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Courtesy Kongsfjord International Scuba School

How To Enjoy The Cold: Advice From An Arctic SCUBA Diver

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Courtesy Kongsfjord International Scuba School

For much of North America, this winter has felt never-ending and particularly cruel. The Paper Of Record has compared it to "hell," and while their frustration is understandable, a river of fire seems like it'd be pretty nice right about now. Even though it's late February, much of the Midwest and East Coast will have to endure a few more weeks of this frigid reality. So, rather than booking the next flight to Cancun (fares aren't great, I checked), I sought the advice of someone who is professionally good at handling the cold. I called Christoph Hupe, an arctic SCUBA diver at the world's northernmost dive center.

Norway's Kongsfjord International SCUBA School is located at N 70° 43' 13.908". For the coordinately unengaged, here is a map for reference:

See that tropical-looking green area far to the south? That's northern Sweden and Finland.

When I spoke with Christoph, Kongsfjord was having a "mild" day. (Online weather services for the town reported a temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit). Christoph tells me the coast is kept warmer by the Gulf Stream, although the price you pay for these milder temperatures is the routine presence of winds that can reach "up to 200 miles per hour." He was upbeat but anxious—he had been stuck inside doing paperwork all day and wanted to go enjoy the weather.

Christoph works year-round taking divers into the Arctic Ocean for both commercial and research purposes and for recreational tours. The underwater environment is full of the biodiversity and brilliant color you'd expect to see in the Caribbean, not in water between Alta and the North Pole. Of course, you can't exactly enjoy a Mai Tai on the beach after touring Kongsfjord's depths.

According to Christoph, "The water can chill down here to about -1.8 degrees Celsius." As I checked Google to find that this converts to about 28 degrees Fahrenheit, he chimes in, "I know, that doesn't sound so bad." (I assure him that yes, it does indeed sound very bad.) "Water transports heat 25 times faster than air," he says, "when you multiply [that water temperature] by 25, then you get to somewhere between -40 and -50 degrees in equivalent air temperature."

Christoph wears a neoprene drysuit while diving in the winter. "The neoprene always holds a little bit of water," he tells me, "so I have found that when it's really cold and I come out of the sea, I stand a minute or two in the air and the entire suit starts crackling. That's always a bit of fun!"

The equipment is key, and being unprepared can be deadly. "Something can happen quick—you can have free flows in your regulator. If you have plastic fins, they can turn brittle." He knows divers who filmed in Antarctica for the BBC's Blue Planet specials, and they told him about their mistake of bringing plastic fins. He laughs, recalling that, when he watched the program, he saw their fins "brittling away...Soon they'd have just the boot on, no fin!" (Christoph uses rubber fins that "really do the trick...they have never let me down, even in the coldest conditions and when it's getting rough and tough.")

While diving in the Arctic is cold, your body ignores that fact pretty soon. "My experience is that it's not so bad. You go into the water and you get really cold and you get all these needles and pins, and it hurts for a couple seconds, but then it's numb and then it's fine!" For commercial dives, Christoph can be in the water for up to three hours at a time. "If you were just sport diving, bobbing in the water and sightseeing, you would last 20 minutes, half an hour, and then you would start getting cold and thinking of coming up and getting back out of the water. Whereas when you are working under the water, it is very different. You are active. You are moving, lifting heavy things—this keeps the blood circulating and makes you last much longer underwater."

I ask if he enjoys the cold. Christoph, who has been chipper and laughing throughout the call, pauses to think, and his tone approaches something akin to somberness for the first time. "Well," he sighs, "sometimes I wonder why I do this. Because of course I'm getting cold, and you know what it's like when you get cold: you get all the needles and pins and blah blah blah blah blah, and you wonder why on earth you are doing this." After cycling through that process mentally, he turns upbeat again, almost becoming spiritually numb to the pain. "On the other side," he says, "I keep telling myself this is a marvelous environment. It's not many people who have the chance to experience what I am allowed to experience. On the principle, I enjoy every second of it."

I soon find myself complaining about this particularly brutal winter to Christoph, and then add that everyone in America is also complaining, lest I come off as a wimp. I also mention that I am from Chicago, hoping to score some points from my cold weather brother. Still, I ask him for advice. The key, he says, is in his mindset—and it's not a case of mind over matter. "It's not important that you don't concentrate on the fact that you are cold," he says. "Don't try to ignore the thought, I am cold or Jaaaa, this is really cold. Take it as, OK, it's cold outside, I've dressed myself, now I go for a walk, or go to work, or whatever it is."

Embracing the cold is quite different from enjoying it, but, as humans with nervous systems that like to keep us informed about whether or not we're in the midst of freezing to death, sometimes there's only one thing you can do.

"When you're coming out of the living room, and you have been sitting there, watching TV, and you go out and you have to walk your dog, and it's really really cold outside, you usually say, 'Argh, that's miserable. That's grim,'" he says. "OK. Fine. On the other side, what I do is say, 'OK! It's cold outside. That's natural out here. I should dress warmly, and I take my dog, and I enjoy myself!' Me and my dog, we have a snowball chase, we roll around in the snow, we'll jump head-first in some snow drifts or whatever. It's the mindset!"

Christoph's dog, showing the proper mindset. Via Kongsfjord International Scuba School's Facebook

When people he takes on dives express worry about the freezing temperatures, Christoph asks them if they go skiing or ice skating, or have any other winter hobbies. He then tells them, "OK, what do you do when you go skiing? You're not skiing dressed in your swimsuit. You are dressed accordingly and have the according mindset. And then it becomes enjoyable! You just need to look at your own personal approach and your dress code to overcome the cold. And once it's overcome, you can start to see the beauty."

Even though Midtown Manhattan may lack Kamchatka Crabs or wolffish or the beautiful aquatic biodiversity of Kongsfjord, Christoph's enthusiasm and appreciation for the freezing world around him are contagious. By the time we are finishing our call, I yearn to take a walk outside, cold be damned. Christoph, on the other hand, is frustrated. "I can't stand this paperwork, I want to get out!" he cries. The cold and his dog will have to wait.

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RAMMB/CIRA
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science
The Coolest Meteorological Term You'll Learn This Week
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Two tropical cyclones orbiting around each other in the northwestern Pacific Ocean on July 25, 2017.
RAMMB/CIRA

What happens when two hurricanes start to invade each other's personal space? It's easy to picture the two hurricanes merging into one megastorm that tears across the ocean with twice the fury of a normal storm, but what really happens is less dramatic (although it is a beautiful sight to spy on with satellites). Two cyclones that get too close to one another start to feel the pull of a force called the Fujiwhara Effect, a term that's all the rage in weather news these days.

The Fujiwhara Effect occurs when two cyclones track close enough to each other that the storms begin orbiting around one another. The counterclockwise winds spiraling around each cyclone force them to participate in what amounts to the world's largest game of Ring Around the Rosie. The effect is named after Sakuhai Fujiwhara, a meteorologist who studied this phenomenon back in the early 1900s.

The extent to which storms are affected by the Fujiwhara Effect depends on the strength and size of each system. The effect will be more pronounced in storms of equal size and strength; when a large and small storm get too close, the bigger storm takes over and sometimes even absorbs its lesser counterpart. The effect can have a major impact on track forecasts for each cyclone. The future of a storm completely depends on its new track and the environment it suddenly finds itself swirling into once the storms break up and go their separate ways.

We've seen some pretty incredible examples of the Fujiwhara Effect over the years. Hurricane Sandy's unusual track was in large part the result of the Fujiwhara Effect; the hurricane was pulled west into New Jersey by a low-pressure system over the southeastern United States. The process is especially common in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, where typhoons fire up in rapid succession during the warmer months. We saw a great example of the effect just this summer when two tropical cyclones interacted with each other a few thousand miles off the coast of Japan.

Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro pulled a fantastic animated loop of two tropical cyclones named Noru and Kulap swirling around each other at the end of July 2017 a few thousand miles off the coast of Japan.

Typhoon Noru was a small but powerful storm that formed at about the same latitude as Kulap, a larger but much weaker storm off to Noru's east. While both storms were moving west in the general direction of Japan, Kulap moved much faster than Noru and eventually caught up with the latter storm. The Fujiwhara Effect caused Typhoon Noru to stop dead in its tracks, completely reverse its course and eventually perform a giant loop over the ocean. Typhoon Noru quickly strengthened and became the dominant cyclone; the storm absorbed Kulap and went on to become a super typhoon with maximum winds equivalent to a category 5 hurricane.

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Kelly Gorham
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Space
Balloon Cams Will Offer Unparalleled Views of the Total Solar Eclipse
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Kelly Gorham

The August 2017 total solar eclipse should be visible to some degree from just about everywhere in the continental United States—that is, if the weather cooperates. But now, even if it doesn't, everyone will be able to watch along, thanks to livestreamed video from balloon cams drifting miles above the Earth.

Astrophysicist Angela Des Jardins of Montana State University (MSU) got the idea to monitor the magnificent cosmic event from the air after reading about an airplane pilot's flight through the path of a 2013 eclipse. She thought her students might enjoy the chance to get an up-close look for themselves.

But what started as a class project quickly, well, ballooned. At last count, teams from more than 50 other schools had joined the Eclipse Ballooning Project. The core of the work remains close to home; MSU students have designed, built, and tested the equipment, and even offered multi-day training for students from other schools. Undergrads in the computer science and engineering programs even created the software that air traffic controllers will use to track the balloons on the big day.

Students carry a large white weather balloon across a tarmac.
Photo courtesy of the Montana Space Grant Consortium

The next step was to get the balloon cam footage to a larger audience. Seeing no reason to think small, Des Jardins went straight to the source, inviting NASA and the website Stream to join the fun. The space agency is now beefing up its website in anticipation of 500 million livestream viewers.

And what a view it should be. The balloons will rise more than 80,000 feet—even higher than NASA's airplane-mounted telescopes.

"It's a space-like perspective," Des Jardins said in a press statement. "From that height you can see the curvature of the Earth and the blackness of space."

Online or outside, Des Jardins says viewers can expect a kind of "deep twilight, with basically a 360-degree sunset" during the eclipse.

She urges everyone to get outside if they can to see the event with their own eyes, but expects the balloon cams will deliver something really special.

"On the ground, an eclipse just kind of happens to you. It just gets dark," Des Jardins told New Scientist. "From the air, you can see it coming and going. I think that perspective is really profound."

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