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Northern Lights in Silence

The majority of the world’s people have never seen northern lights with their own eyes. Only 2% of the world’s population lives in an area where you can see northern lights. The Finnish Lapland is one of them.

Electrically charged particles (electrons and protons) burst out from the Sun and enter the Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of up to a thousand kilometres an hour. This current of particles is called solar wind. The blasts of solar wind cause northern lights and other phenomena of space weather. A part of the particles penetrates the Earth’s magnetic field and is directed to the Earth’s polar regions, where they collide with particles of the atmosphere at an altitude of 100–300 kilometres. This creates an overwhelmingly beautiful play of nature as colours change from yellow-green to red.

In the Southern hemisphere, you can only see northern lights in the Antarctic. In the Northern hemisphere, northern lights are plentiful from the arctic circle to 75 degrees north. However, this thousand-kilometre-wide band is not accessible to all. The region is mostly sea, extending to Spitzbergen, central Greenland and northern parts of Alaska and Siberia where the population is sparse and communications poor. Canada in North America as well as Iceland, Finland and Norway in Europe are thus excellent places to observe northern lights.

The northern lights’ season begins in the Finnish Lapland in August, when nights grow longer.

Then it is possible to see ‘double northern lights’, which are northern lights in the sky and their reflection on the surface of the water. In the autumn, you can also see them as a reflection from the surface of black ice. We call this the double aurora effect”, says Ilkka Länkinen, proprietor of Arctic TreeHouse hotel, which specialises in northern lights’ tourism.

The Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is located near the arctic circle in Rovaniemi. Its rooms have been designed specifically for viewing northern lights. The northern wall of all the rooms is all glass. The rooms have been graded so that they give to different directions. All hotel guests see mostly Lappish nature from their rooms – and hopefully northern lights.

The Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is located near the arctic circle in Rovaniemi. Its rooms have been designed specifically for viewing northern lights.

The hotel monitors the northern lights’ forecasts of the Sodankylä geophysical observatory, and it also uses the local Aurora Alert application which notifies the hotel guests’ mobile phones at any time when northern lights are visible.

“I can say from experience that if you stay three nights in the hotel, you will see northern lights with a 90% probability.”

The northern wall of all the rooms is all glass. You can observe the northern lights in peace and quietness from the room. In the picture the reflection of the exit-sign can be seen in the middle of the northern lights.

On a clear night, the average probability of seeing northern lights in the Finnish Lapland at 9 p.m. exceeds 50%. The probability peaks about an hour before midnight, which is the magnetic midnight, and the disturbances of the Earth’s magnetic field are at their greatest. The possibility of seeing northern lights increases the further north you go.

According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, northern lights are mostly seen in Finland in northern Lapland, at around the latitude of Kilpisjärvi. When the sky is clear, northern lights are observed there on an average of three nights out of four. In order to see northern lights every night you have to go to the Arctic Sea coast in northern Norway.

“We always emphasise to the hotel guests that northern lights are a natural phenomenon, whose occurrence does not depend on us. Till now the tourists have been understanding that they cannot always be seen”,  says the hotel manager, Katri Kerola.

“The guests come to the hotel in the winter mainly because of northern lights. Northern lights cause a nice kind of grouping among the guests. In a little street, twenty people meet in the middle of the night, thrilled and joyful, to view nature’s theatre. The Instagram account of our hotel is filled with visitors’ pictures of northern lights. I come from here, and I too stop to watch them, even if I was in a hurry to get somewhere. Northern lights are Lappish mindfulness.”

A silent nature experience

The gustiness of the solar wind causing northern lights is known to vary in eleven-year cycles. It is connected to the number of sun spots on the surface of the Sun. The probability of the occurrence of northern lights can be predicted by observing the Sun’s surface.If a blast is observed on the surface of the Sun, it can be deduced that northern lights will occur in one or two days.

Staying at the Arctic TreeHouse Hotel is a calming experience. Even if northern lights are not to be seen, you can lie on your large bed and stare at the beautiful forest landscape in silence. Watching television does not even occur to you.

“We have intentionally kept the hotel quiet. There are double-insulated double glasses and a grass thatch overhead, insulating sounds well. The television set is intentionally hidden in the rooms”, Länkinen sneers and emphasises that the hotel was specifically designed to give a nature experience.

“You can watch nature peacefully indoors, irrespective of the weather. The architect’s starting points were a good view, peacefulness and a safe nature experience. Nature comes very near, because the large window makes the guest feel a part of nature”, Ilkka Länkinen says.

Particularly Asians have found the hotel.

“In addition to the British, plenty of tourists from Japan and Singapore come here. China is growing at 300% annually. Many weddings and engagement parties have been held under the glow of northern lights.”

At the Arctic TreeHouse hotel, you can watch northern lights both in water and in the air. At the Metsäkyly forest spa, you can watch northern lights in a jacuzzi after the sauna.

Extreme experience. You can watch northern lights at the jacuzzi of the Metsäkylä Spa.

You can also climb up in the air.

“We offer the hotel guests the possibility to view northern lights at the height of two kilometres. A seven-seat light aircraft takes you on an hour’s trip to where northern lights appear. Because up in the air visibility is 50 kilometres, we will surely have a show of northern lights somewhere.”

Aurora Alert

The Sámis believed that northern lights are created when a fox waves its tail in the snow, creating sparks, “fox fires”, as they are called in Finnish. Picture from the norther lights-documentary from Arktikum.

Aurora Alert is a local northern lights’ forecasting system operating in Rovaniemi. It forecasts and observes northern lights and notifies the customer of the location of northern lights in the sky. Essential in the service is that it only indicates the northern lights the customer can observe.

“The forecast of the Sodankylä geophysical observatory indicates the probability of the occurrence of northern lights. Aurora Alert also takes cloud masses into account. It indicates when northern lights are visible with your own eyes”, explains data communications engineer Reijo Kortesalmi, the developer of the application.

Aurora Alert sends a forecast, probability percentage and alarm to the mobile phone. The application is based on signal processing and colour analysis. Aurora Alert uses its local sensors located in Rovaniemi, serving the northern lights’ tourists of the Rovaniemi area.

Aurora Alert combines data from many sources.

“An indicative forecast comes every night at eight o’clock. The probability percentage indicates what you can observe with your own eyes. A real-time alert comes, for example, if the local cloud curtain opens for five minutes.”

The application also indicates the intensity of the northern lights.

“Number one means that northern lights are clearly observable with one’s own eyes. Number five means that northern lights light up the whole sky. The intensity of northern lights may vary in the course of the evening. At 11 p.m., northern lights may be of level 1, but at 2 a.m. the intensity may be five”, says Kortesalmi.

The duration of northern lights varies as well.

“Weak northern lights may appear for a few minutes, but strong northern lights appear from half an hour to one and a half hours.”

Kortesalmi takes his holiday from April to July, when northern lights are not seen in Rovaniemi. Forecasting and alerting starts again in August.

“Aurora Alert definitely gives the most precise information on northern lights in Rovaniemi.”

Ari Turunen (2017)

This article was originally published by SlowFinland.fi

Finland has the cleanest air in the world – and that’s a fact!

The cleanest air in the world is in Finnish Lapland. It is proven that the world’s cleanest respiratory air is in the Muonio municipality of Western Lapland. In Muonio, there are only 4 microgrammes of particles of under 10 micrometres in a cubic metre, while in the world’s dirtiest city, Nigeria’s Onitsha, there are almost 600 microgrammes.

The database for 2016 of the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveals that the clean localities in the world are usually small, affluent and located far from industrial areas. Other particularly clean localities are Norman Wells, Canada, Campisábalos, Spain, and Converse County, United States. The WHO list took into account the mass concentrations of fine particles whose diameter is less than 10 micrometres (PM10). The diameter corresponds to a seventh part of a hair’s thickness. Particles of under ten micrometres travel with respiratory air into the human bronchi.

Finnish Lapland has the cleanest air in the world.

In Finland, the limit values of clean air are not reached anywhere

According to the WHO’s recommendations, the annual average of PM10 particles should be a maximum of 20 microgrammes per cubic metre. According to the WHO’s statistics, the levels fall below that everywhere in Finland, even in big cities.

According to the WHO, there was an average of 12 microgrammes per cubic metre including in Finnish urban areas in 2011. In India, the corresponding quantity is 134.

Only a tenth of European urban population enjoys air as clean as this. Air quality can be considered particularly poor, if the average of the mass concentration of particles of under 10 micrometres exceeds 100 microgrammes during an hour.

More dangerous than PM10 particles are fine particles of a diameter of 2.5 micrometres. Their amount per cubic metre should not exceed 10 microgrammes. In the world’s cleanest place, Muonio, the annual average for 2.5-micrometre particles is only 2 microgrammes.

It transpires from the WHO’s data, into which have also been collected the measurement data of fine particles of 2.5-micrometres from 3,000 localities in a hundred countries for the years 2008–2014 that, on average, Finland has the third cleanest air in the world. Only Sweden and Canada top Finland. Finland is followed by Australia, Iceland and Estonia. Air quality in these countries is very clean, that is, an average of fine particle concentrations of 2.5 micrometers fall below 8 microgrammes per cubic metre.

Finland’s air quality is excellent compared to the rest of the world.

According to senior researcher Pia Anttila of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, several factors influence Finland’s good air quality.

– Finland is located far enough from big European cities, so emissions from long-range transport of pollutants remain low. On a global scale, there is really only one big city in Finland, Helsinki, and even its air quality is excellent. There are also few inhabitants and little traffic in Finland. A very significant aspect is also that Finland has managed to curtail industrial emissions. In addition to good cleaning methods, industrial processes operate with clean technology.

Pia Anttila says that people living in countries with clean air do not always understand what a natural resource clean air is. Over 80% of the world’s urban population is exposed to air pollutants exceeding the WHO’s recommended values. Over 3.5 billion or a half of the world’s population live in countries where there is an average exposure to a quantity of particles exceeding the WHO’s limit values.

Fine particles and air pollutants cause asthma and aggravate obstructive lung disease and respiratory infection. The great quantity of fine particles also increases the occurrence of coronary heart disease and diseases of cerebral circulation. For example, if the quantity of PM10 particles can be reduced from 70 microgrammes per cubic metre to 20 microgrammes, mortality decreases by 15%.

If you want to breathe the cleanest air in the world, this is your destination: Muonio, Lapland.

Large African and Asian cities suffer from air pollution. Although the 600-microgramme figure of Onitsha, Nigeria, is huge, the figures are also alarmingly high the big cities of Asia. In Beijing, there are over 100 microgrammes of PM10 particles per cubic metre, in Delhi, India, over 230 and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, even over 350. In Helsinki, the corresponding figure is 19. In Muonio, the cleanest place in the world, there are, on the other hand, almost five times less PM10 particles than in Helsinki.

Clean nature of Pallas-Yllästunturi

One of the world’s air quality measurement stations is located in the Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park, Finland’s most popular national park. The exceptionally clean air of this measurement station is compared to the data of the world’s other measurement stations. The measurement stations give important data for analysing the state of the world’s environment.

– Finland’s air quality is excellent compared to the rest of the world, particularly Asia, notes Riku Lumiaro of the Finnish Environment Institute.

– For example in Beijing you can feel the air pollutants in your lungs on a windless day. You’re also tired and your head aches.

Sunset seen from Pallastunturi fell, Muonio

Lumiaro considers Finland a good destination for health tourists. In Finland, the air, the water and the food are clean.

In Lumiaro’s view, a special feature of Pallas-Ylläs-tunturi National Park is quietness, in addition to the world’s cleanest air.

– In the spring and autumn, even birds are quiet there. In good wilderness hotels you can peacefully view the spacious fell landscape, which comes into its own in the clear, clean air.

The largest quantity of PM10 particles per cubic meter per day in Europe in 2005. Source: EEA. www.eea.europa.eu/publications/spatial-assessment-of-pm10-and-ozone-concentrations-in-europe-2005-1

This article was originally published by Ari Turunen / Slow Finland / Visit Finland

Photos by Jonna Saari