Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Northern Lights, Finland

I was in Finnish Lapland in early Feb and one of the main objectives of the holiday was to hopefully see the Northern Lights. And we succeeded! We only saw them on one night, but it was an incredible experience.

The Northern Lights are also known as the Aurora Borealis in Northern latitudes. An aurora is a natural light display in the sky. The Northern Lights are more commonly seen at high latitudes, i.e. in the Arctic in the north. We were some way above the Arctic Circle.

I'm too lazy here to mention how the Auroras are formed. See this explanation on Wikipedia.

The night we saw them was bitterly cold, about - 29° C. It was almost 11 pm and close to a full moon so the sky wasn't that dark and of course there was a lot of white snow around. I didn't get any good photos with my camera as I didn't have a tripod, also it was bitterly cold when having to remove gloves to operate the camera!
These photos were taken by Bob Eason -

The photos were all taken on a long time exposure. In this photo, what looks like a brightly lit house is actually a bonfire -

These photos below were taken by our guide Becky. Again the shelter was not lit, it is just the light of the bonfire taken on the long exposure -

I'm the one in blue!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The first Spring flowers in London

The crocuses are here! First signs of Spring. The week ending 19 February 2017 was quite mild and sunny in London. I noticed the crocuses at the start of the week and within a few days they were in full bloom.

Monday 20 Feb was really mild, 18° C in London

There are also snowdrops, pity my shadow got in the way!

Daffodil leaves have been up for a couple of weeks but not yet in bloom.

However it's going to get cold again in the next few days. Back to normal temperatures for February!

Update 24 Feb, in a sheltered garden at Guy's hospital :

Sunday, February 19, 2017

SELCHP energy recovery plant

My visit to a rubbish plant! It is actually an energy recovery plant. SELCHP is located in SE London, the name stands for SE London Combined Heat & Power and it is an advanced energy recovery facility.

It receives household waste and converts it into energy. The rubbish trucks arrive with the waste, drive up a ramp and tip the waste into a huge bunker.

This bunker holds 6000 tonnes. Here 2 huge grabs on semi-automatic cranes pick up the waste and put it into the feed hopper. Each grab lifts up to 5 tonnes of waste.
new grab
This process is carefully monitored by two men who check to ensure no large items such as mattresses, large metal objects, gas cylinders, tree trunks, etc, are picked up, as they would block the hopper.

The rubbish then drops down a feed chute onto a sloped incineration grate, where it is constantly turned to allow all combustion phases (such as drying, ignition and combustion itself) to happen simultaneously and a constant high temperature to be maintained. We were able to look through viewing windows at the 'furnace'. Temperatures are over 850° C.

The ash that is produced from the burning is transferred to the ash pit -

and is sent for reprocessing into recycled material for road building or construction use. Ash from SELCHP was used in the construction of London's Olympic Park. Ferrous metals are removed for recycling -

After combustion, the volume of the original refuse is reduced by 90% and the mass by 70%. Apart from the ash, a further 1.5% ferrous metal and up to 1.5% non-ferrous metal such as aluminium, copper and brass are recycled.

Hot gases produced in the combustion process pass through a water tube boiler where they are cooled; the heated water is transformed into steam. This steam is at a temperature of 395°C. It is fed into a steam turbo-generator, this rotates and produces electricity which is then sent to the National Grid. Steam from the turbine is also used to pre-heat the combustion air for the waste burning process.

A bank of air cooled condensers condense the exhaust steam from the turbine and recycle the water back into the process.

Many people assume these power plants produce smelly or even noxious gases. This is not so. The gases from the boiler go through a complex flue gas cleaning process, involving the injection of dilute ammonia solution to reduce nitrogen oxides to nitrogen and water; lime milk to neutralise acid gases and activated carbon to absorb heavy metals and any remaining dioxins.

Finally the particulate dust is removed from the gas stream by bag filters before the cleaned gas is released to air through the chimney. There are 3,000 individual bag filters (like hoover bags!).

The bags have to be cleaned periodically using compressed air to remove the dust. The resultant material known as Air Pollution Control Residue (APC residue) is sent for disposal at a licensed hazardous waste site.

The whole plant runs on just refuse with the controlled addition of air. Nothing else is needed.

The whole system is carefully monitored from the control room where a bank of computer screens can be constantly watched to ensure everything is running smoothly.

The small box on the right is the home of a peregrine falcon. Apparently it feeds on seagulls and pigeons in the area.

Heat is sold to Southwark Council and used to supply 2,500 Southwark properties.

SELCHP is just one of several plants in the UK, owned by the French company Veolia.

See more on SELCHP website.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

World pangolin day

18 February 2017 is World Pangolin Day. It is held every year on the third Saturday in February, and this year is the 6th year.

From the pangolins.org website:

World Pangolin Day is an opportunity for pangolin enthusiasts to join together in raising awareness about these unique mammals — and their plight. Pangolin numbers are rapidly declining in Asia and Africa.
The demand for pangolins comes mostly from China, where pangolin scales are unfortunately believed to be a cure-all of sorts and pangolin flesh is considered a delicacy. In Vietnam, pangolins are frequently offered at restaurants catering to wealthy patrons who want to eat rare and endangered wildlife. There is no evidence to support claims regarding medicinal properties of pangolin scales or any other part of the pangolin.

I've only seen pangolins in the wild a couple of times in Malaysia. And then there are rumours of some in Cator Park in SE London!

Pangolins are considered to be the world's most trafficked mammal. In Malaysia they are definitely on the decline, due to large numbers being captured for restaurants. Read more on The Star 18 Feb.
The Malayan pangolin,  (Manis javanica) – is Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

© Liz Price

Friday, February 17, 2017

Finland's clean air at Muonio

When I was in northern Finland in Feb 2017, we were told that Muonio had been declared the place with the cleanest air in Europe and second in the world after Antarctica. When I got home I decided to google this, to see how true it is.

And ironically after leaving Finland and arriving back at Heathrow, as I was waiting for the underground, there were warnings about the air pollution in London!

According to the pri.org website, May 2016, Muonio is reported as one of the cleanest places on earth.

I couldn't find it on the WHO website, so have copied the info from pri.org :

"Muonio, Finland (in Finnish it rhymes with "Borneo"), appears near the top of the WHO list, and Finns know why. "It's among the cleanest areas on Earth," says Pia Anttila, senior research scientist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Helsinki. Not surprising, perhaps, since Muonio is barely a city at all. 
Like other "urban areas" showing the cleanest air in the WHO database, Muonio benefits from a sparse population, few cars and a total lack of industry.
"It's a tiny village," says resident Nina Wigley. "We are about 2,500 people living here in Muonio." She and her British husband William Wigley moved to Muonio 12 years ago to enjoy the natural beauty — and the air.
Nina Wigley runs two cafés that cater to seasonal visitors. Her husband is a civil engineer. The Wigleys live at the edge of town with their three children. 
"Even in wintertime, all of our children were sleeping in the baby prams outside in the minus temperatures, which the in-laws all found a bit shocking in the beginning,” says Nina Wigley. “But it's just that they sleep so well when they are nicely covered in layers, and the air is so pure." 
You can see a distant church spire through their back window. But that's not the top attraction in Muonio. "We can walk out our front door and in a minute we are able to go into the forest," says William Wigley.
The air quality monitoring station, which supplied the WHO data, is not in the town center, but in the middle of a national park. Researcher Anttila was there recently. She says the term "urban" is misleading, at least at the monitoring station.
"It's a very remote place. Nobody lives in the vicinity, and only the maintenance person goes there now and then." And there's nothing much to see, she adds. "Only lakes and hills, not a living person ... within tens of kilometers."
"You do have reindeer and ... all sorts of animals there, and lots of lovely hiking treks," points out Nina Wigley. "But there's really nothing around here," adds her husband, "and that's really the attraction." 
"And then, of course, there is one thing that is very important for us Finns," researcher Anttila adds. "And that is the silence," she laughs. "Mostly you can be there alone."
Anttila says authorities placed the air monitoring station in Muonio in 1996 to take advantage of its remote location. It's a place with virtually no local air pollution. "There are no local emissions, there are no regional emissions even, and all the things that we detect there are long-range transported."
Because of Muonio's pristine air, the impact of faraway pollution sources can be measured precisely. Anttila says the monitoring station does detect small amounts of pollutants: pesticides, PCBs and sulphur dioxide. "But they all come from far away, from densely populated areas," she says. "Mostly from Central Europe and maybe even from the United States."
Air pollution can travel thousands of miles to reach this remote corner of Northern Europe. But measurements from Muonio show that, since 1996, these pollutants have mostly declined.
However, Anttila notes that one chemical shows a steady upward trend through the two decades of measurement at Muonio. "The carbon dioxide goes up," she observes. "And that means climate change enhances." 
Even in Muonio."
There is also a story you can listen to on the pri.org site.

There was also a report in the Guardian in May 2016 which says :
"The UN’s third outdoor air pollution database suggests the cleanest cities in the world are generally small, wealthy and situated far from industrial centres. Muonio in Finland, a town above the Arctic circle, has the world’s purest recorded urban air, recording just 2 micrograms per cubic metre of PM2.5 pollution and 4 micrograms per cubic metre of PM10s. It is closely followed by Norman Wells in Canada, Campisábalos in Spain and Converse County, Wyoming in the US."

Finland in winter, Northern Lights

In July 2016 I went to Finland to see the Midnight Sun. In Feb 2017, I made my 2nd visit to Finland, this time for the Northern Lights. In June I was just below the Arctic Circle, in Feb I was way above it. The Arctic Circle in Finland is roughly 66° 32' N. The official home of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi, is also at this latitude. In Feb 2017 I was staying at Harriniva outside Muonio at 67° 56' N.

The yellow vertical line is the border of Sweden with Finland, this follows the Muonio river. We stayed outside Muonio. Muonio lies right by the river, with Sweden on the other side, and Norway is about 80 km to the north, with Russia to the east.

The Finnair plane was late arriving in Heathrow so we were late leaving and touched down in Helsinki just as the connecting flight was departing. So we were put up in a hotel near the airport and took an early morning flight to Kittila. It was quite interesting as the sun rose but as we flew further north the sun started to sink. I've never experienced this before at dawn. These 3 photos were taken within 5 mins and by the 3rd photo the sun is almost back below the horizon.
We flew to Kittila airport and then travelled the 80 km by road to Muonio.

We stayed at Harriniva. They lent us warm clothing, as in February we had temperatures ranging from - 11° to - 29° C. All dressed up for the cold -

I'm wearing 6 layers on top, 3 on my legs, 3 pairs of socks, special snow boots, 2 scarves, balaclava, thermal hat plus hood on the snowsuit, and thick mittens with wool gloves inside. I could hardly bend over to tie up boot laces or to pick up a mitten if I dropped it!

The first day the sun shone and it was beautiful

To the right is the river Muonio. It is wide and fast flowing and not completely frozen so it was dangerous to get too near
Looking over to Sweden -

I stepped off the path to take a photo of the trees and found myself in deep snow -
I've never liked white artificial Christmas trees that are sold in shops, but these trees were beautiful

That night, despite being tired after 2 days of travelling, we went out on snowmobiles to see the Northern Lights. It was the coldest night of our stay, - 29° C.

It was bitterly cold when taking photos as I had to take off mittens and gloves.
We were so lucky as at 10.40 pm the Northern Lights appeared. They weren't at their best but at least we got a chance to see them. I couldn't get any good photos with my camera and I was too cold to really bother, so I spent the time watching them for real and not through the camera lens.
When we got back at midnight it was - 23° C.

Next day we went husky sledging which was the hightlight for me. Had to dress up warm -

I'd visited a husky farm in July and been husky walking, so this was another chance to see experience these amazing dogs.

We had 2 people per sled, 1 driving and 1 sitting. Having got used to driving the sled I could relax a bit and it was a beautiful way to travel, although bitterly cold on the face.

As soon as we got back the dogs de-iced their paws

That afternoon we had free time so walked over to Sweden! The border control office was deserted.

Here I'm straddling the 2 countries
And you can see the river isn't frozen
We reach Sweden!

then walked back to Finland

James wearing the latest look - frost mascara

Next morning I went out to take photos before the activities started. The sky was quite dull, it looked like it was going to snow and during the day there were a few flakes falling, but nothing much.

We went to Torassieppi reindeer centre

Whilst waiting for our turn to go on the sleighs, we had a look at the old farmhouse

Then it was our turn for the sleigh ride

At the end of the ride our reindeer started eating snow
We then fed the reindeer with lichen

Then it was our turn for lunch............... yes, reindeer stew!!!
We had lunch in a kota
Walking back, Justin stepped off the path to take photos and disappeared up to his thighs

Our final night time activity was snowshoeing
Our guide Becky took her husky

Becky made a fire and we heated sausages on sticks. Unfortunately the Northern Lights weren't active that night, and it was cloudy and even the full moon was hiding.

Next morning we had an early start for our flights back to London. Kittila airport -

At Helsinki airport I checked out the free sleeping pods
Finally the last leg, Helsinki to London and as usual the plane was de-iced before take off

According to Wikipedia, Muonio is known as the municipality with the longest snow season in Finland.

See my next blog on the clean air of Muonio , one of the cleanest places on earth.

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission