but I thought the transition would be distinct, taking place over a short period of time. While most of the time was dark, we experienced exquisite twilight with slow sunrises transitioning into slow sunset for a few hours a day. This time was magical, watching the shifting light and clouds across the ice, sea and mountain scapes. Most of the science crew had a daily routine of going outside to brave the bitter, cold winds to observe this magic.
The science crew was composed of many different research groups, all collecting data to understand various parts of the Arctic ocean system. My primary responsibilities involved monitoring and downloading data from instruments called chipods that measure temperature changes really quickly (100x/second). We use this data and some theory to compute turbulent dissipation rates. Higher dissipation rates indicate places where there is greater turbulent mixing. For example, if we have a cup of coffee and pour cream into it, it will eventually mix and combine together. If we take a spoon and stir the liquid in that cup, this causes higher amounts of turbulence which will combine the coffee and cream more quickly. Our spoon is the “event” that causes greater amounts of turbulence. Measuring turbulent dissipation rates helps us to understand the distribution and transport of heat, nutrients, and contaminants in the ocean.
I also spent a bit of time observing and capturing the shifting light, the reflections across the land-sea-sky-scape through watercolor painting. In my “normal,” land-based life, I pay attention to the way in which the light shifts in the spaces I occupy throughout the days and seasons. This careful attention has helped me develop a strong seasonal sense of the light and shadows in my own home and neighborhood. I am particularly drawn to the light at the edges of the day – sunrises and sunsets. In the mid-latitudes, the sunrise and sunset are fleeting, with the golden glow lasting for a short period of time. In the Arctic, this time is prolonged, providing me an opportunity to explore and practice capturing this special light through watercolor painting.
Painting and other creative pursuits have been an integral part of my identity from my childhood. Only recently, I have realized the extent to which my identities as a scientist and artist are deeply intertwined. I enjoy using painting as a tool to explore my surroundings, record my observations, capture details, and describe my overall big picture feelings or moments. This creative practice fuels my curiosity and perception, both integral parts of being a scientist.