Polar darkness in Greenland

DSCN2686 Photo taken on 7 January 2016 at 12:40 PM

Come to my world for a minute. I’m in Ilulissat, Greenland at 69*N, some 297 km / 185 mi north of the Arctic Circle.

At this time of year, early January, Ilulissat is at the tail end of the polar darkness period. From the end of November until the beginning of January, the sun does not rise above the horizon.

The unknowing ‘southerner’ might think polar darkness is a formidable and scary period to be avoided at all costs. They might think that no sun = no light, or 24/7 nighttime. But in fact, this is not true, at least not in Ilulissat. (If we were talking about Qaanaaq, up at 77*N, it would be a different story.) The good news is that if you are a tourist who enjoys real experiences, can be a bit independent, and can accept just a few hours of light at the middle of the day – you could absolutely visit Ilulissat in winter!

During the polar darkness period in Ilulissat, there is actually quite a diverse range of different lights. Meteorologists have fancy words for them like night, astrological twilight, nautical twilight, and civil twilight.

The picture above is taken at the brightest part of the day, in the middle of the civil twilight time frame. Today, 7 January, that happens to be from 9:51 AM to 3:11 PM. This will extend for a few minutes each day until Tuesday, 13 January, when the sun officially rises above the horizon again. First for a transient 50 minutes and then gaining 10 to 15 minutes more sunlight each day.

By the end of the month, there will already be 5 hours of sunlight. By the middle of March (the height of the spring tourism season), there will be 12 hours of sunlight. And by the end of May, the sun will be up 24 hours a day – until the end of July!

Want to hear more? Read about the very first time I experienced polar darkness back in November 2013.

And follow me at @polarphile on Instagram and stay tuned here for more in-the-moment photos as I document the tail end of the polar darkness period in Ilulissat, the return of the sun, and the path full steam ahead into the light.

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5 thoughts on “Polar darkness in Greenland

  1. Beautiful photo and post I would love to visit the northern reaches of the world to experience the spectacular light shows including the northern lights and to see the mood changing throughout the wandering face of the sun. As an artist I adore this place.

  2. I have always been fascinated with Greenland. The long nights, and the cold would not be fun however.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the comment and for the readership!

      Maybe it’s just me, but I personally don’t even think about these two things. There are still a few hours in the middle of the day with enough light to see what you’re doing, and the rest of the time (unless you’re traveling alone) you will have the company of those around you to brighten the day 🙂

      As for the cold, if you have the proper outerwear, you can withstand nearly anything! Last March I was out snowmobiling for several hours at a time in -25*C, and just yesterday I walked/stood outside in -10*C with 20 m/s winds for about two hours. “Good gear” means a down parka with a hood, mittens, insulated/waterproof/windproof snow pants, good quality boots, wool layer, long underwear layer, and a hat.

      For the best of both worlds (Greenland in winter version but fun enough for a tourist), I suggest coming to Greenland in March or April. There is TONS of light at these months, snow on the ground to get your winter holiday fix, and plenty of exciting activities like snowshoeing, dog sledding, snowmobiling, skiing, and even Northern Lights watching in the middle of the night (more so in early- to mid-March than late April, if you know what I mean).

      Hope to see you in Greenland one day!

      Cheers,
      Sarah

      • thanks for your reply and very good information about Greenland.

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