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Antarctica in Winter: Showing the Dark Continent in a New Light

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Aurora Australis at dusk, caused by the solar wind colliding with the ionosphere. Photo / Barry Becker

Antarctica in winter, for most people, would be a pretty miserable experience – extreme cold, confinement indoors and near-permanent darkness.

For Barend (Barry Becker), Antarctica is the place to practice his work as a meteorologist for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and pursue his passion as a landscape photographer.

“Winter (on Antarctica) offers incredible opportunities to photograph phenomena that only occur in polar regions,” he said.

Becker is currently at Casey Station, about 3,900km south of Perth, and is experiencing average high temperatures below -10 degrees Celsius and daylight hours of just 2.5 hours. The sun reaches a maximum of one degree as it crawls above the horizon.

The Aurora Australis above Casey Station.  Photo / Barry Becker
The Aurora Australis above Casey Station. Photo / Barry Becker

Becker writes in a recent blog post, “Over the past few weeks there have been several wonderful long nights where expeditionaries have been treated to the aurora australis.”

The aurora is caused by the solar wind colliding with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the Earth’s ionosphere, releasing energy in the form of colorful glowing halos and occurring at both poles.

He also describes several other luminous phenomena specific to these environments and took spectacular photographs to illustrate them.

Electric lights on the station, penetrating into the night due to the light column effect.  Photo / Barry Becker
Electric lights on the station, penetrating into the night due to the light column effect. Photo / Barry Becker

Light and Solar Pillars – vertical beams of light appearing to extend above and/or below a light source, caused by the reflection of tiny ice crystals suspended or falling through a super cold atmosphere.

Distant icebergs seem to float above the water - Fata Morgana are mirages visible in a narrow band just above the horizon.  Photo / Barry Becker
Distant icebergs seem to float above the water – Fata Morgana are mirages visible in a narrow band just above the horizon. Photo / Barry Becker

Fata Morgana – a complex form of mirage visible in a narrow band just above the horizon – was named after the Italian name of Morgan le Fay (Morgan the Fairy) from King Arthur legend. Mirages were believed to be fairy castles or false lands conjured up to lure sailors to their deaths.

A sun dog next to the setting sun - variations in the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals in the cold atmosphere.  Photo / Barry Becker
A sun dog next to the setting sun – variations in the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals in the cold atmosphere. Photo / Barry Becker

Sun dogs, false suns and parhelia. These are variations in the refraction of sunlight through ice crystals in the cold atmosphere.

Ice crystals in double glazed windows.  The macro lens shows the intricate lace patterns.  Photo / Barry Becker
Ice crystals in double glazed windows. The macro lens shows the intricate lace patterns. Photo / Barry Becker

Ice crystals form between the panes of double and triple glazed windows. Becker uses a macro lens to photograph these fairly small phenomena, magnifying the crystals to reveal their intricate lattice patterns.

“Antarctica is such a unique environment and there are so many opportunities to photograph the special things that can only be seen here,” Becker wrote in his blog post.

If you don’t like the months of extreme cold, captivating and almost permanent darkness, you can enjoy his work instead.