Since the experiment night was such a late night, the organizers were merciful and put together a short excursion Wednesday morning that didn’t require much brain power. We were shuttled down to a nearby park for a little nature walk, stopping once or twice along the way due to stray reindeer in the road.
After spending a few hours outside on a short treasure hunt it was time to head back to Sodankylä and get to work. As it turned out, the previous night’s experiment hadn’t turned out quite like we hoped. The data from our “Plan C” was a little disappointing; imagine a storm chaser getting 2 hours to run an experiment at a world class facility but having only clear, blue skies to look at. Fortunately for us, the radar facility in Sondrestrom, Greenland was operating very similarly to our “Plan A” experiment idea. Mary McCready and the rest of the Sondrestrom crew were extremely helpful by providing us with a backup set of data to work with.
Before we got completely lost in data analysis, we found time to have a little more fun Wednesday night. In Finland, saunas are a very integral part of the culture. Some polls have reported that there is a sauna for every 2 people in Finland. Our hosts wanted to make sure we got the opportunity to share in this bit of the culture, so they invited us out for a night at the sauna, which even included a floating sauna!
Thursday and Friday were spent working like crazy to get ready for the final presentations on Saturday morning. The mornings were typically spent in lecture learning more about the radar systems and the afternoons/evenings were spent in group work cranking through the data as fast as possible.
Our original experiment idea involved looking horizon to horizon, north to straight up to south, in order to map the region in the atmosphere where aurora appears, typically called the auroral oval. The data from the Sondrestrom radar was a little more complicated than our original experiment. It performed similar horizon to horizon scans, but slightly tipped away from the vertical (local meridian). The Sondrestrom mode produced data profiles that look like a fan waving back and forth. The good news: we saw aurora!
In the video above the green regions indicate elevated electron density in the ionosphere (~100-400+ km altitude). The occasional blips of red indicate regions of increased electron density, which is one way we can identify aurora even when the skies are too bright to see it visually.
Several days and long nights later, we were ready to present the results of the experiment to the rest of the school. After a lot of hard work we had something we were confident to share and the presentation went well. Just like that, however, the school was over and it was time to pack up, load the bus, and head back to the train station for our trip back to Helsinki.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we cross the Arctic Circle (~66° N latitude) on the way from Sodankylä to the train station in Rovaniemi. Perhaps more importantly, we drove right past Santa’s Village, though we weren’t allowed to stop and say hello to the Big Guy. Once back at the train station we took the same overnight train back to Helsinki.
The next morning once I arrived in Helsinki, I immediately started a week of travel through more of Scandinavia. That will be the subject of another post (or two) in the near future. Thanks for reading. Until next time…
Addendum: For anyone who would like to see what we presented, I’ve uploaded our presentation here: ISR2016-Group4. A lot of it may not make sense without someone to talk about it, but it at least has some pretty pictures!