Arctic Spring, or Arctic Not ‘Not Spring’

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Once again, I am visiting the North Slope (aka Greater Prudhoe Bay, aka Deadhorse, aka ‘the slope’), and the key thing I am finding is that this place is never the same from month to month.  Being May in the Arctic Circle, spring is in the air just like anywhere else, but once again the slope has to be unique about it.

The weather up here has been warming up, but it’s rarely been above freezing.  When it is above freezing, it’s only been for an hour or two.  Winter storms are showing up, like today when 40 mile per hour winds combined with about 2 inches of snow, led to a condition where we had to convoy in vehicles from place to place.  If you were being logical, you would think that there isn’t anything to suggest “spring” but just “still winter”.  Not up here.

The obvious change is daylight, because there’s loads of it.  Gone is the time when the sun didn’t come up, and there almost wasn’t a change in the sky – replaced with the opposite, daylight 24 hours a day.   Today in Prudhoe they marked the beginning of constant daylight, which will last without a sunset until late July.  Getting up and around at 5AM, I was immediately shook into a state where I felt it was already mid-morning, and I should be far less tired than I was.  But again … that’s the obvious part.

What was surprising is first of all, there were birds here.  Geese mostly, but some other water fowl hunkered down in the wind.  Sure, I have seen some foxes up here on previous trips, but birds not only have the choice to be further south you would think they would have turned around when they got here and saw all the snow. 

Then there was the open water.  The slope is a pockmark of lakes carved by the ice, and most of the tundra is interrupted by water during the summer.  So we know there is ice all around us.  But there were spots where the ponds/lakes were actually open, melted open.  The logical science brain should tell you that ice doesn’t melt unless its above freezing, and here it is below freezing and ice is melting. To be honest, I’m not really sure what the heck is going on there, maybe its salt in the water being so close to the Arctic Ocean, or sublimation which is how most of the snow has disappeared over the last few weeks, but it’s there and its open in spots.

They tell me, though, that spring comes in a lightning flash.  Rumor is you could go on a two week off-hitch for standard R&R leaving the slope in the icy grips of arctic hopelessness and return to green flourishing tundra full of happiness & dreams.  My return is currently scheduled for June, and I am keen on seeing if there is a change.  If there is a new life blooming up here, a new dawn to what makes this place unique for the summer … or just another snow storm.

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