8/15/09

Breakfast is a communal affair in the KISS kitchen. KISS's windows are optimistically filled with pepper, basil, and tomato plants - all of which bear only single fruits, generally scraggly and small. My computer's screensaver is of Arctic Turns from Alaska (they are simply sublime to watch in flight).

The beard Dane drinking across from me is up here working on the Northern Hemisphere's most important ice core (as determined by the International Polar Year commission) - it will also be the deepest and look the farthest back in time - 200,000 years! He tells me that the ice sheet's been here almost a million years and has grown and shrunk in that time, but always been present. The cores can't go back that far because the ice becomes very compressed at the bottom of the sheet and, in many cases, has been pushed away to sea by the natural flow of things.

Talking with him is odd. We're spending roughly $11,000 GBP to put these tracers and sensors together and test them up here. His project costs a million GBP a year to run, has 34 people, a four-story sphere as home-base, flies in supplies with the rocket-powered C-130's for maybe $10,000 GBP a flight (which is cheap because the flights serve primarily as training for the NY National Guard's mission keeping the U.S. Antarctic mission going). And all of this - everything - centers around a drill in a 15cm hole. If it gets stuck, breaks, or otherwise fails, everything's for naught. In contrast, we could, for the same price, send 10,000 tracers through the glacier. Some things are easier (and cheaper) to find out than others.

But where else can you have breakfast with one of the few people in the world studying its climate history?

Then it's time to pack up and head out to camp. Looking at this picture, I'm reminded that one of the things that I remember of Greenland is the gritty smell of sand. Sand was, literally, everywhere we went and it got into everything. All those glacier's had ground the rock beneath into some of the finest, softest sand you can imagine. Had it been on tropical islands people would have paid money to walk on it; being in Greenland, there's no one to walk on it.

We begin the day by doing some documentation, making plans, and resting up from the previous days' activities. Jemma and Mike head up Sugarloaf Mountain where they discover the two missing tracers hiding in a remote stretch of river.

Steve and I have a fantastic lunch, a long talk with the Danish man, and then head down to the river to test the sensor package more rigorously.

Steve's a little more worried abotu the sensor package's safety than me, so he's constructed a handy foam life-ring to protect it.

As a quartet of local children look on, we toss the package repeatedly into the current and fish it out again. When we load up the data, Steve's devasted (though this only comes out via various subtle phrasing cues) to find the accelerometer data is so noisy. This had been the case all summer, so I'd assumed it was intrinsic to the instruments, but he's convinced they can do better. We send a note back to Bristol where Jim has the test board and I begin racking my brains to try to find the problem which is somewhere very fundamental and low-level.

Having reconvened, we drive out to the river and hike the trail to the crossing. Waders get us half-way through the frigid torrent and then we clamber, one at a time, onto the little raft whilst the others drag it across. The drag-rope's sheath has been worn off, but the safety line still looks sturdy (thank goodness!). Then the hike begins.
Using my auxiliary storage system


Looking towards Sugarloaf Mountain
(small, dim hump by river on left center)

At the end of the day, having driven 20km, crossed a freezing glacial run-off river, and hiked an hour-and-a-half, we arrived at camp.


Hiking past Russel Glacier
(Everyone's a little fat because of the panoramic transform)

Supper was waiting: potatoes, sausage, and ketchup. And, after supper, after talking, beer was waiting as well. We all gathered in the "multimedia tent" - thirteen of us - as the wind built outside and the caloric drowned itself in the river. After listening to a particularly stirring rendition of November Rain by Guns and Roses, we all stood up, put on the dance music (starting with Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive") and danced or played air instruments till the wee hours of the morning.

I've never been a fan of this sort of dancing, but, somehow, in the wilderness of Greenland with a glacier less than a mile away, it's the Right Thing. Steve and I bust moves; Jemma and I sing some scat. Later, she borrows her recorder (she hasn't played since she was twelve) and amazes us all. I drift away around two, but you can still hear dancing and music still much later.

8/16/09

The morning finds me sick. This isn't from the sip of wine I'd had the night before… I think it's that bug from Haiti come back to haunt me. I've been keeping it at bay for the past few months using pro-biotic yogurts, but there's no such thing out here. While I'm busy trying not to die, they hike the tracers up to the glacier.

Later, I'm feeling better and hike down to the "sampling tent" where the ridge meets the river to listen for the tracers.
After sitting on the river bank for two hours, I begin to freeze solid, so I move progressively farther into the tent… and then into the sleeping bag in the tent.

For the longest time there's just the sound of static and roaring water. Then a huge booming sound and, moments later, ice hunks the size of cars are not floating, but rolling down the river bashing into each other, washed over by silty water. As they recede into the distance, the static is broken by faint beepings. I excitedly lift the Yagi, but they're gone. The tracers are in the glacier.

Another hour passes and then, without warning, piercing bleeps fill the tent for a moment before the static status quo resumes. In a matter of three minutes, a tracer's been swept past in the current - Steve will later tell me, as we head back to camp, that this has never successfully been done before. Retrospectively, sitting there in the tent, I was hearing the overture to what may be a new way to study glaciers - history in the making - but, at the time, I just felt very cold, and a little hungry. Five of the ten tracers went by in the above fashion before the others made it back from the glacier to hear the results.

Normally, at this time of night, Steve would be relaxing and planning for tomorrow, but he was so excited by our success that he immediately set out with Megan (one of the researchers up here) to try to retrieve them.
Having had only a piece of bread and honey and crackers, I stay behind, which serves the duel purpose of giving you, the Reader, a chance to catch up with me.
Supper was rice, mushrooms, ham, pork, pears, milk, veggie-lentil soup, and hot cocoa. Delicious.

It's 10:07 now, getting colder, and Steve's not back yet. We'll probably worry about him at some point, but it's not as if it's going to get dark. And, later, I'll go sleep in my little green tent and dream glacial dreams.



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Mom - Monday, August 24, 2009 at 08:17:29 (PDT)
Hope this is the last of the "bug"!!