It's the morning of the 20th and it's raining out, as it has been and will be for hours. We're leaving camp around eight, so I've a few hours in which huddling in the tent and updating you is a good activity.
Today we had planned on dropping thirty of our eTracers into a moulin 30km up the glacier - along with 14kg of tracing dye. Obviously the eTracers have never been used that far away, but neither has the dye, so both are rather exciting… if they get through.
But the excitement fell a bit flat. Ensconced in the humid warmth of my sleeping bag, I heard Mike crawl out of the tent and, a few minutes later, "Richard, do you know where the Tracers are?" I didn't and came out of the tent pretty quickly to find that every single one was gone!
Mike had already discovered several places where he could mysteriously hear the Tracers, but not see them. It was like something out of the twilight zone! I was the last one up, perhaps I had MPD and had hidden them all? Perhaps there was something wandering camp as I was heading to the tent?
We started kicking at the ground and, a few minutes later, a sand covered Tracer appeared. Now, if this was a horror flick, at that point Mike would have been killed by the Creature leaving me stranded in the wilderness. As it was, we just stared down in disbelief. But there wasn't time to disbelieve! Mike and Jemma left ten minutes later for Kangerlussuaq, three of the other researchers shouldered chainsaws and hiked off to the glacier, and Megan and I were left alone in camp.
I spent the next hour running around the vicinity of camp digging holes and searching for the Tracers which, by then, we believed the resident ArcticFox had hidden. As I searched, I was impressed with this fox. There was no trace that it had been there, no trace of a hole, just a forelorn beeping. And, whereas the fox had been crafty and precise in its hiding, it seemed as though I had to dig up whole hillsides in order to find the tracers.
I was annoyed with the fox, but, as I picked up each inedible chunk of plastic, I could practically see the long, grim hand of Darwin reaching out to excise its unfit genome (note, dear Reader, that this is not a scientifically precise explanation of natural selection), and I knew that vengeance would be had.
|A chop-chopping filled the air and I knew my time was up. The crew from Edinburgh had landed, ready to dump our tracers and dye, and to check up on their GPS stations. I'd found seven of the fifteen sensors and handed them over feeling that it probably wouldn't be enough.|
You see, after the previous night when Steve, Jemma, and Megan came running in so excited that they'd heard the 8km tracers come past, we couldn't hear them the next day. Which means they either floated out of range on the river, or, in the late of the night in the presence of alcohol, a mistake was made.
|The helicopter whirred off and Megan and I were left alone again. We spent the afternoon packing up the camp. I kerosened away another pile of trash, another load of stuff went in crates by the helicopter's landing site, and the remaining lot was buried beneath tarps and rocks to wait out the winter.|
|And winter is coming here, no doubt. The sun's "setting" almost a half-hour earlier now than it was when we arrived. The lake by camp iced over the other night, albeit thinly. And with the ice and dark, the research season here is at an end for us.|
The helicopter returns and makes two trips ferrying the stuff back to Kangerlussuaq were Mike and Jemma are helping unload it and picking up more supplies to support our continued mission. The Edinburgh crew explains that all their GPS stations are broken - they all think it's 01989. A satellite call to the GPS manufacturer revealed that all the company's GPS stations world-wide had stopped working on Sunday, 16th August.
And I knew why (or at least suspected), in fact, I'd designed the same problem into my Tracers. Any computer system which deals with time needs a way of keeping track of how much time has passed. Generally this is done by counting elapsed seconds since the "beginning of time". But the amount of space dedicated to storing this number is finite and, eventually, it runs out and the next second brings you back to the beginning of time - which is, by convention, 1st January of 01989.
Depending on the internal architecture of computers and the conventions used, there are various dates when these bugs will assert themselves. 2038 is a big one. The hope is generally that older 32-bit systems will have been phased out by then. Sadly, the GPS manufacturer forgot this easily-overlooked problem. I didn't, and can tell you that the whole of eternity will pass my sensor package by in ~3.88 days - perfectly suitable for keeping high time-resolution on a short trip through a glacier and easily adapted for longer voyages.
As the last load lifted away, it begins to rain. I'm reminded strongly of Alaska, but Greenland definitely has its own identity. Megan and I finish some last packing, I find a last tracer (the fox had hidden it on a ridge where its strong, elevated signal swamped out everything else), have the 30th kiwi, and then we hole up in a tent sharing biscuits and nutella next to a copy of "The Madding Crowd" (todo) - there are enough quiet moments out here to become an educated person.
Later, we move down to the sampling tent where the river runs by at 2.4C, sucking all the heat from its milieu as it goes. Megan puts on the mp3 player, heats up some water, and we have coffee and cocoa while the rain outside pours down.
An hour or so later Jemma and Mike arrive, soaked but intact. Jemma, recognising that I don't like tea, has bought me my own special box of "Varm Kakaodrik" (I haven't seen printed English on a food item in some time now), along with another two kiwis - she instantly takes on heroic status. Supper is a combination of three freeze-dried meals: Spaghetti, All-Day Breakfast, and (todo). Afterwards, they check the sampling tools: they'll be here for 30 hours taking samples and watching for the 30km dye while Mike and I watch for tracers. A bottle of Jägermeister is discovered and opened - it's rather tasty and becomes the sixth alcohol I like (though I'll later qualify this: only the first sip is good).
Mike and I head up to our tent around midnight during a lull in the rain.