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Rudi Kiefer: ‘Short summer’ in Scandinavia is a misnomer
Rudi Kiefer
A student just pointed out what looks like a contradiction in the textbook. The chapter about Scandinavia stated the Norwegians, Swedes and Finns have long summer days, but they also get a lot of snow and rain. Farther down, it said that Finland, Sweden and Norway are associated with subarctic and tundra climates with long, harsh winters and short, cooler summers.

“Long summer days” and “short summer” isn’t contradictory when you consider the length of daytime sunlight. Here in North Georgia, we like to think we have a long summer, because we enjoy warm weather from April to October.

But technically, summer lasts from June 21 until Sept. 22. The remaining warm, or even hot, weather is a bonus we get in spring and fall.

The seasons in Norway, Sweden and Finland are defined exactly the same way, because like the U.S., those countries are north of the equator. It’s therefore not quite correct to speak of a short summer there. The better term would be “short growing season.”

Daytime is actually very long during the summer months in places like Lillehammer (Norway, latitude 61 North) or Jyvaskyla (Finland, latitude 62 North). Due to the Earth’s axis tilt, these far northern cities are “leaning toward the sun” as the globe rotates. Right now, the sun rises there at 4 a.m., and sets close to 11 p.m. Bodo, Norway, has a population similar to Gainesville (about 51,000) but is located just north of the Arctic Circle. If you have to spend a night at Bodo Airport this June, you may not see any darkness at all.

The short growing season in Scandinavian countries isn’t caused by the length of summer daylight. It’s the fact they are located as close to the North Pole as Alaska is in our hemisphere. Lillehammer, Norway, and Anchorage, Alaska, are at the exact same latitude. That far north, the sun strikes the earth’s surface at a very low angle, though it stays in the sky for many hours. There isn’t much of a warming effect under these conditions, and nearby Arctic air masses can easily spread a chill over the area even in the summer.

For people whose lifetime dream it is to live off the land on a small farm amid steep, wooded hills, North Georgia is a better choice of location.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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