You are using an outdated browser. Oliver Wright Photography requires a modern browser for the best viewing experience. Update NOW

Yorkshire based Professional Landscape and Wildlife Photographer

Aurora at the Pressure Ridge

Posted on 08/03/19

I've been guiding in Northern Sweden, for Lights over Lapland, now for 5 winters and you would think I've covered most aurora situations. One has been elusive until last week and that was seeing a geomagnetic storm at a pressure ridge. Let me take a step back and describe what a pressure ridge is as they are an amazing natural phenomenon!

Lake Torneträsk is a huge lake at 74km long and when it freezes the ice can get up to 2 meters thick. As the water freezes it expands so this generates a huge amount of pressure which can eventually crack and cause these huge pressure ridges. A few years ago we had one which was 26km long. They can cause huge chunks of ice sticking 2 to 3 meters vertically into the air. They are fantastic places for photography but usually they are a few kilometres out into the lake (last year it was about 8km out onto the ice) so they can only really be accessible by a trip out on a snowmobile. This year co guide Chris dropped me a message that he had spotted a pressure ridge close to the shoreline on his drive to Kiruna.

I thought I would head out and check it out. As I was driving to the area Chris had mentioned the pressure ridge was clear from the road and came in at a convenient carpark. The only tricky part about getting to it was crossing the river via a snow bridge!

The below gives you a side view of the pressure ridge and here you can see some huge blocks of ice that have been pushed up about 2 meters.

This next view shows how the pressure ridge snakes off into the distance and away from the shoreline.

Because the ice is made under extreme pressure you can find areas of it which are blue in colour. This is because the air bubbles have all been squeezed out of the ice and it refracts light differently to normal ice.

Whilst photographing the pressure ridge during the day I was of course thinking it would be great to photograph this at nighttime and hopefully with aurora. During this week I was guiding a delightful German couple. They had a brief viewing of aurora on the 1st night of the tour but on nights two and three we had a low pressure system and some fairly poor weather. On there last day I took them to the pressure ridge during the day which they thought was amazing so I asked if they wanted to do there evening photography session there. They jumped at the chance! Looking at the weather and the solar wind measurements I mad a decision to get us there as early as possible so moved the evening meal forward and got them to come to the meal with all there equipment. These guys ate as quickly as me so we where out of the door before 18:00 at the carpark by the pressure ridge at 18:20. As I no where to get them warm and it was pretty cold that night, about -20C, we waited in the van until I saw the first traces of aurora at about 18:40.

In this first image you can see it hasn't even got fully dark and we have nice bands of aurora!

The night continued to get darker and the aurora brighter and it was really quite active and I'd glad I'd made the decision to get out early!

Then at 19:30 you could feel the aurora really starting to be ready to do something and then at 19:40 this happened (ie see the below video)! It was the most incredible aurora I've seen in 5 years. We had five coronas in six minutes! A corona is fast moving aurora straight above your head. Luckily I had set my Canon 5Div to video mode so captured the best bits on realtime video.

After that huge event the aurora decreased in intensity and we actually headed back to much later as the guys had got pretty cold!

That had been the final night of the tour and it also looked like it was going to be good aurora the following night. So me and my good friend Janne heading back out the following night too. This night the aurora was not as bright or active but that made it actually easier to photograph as you could balance the exposure a little better.

It was however brutally cold at about -28C air temperature and with wind so time was of the essence and we knew we wouldn't be able to stay there for the full night!

In the below two shots you can see the aurora refracting in the ice turning it green which was amazing to see. If you can see the dark shapes in the ice that is boulders which have been picked up from the lake bottom and thrust into the air.

Occasionally a car would come down the E10 and would illuminate the pressure ridge. In this one it also produced my shadow making an inadvertent selfie!

Here we have Janne on top of the pressure ridge!

Well I hope you enjoyed the photographs and video any questions just let me know.

I have just launched a new tour 'Landscape and Nature in Lapland' in September if you are interested that can be found here here.

1 Comment
  • Awesome images, Oliver. The inadvertent selfie image is my favourite of the gallery!

    Kyle - 11 March, 2019
Comment Form

Please submit your comment below. No registration required.