Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Of light and ice over Cape Town

(With apologies for the strange alignment. Blogger is playing funny games with me today).

I thought I'd do a bit of a summary of the atmospheric effects I've seen over the last few months as I will be giving a talk tomorrow at Northumbria University on atmospheric optics and it seemed an opportune moment. In the six months so far in Cape Town I've seen some of the most amazing atmospheric optics I've seen anywhere in the world. With such a combination of weather systems in such a small space, this really isn't very surprising, but it's always a wonder to see them interacting in real time.

The Table Cloth is a sight which can be seen so regularly that it's easy to forget quite how unfamiliar to most such a phenomenon must be. When conditions are right, a layer of cloud can be seen literally pouring off the top of table mountain. It's a spectacular sight and the speed, coupled with the diaphanous nature of it is quite beautiful: 

I took this photo from Lion's head on a wonderful full moon hike up to the (almost) summit. This spectacular view can be seen just an hour's walk and a five minute drive from the city centre.
I live just below Devil's peak (one of the main peaks of the mountain), and while I can't see the cloth lying this flat from my balcony, I can still see some wonderful cloud formations due to the airflow patters around the peaks. I came back home a couple of months back and raced home, seeing some incredible lenticular clouds forming over my apartment block.  These are somewhat warped lenticular clouds, but the soft edges and dense centre are defining features of this formation. From my office alone I regularly see wonderful cloud shadows. These are shadows of clouds cast on layers of mist and fog, and quite often the mountain itself casts this shadow as the sun sets behind it. I took this from my office a few weeks back and you can see the lines of crepuscular rays along with the shadow of the peak cast on the thin layer of fog below

We've had some lovely halos on campus too, this one perhaps the most perfectly placed around Jameson hall, the main auditorium on the Upper Campus of the university: 

On a trip down to the Cape Of Good Hope just before Christmas I was treated to another amazing display, with one of the clearest halos I've ever seen. The cirrus clouds absolutely filling the sky from horizon to horizon made their appearance inevitable. As always I pointed these out to passersby, with varying levels of enthusiasm in return.

Sun Dogs have so far been rather elusive, but this is mostly because at dusk, when you are most likely to see them, the sun is hidden behind the mountain from where I am.

I've seen a couple of Green Flashes but haven't managed to capture anything very clear so far. I shall be looking at a new lens in the coming months and that should help with getting a lovely crisp image of the flash.

Anyway, there have been plenty more amazing sights but these have been the atmospheric highlights so far. In the New Year I'm hoping to get out to really remote areas to see some dark skies for a bit of astrophotography and will update as soon as I do.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Of accents and onion rings

I find myself in the North of England for the first time in years, surrounded by accents which I can't quite get a handle on and an England that feels somehow familiar yet foreign. Because I come back so infrequently, I tend only to see Oxford and London and so my memory of the beautiful diversity of this country fades. It is lovely to be reminded of this again, and having spent Christmas in Swansea having had a scenic drive through Southern Wales, I'm getting a good dose of this for the first time in far too long. While I have traveled the world, I feel that I've neglected seeing much of the UK. I don't really understand the idea of patriotism, yet I still find coming 'home' to the UK a rather pleasant sensation, even if I am coming here from a city which I am quickly coming to feel very comfortable in.

I took the train up from King's Cross this morning, racing through beautiful countryside and being blessed by the Angel of the North as we tore up through York, Darlington and Gateshead and arriving finally in Newcastle. I'm staying with an airbnb host, a woman in her 60s who has a lot of travelers staying with her, often working in the university, as I am. She was arriving home later so I found a barber's shop to give my beard a much needed trim. I realised immediately how hard I was going to have to concentrate to understand the accent up here. Many things have happened to my English as I've lived on different continents. While native English speakers think such an idea very strange, I've had perhaps a dozen non-native speakers ask me if I'm Irish of late. I think that my accent has simply been softened by being around so many different accents over the years and I've definitely simplified my grammar in order to make myself better understood. Living in China also meant that the way that I asked questions changed due to the nature of questions in Chinese. I will often ask a question as a statement with an upward intonation at the end (where a question particle would go in Chinese). This has confused people greatly over the years, most notably Italians for some reason.

I popped into a cafe to read a little before going to my host and was greeted my a woman behind the counter whose words I truly didn't understand at all. Luckily, having bought coffee on a number of previous occasions I knew the protocol but I am a little thrown by not being able to understand my own countryfolk.

I took a quiet stroll through the streets of the city centre as it grew dark and have so far been very impressed by the beautiful architecture around this part of the city. I jumped on a bus and took it towards Wallsend, going over the Tyne and past Northumbria University, where I will spend the next two weeks in the mathematics department. Hopefully I will be able to talk soon about what I will be doing there, but truth be told, I'm not entirely sure myself yet.

While I feel very safe in Cape Town, it is part of the way of things there to know where you can and can't go at what time of the day or night, so I found myself asking my host whether it was ok to walk around the area at night. She replied that while the locals might swear quite a bit, they mean no harm and with that I pottered off to a shop to buy some groceries for the coming days. I was greeted by a friendly shopkeeper, perhaps of Turkish descent, who regaled me with tales of the enormous onion rings he and his wife were presented with in Thailand. Come tomorrow if I am lucky he may be able to show me the pictures on his phone, comparing said onion rings with a large glass of coke. I shall certainly be back as to miss such an opportunity would surely be a crime.

For now I have a little work to be getting on with and so will dive into it before I fall asleep, in a new bed, in a new city. The familiarity of this novelty is an interesting paradox.