Once the near constant snow grooming of summer ends, the landscape of the polar plateau around here starts to change back to its natural form.
Sastrugi is a Russian word that means wave. It's the word that we use to describe the elegant ripples and ridges of snow that are sculpted by the wind into delicate contours, knife-like fins and undulating patterns of grooves.
Sastrugi that have formed on the skiway and Sven in the distance out for a stroll.
Snow is deposited by the wind in the prevailing direction, collecting on the leeward side of even the smallest irregularities on the surface. It starts out resembling ripples in the sand but soon these depostions will grow and grow while getting eroded away on the windward side by the same wind that's forming them until sometimes an overhanging projection is formed.
My footprints are in the lower right corner. I nearly stepped on this, as I do to most sastrugi, until I saw that paper-thin window on the top of this fin.
If you look closely, Jack is standing on top of the station.
It's all part of the polar landscape and what we're seeing now is just the infant stage for what this place will look like at the end of winter. I've had numerous face plants trying to walk over the uneven sastrugi in the dark during other winters and they can get so big, I have to jump down off of them, landing with both feet.
I also often have inner conflicts when I encounter an especially beautifully sculpted ridge of pristine snow. On one hand, I want to step back and admire it and appreciate every graceful contour and on the other hand, I'm faced with an overwhelming urge to stomp on it for the sheer pleasure of hearing the hollow crunch as it collapses, like a giant styrofoam meringue.
Fortunately, I don't have to feel like an environmental villian if I do step on a particularly nice sastruga (singular form, but it sounds too weird) - there are millions more like it and besides, it will just grow back even bigger like a weed.
We're about a week away from the sun slipping below the horizon and the shadows are getting
even longer now.
Here's a final parting shot:
That's me and Neal this afternoon on our walk out to ARO for another training session. The low-lying sun on the horizon is a great equalizer because Neal is about 3 feet taller than I am but our shadows look like we could be decent dancing partners. Of course as I was taking the picture, he said, "I see a blog posting in the making..."