'Extraordinary' red skies wow Svalbard locals

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Sunset in Longyearbyen. Photo:Magnus Hagdorn/Flickr
17:13 CET+01:00
Midwinter usually brings nothing but darkness to the far northern Norwegian island of Svalbard, where the sun does not rise above the horizon in either December or January. But something special has happened this year.

An unusual set of meteorological circumstances have left islanders with striking skies of red and pink hues over the last week.

A number of Svalbard’s residents have taken photographs of the other-worldly skies, including Anastasia Gorten, who told state broadcaster NRK that the uncommon phenomenon is caused by sunlight being reflected by stratospheric clouds.

The position of the clouds between Svalbard and the Scandinavian mainland is the main cause of the red light rays. Ice crystals within the clouds split the sun’s rays and send the red part of the spectrum back towards the Arctic island group.

“The Sun’s red spectrum is shining on us in a unique way, from almost 30 kilometres’ altitude, during a time when we are unable to see blue light,” Gorten said.

Gorten also said that the northern lights were visible in the red sky, as well as a near-full moon.

Although similar red skies were seen on Svalbard last year, the phenomenon has not otherwise occurred since the early 2000s.

According to Gorter, the crimson and lilac winter skies are a sign of a mild winter – meaning above-zero temperatures on the island and an associated risk of avalanches.

Svalbard’s largest town, Longyearbyen, has already suffered one avalanche this month, with two people, including a two-year-old girl, killed by a snow slide on December 19th.


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