Life in the Land of the Midnight Sun

This time of year the sun never sets in far northern climes. Host Jennifer Ludden talks with Bob Bulger from the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium in Barrow, Alaska, to find out what it's like.

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Tuesday will be the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. For most of us, longer summer days may mean that dinnertime, maybe the kids' bedtime, slip to a later hour. But on the northern coast of Alaska, many communities this time of year have no darkness at all. In Barrow, the sun doesn't set between mid-May and early August. Children play outside in the middle of the night; golfers tee up in the wee hours. At the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, some researchers take to pulling all-nighters. Bob Bulger is the consortium's information technology coordinator, and he joins us on the line.

Hi, there.

Mr. BOB BULGER (Information Technology Coordinator, Barrow Arctic Science Consortium): Hello.

LUDDEN: So what's it like to live where the sun never sets?

Mr. BULGER: It's pretty exciting. We enjoy it quite a bit. The researchers love it. They get to work as much as they want.

LUDDEN: So what's the process of adjusting? I mean, how do you adjust to this time of the year?

Mr. BULGER: I get eye shades and I wear my eye shades at night. The hardest part is my dog. I have a young puppy, and he wants to play all day long because he sees sunlight out. So I'm constantly being awaken in the middle of the evening by my puppy dog.

LUDDEN: And do you try to stick to your normal sleep schedule?

Mr. BULGER: I do. And it's hard because you get in the middle of a project--and this is our busy time because of so many researchers coming up to do global climate research. They want to work as much as they can, so they're calling me up at odd hours or they're asking me to stay and work with them. And since they lose track of time, it means that I'm on their schedule.

LUDDEN: Now the flip side, of course, is that in the winter, you've got a lot of darkness. Which do you find it harder to adjust to?

Mr. BULGER: I find it harder to adjust to the light, believe it or not, and mainly because at the beginning of this cycle, we're just going through what's known as breakup in Alaska, where Anchorage and Fairbanks went through this months ago. The bright sunlight comes out and it reflect off the snow and ice, and it means that you're wearing sunglasses almost all day long and that gives you a headache after a while.

LUDDEN: We've heard about seasonal affective disorder, that in the winter maybe with lack of sunlight some people get depressed. Does the light all the time mean that people are happier?

Mr. BULGER: One would think that, but it's interesting. My personal experience--and I don't have the science behind it to back it--is that people start to get more depressed right after the sun starts to come up for longer periods of time. And I don't know if it's an adjustment factor, but my local physician in town has said that he usually scripts out more antidepressants in the springtime than he does in the fall and winter. So I think there's that adjustment factor you were talking about earlier.

LUDDEN: Bob Bulger is with the Arctic Science Consortium in Barrow, Alaska, part of the National Science Foundation.

Thank you so much, and I wish you a good night's sleep.

Mr. BULGER: Thank you very much.

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