• Jason Capp

The People of Utqiagvik, Alaska Will Not See the Sun Again Until 2020

On November 18th, the sun made its final set of 2019 in the Alaskan city of Utqiagvik for the year. What does this mean for the city and its people, and how do they handle such darkness for so long?

Kirsten Alburg, a school teacher, posted this photo of the last sunset of 2019 with the following caption, “Photo of our last sunset today. The kids and I watched it from our classroom window. It was beautiful!”

At the upmost north tip of Alaska, there exists a city called Utqiagvik. Barrow, as it used to be called, is a fascinating place. It is technically a part of the Arctic Circle, which makes it one of the northernmost public communities in the world, absolutely being the northernmost city in the United States.


On November 18th, the sun set for the last time in Utqiagvik for 2019, and the next dawn will not take place until January 23rd, well into the year 2020. For the record, that is 67 days of darkness for the 4200 residents that live there.


This location has been home to the Iñupiat, an Inuit group, for over 1500 years. The name of the city, Utqiagvik, comes from their native language and roughly translates to "the place where snowy owls are hunted".


The Iñupiat and the citizens of Barrow have learned to make the most of this time, known also as Polar Night. It becomes a great difficulty for everyone, as the lack of the sun's natural rays prevent the people from getting vitamin-D boosts and increased serotonin levels. This means that seasonal depression can descend, and the winter blues can make life more difficult in Utqiagvik.

Due to the position of the city, as the Earth rotates around the Sun at a particular angle, the polar areas are tilted away from the sunlight during winter. This also causes Utqiagvik to suffer no sunsets for a long period (Roughly 83 days) in March as well. The closer an area is to the North or South Pole, the longer the Polar Night (And subsequently, the Polar Day).


This means the people of Utqiagvik have to come up with unique ways to brighten their long, dark winters and dim their elongated, sunlit springs.


However, just because there is no sunrise for the next two months, that does not mean that Utqiagvik will be enveloped in total darkness. Sure, it will still be dark and always feel like evening, but there will be some hints of light at the southern horizon during certain days, similar to how you see some light before the sun actually rises.


One last difficulty that the people face during this time is the raging temperatures. Without the sun's rays providing warmth, December and January tend to be the coldest for Utqiagvik, averaging around -14.5 °F (-30 °C).


When the sun finally rises again on Thursday, January 23rd, 2020, the people will be bathed in sunlight for only one hour before it quickly sets again, and with each passing day, the sun will make longer appearances until the Polar Day arrives and it does not go away.

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