SPRING 2015: Phenomenal!

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It's May 4th 2015 and spring is in full swing although nothing much on the storms front to report, but the space-weather has by contrast been notable with an aurora on St Patrick's Day and a partial solar eclipse following hard on its heels. That, and a quite remarkable sea-fog on Easter Monday, make up the bones of this post: a spring of phenomena. Weatherwise conditions have been rather average and most un-Daily Express like. Some pleasantly warm sunny days and some chilly wet days with occasional coverings of snow on the high tops: just what one should expect in March and April in fact. I've had to be careful with respect to planting out seedlings in the veg-garden as there have been late frosts, some of which were sharp: some of my potato plants got a bit scorched one night but they'll be OK.

Talking of the Daily Express, George Monbiot and I took a pop at them in the Guardian last month, but the wacky weather headlines continue to roll out. Headlines predicted a cooler than average April, with the only warm spell being at the end of the month: it panned out as a warmer than average month, the main warm spell occurring mid month and with a decidedly cool finish. It seems that whatever they come up with, the opposite will likely occur!

So to the photos. I'll move on to the aurora in a moment, but first I thought I'd include this shot of one of the local kites, taken from the front door:

red kite

Onto the aurora. March 17th saw the daytime onset of the strongest geomagnetic storms of the current solar cycle. Just for a change, it was a mostly clear evening. Although the aurora was not clearly visible, I set up the camera on a handy gate-post and shot a series of long exposures, which show a greenish aurora with purple pillars  This being my first attempt at aurora photography, I was on a bit of a learning-curve: something I didn't appreciate was that with a bit of valley-haze the shots would really pick up the light-pollution from Machynlleth, despite it being out of direct line-of-sight. Hence the bright yellow glare on the LHS of each photo! Next time I'll go further afield, up into the mountains and as far away from artificiality as possible.

aurora

The following three shots had the best definition:

aurora

aurora

aurora

Subsequently it faded a lot, losing definition, although around 11pm there was a reported cranking-up of intensity - by which point I was defrosting in bed!

aurora

Much better shots were to be had further north with the best Welsh ones being from the north coast of Anglesey, but locations in Northern Ireland and Scotland provided photographers with some incredible displays by UK standards. But I was pleased to come away with anything as it was a first for me.

The clear skies of March 17th had given way just two days later to dense haze, as the high pressure that lay over the UK - a satellite to the huge 1050mb anticyclone that had been situated over Scandinavia - pulled in polluted air from the Continent. The air was sufficiently smoggy to warrant stern health-warnings, especially over the south-eastern UK. On the late afternoon of the 19th I was heading northwards on the A487 coast-road towards Aberystwyth and so poor was the visibility, despite the sunshine, that I stopped between Aberarth and Llanon to photograph the scene. Normally, the coast up to Aberystwyth is clearly visible from this point: on this occasion it could just about be discerned:

smog

smog

On March 20th, the haze had thankfully cleared away and a partial solar eclipse was due in the morning. I pondered about where to go to watch it and chose the lonely lake of Glaslyn up in the mountains. When I arrived there were only two others present, setting up a huge solar telescope. I left them to it and walked around to the far side of the lake and sat down on a fine gravel beach to await the spectacle.  An amazing experience - the change of light, the temperature drop, the stillness - a light breeze dropped to nothing - the silence: all descending on the place at once. Eerie is the word.

One cannot look directly at even a partially-eclipsed sun unprotected, without damaging the eyes. Likewise, pointing a camera-lens straight at the sun without the correct filter can mess up the sensor. As a compromise I experimentally shot the sun's reflection in the water, with part of it filtered out by reeds. This worked quite well and made an interestingly abstract few images:

partial eclipse

partial eclipse

This image shows how low the light-levels had fallen:

partial eclipse

Added value was provided as a high sheet of cloud passed before the sun. The reflection then developed a double-rainbow all around it. By locating some suitably-sized and shaped tussocks sticking out of the water, with which to obscure the sun's reflection, I managed to photograph the phenomenon, which is a solar corona - an atmospheric effect caused by the incoming sunlight being diffracted by the water droplets or ice crystals in the cloud-sheet. This particular corona has nothing to do with the Sun's outer atmosphere (which confusingly has the same name), visible during a total eclipse.

 
corona

corona

It's not often that one gets to photograph both an aurora and an eclipse all within the same week!

Easter saw high pressure once again reloading from the west. The Saturday afternoon saw some interesting sheeted cloud with Kelvin-Helmholtz waves peeping up here and there, indicative of some serious air turbulence:

clocktower and cloud

Easter Monday, April 6th, saw high pressure anchored firmly over the UK and warm sunshine for almost everyone - apart from those living along western coasts, where dense and deep sea-fogs developed, as seen in this satellite image at 1200 GMT:

satellite image of sea-fog

Two things happened in succession. Firstly, a light offshore breeze allowed sun-warmed air of inland origin to drift out over the cold Irish Sea. The sea cooled the air down, allowing the moisture in its lower levels to condense out as fog. But by the afternoon, the heating inland was causing convection of warmed air, which set off a sea-breeze. The result was that the fog then made its way inland, up the valleys, like a wall of white which I met with coming up the Dyfi Estuary near Frongoch Boatyard. At Aberdyfi it was cold with poor visibility of just a few tens of metres at times. I took a minor road which leads steeply uphill to see if I could clear the top of the fog as the possibilities with the camera were clear. This proved a good call:

sea-fog, Cardigan Bay

Continuing uphill, I was rewarded with a magnificent sight:

sea-fog, Cardigan Bay

The view SSE towards the wind turbines beyond Talybont:

sea-fog, Cardigan Bay

South towards Aberystwyth. The TV mast at Blaenplwyf, a few miles S of Aber, is just right of centre: its base is at 170 metres above sea-level, so that's about the total depth of the fog (or, if you like, 550 feet in old money).


sea-fog, Cardigan Bay

Here's a bit of the local marine chart with the mast annotated and my vantage point marked "X":

chart of view from Aberdyfi to Aberystwyth

Two more distant view looking SW at the coast down past New Quay: in the second one I think the last bit of land on the RHS is Strumble Head just past Fishguard:

sea-fog, Cardigan Bay

sea-fog, Cardigan Bay

I tried a bit more foreground but the brilliant white of the top of the fog led to it being underexposed even in the +1 stop bracketed shots...

sea-fog, Cardigan Bay

This one worked a little better:

sea-fog, Cardigan Bay

Interesting phenomena continued on the following day with this bright sundog in contrail-cirrus seen from Tonfanau
:

sundog
.sundog

The spring flowers arrived more-or-less on time this year: the blackthorn blossom was especially impressive:

blackthorn blossom

On April 23rd I had a leisurely wander around the Llyfnant Valley - a beautiful, hidden gem of a place with its patches of ancient woodland: mossy trees colonised by epiphyte ferns and a plethora of lichens...

epiphyte ferns

In a damp area close to a spring, the marsh marigolds were a blaze of colour:

marsh marigold

marsh marigold

Bluebells, sorrel and stitchwort added their own colours and patterns along the roadside:


bluebells and stitchwort

wood sorrel

On the fishing front, it has been a very ordinary April. The spawned-out flounders were on the beaches early in the month; the first rays started to be caught mid-month. The crabs began their first annual moult towards the end of the month and I caught this magnificent 70cm bass on the 30th:

bass

The shore fishing guiding venture is up and running with my first group of four novices having learned their knots and how to tie rigs: we visit the beach in a few days time when the unsettled conditions of May Day weekend give way to something a little more manageable. The website is up and running - see:

http://www.geologywales.co.uk/fishing/

I'm going into this venture gently so that I can get a good feel for teaching the clients - most of the teaching I've done in the past has been with geology groups so this is a little different. So far it's gone quite well but I want to develop the best possible teaching techniques, which will be demonstrated as ever by the results. More soon!

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