Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Signing off for 2008

Today's blog brought to you by: Darlene Lim Photo: Darlene sectioning microbialite at Pavilion Lake Photo credit: Bill Taylor

A Summary of Phase II of our 2008 field season – great field science, and tired so-longs for now

With the departure of the Deepworkers from Pavilion Lake on July 3rd, came the arrival of a new crop of researchers to move the project into the second phase of field operations. From July 4-11th, the PLRP was engaged in science diving activities in Pavilion and Kelly lakes. These dives were primarily to support the PLRP geobiological investigations. During these dives, water, microbialite, sediment, and microbial mat samples were collected for a variety of analyses (geochemical, microscopic, mineralogical, molecular, organic, thin section and taxonomic). Some ground truthing of the Deepworker waypoints of interest was conducted, however given the long list of science items we had to check off, we decided to leave much of the ground truthing to another expedition next year. A subgroup of the geobiology team spent 3 days investigating ponds on the Cariboo plateau, which are viewed as geochemical book ends to our understanding of carbonate precipitating environments. Greg Druschel from the University of Vermont conducted micro-electrode analyses to help with our understanding of the sediment redox chemistry in these ponds and Pavilion Lake. As well, Alfonso Davila from NASA Ames used a portable Raman spectrometer to investigate organic signatures in the microbialites and the mats from the various lakes and ponds.

Bekah Shepard spent hours diving in 10-20 feet of water investigating the unusual mat morphologies in the shallow regions of Pavilion Lake. While scouring the lake for interesting slime, as she puts it, Bekah discovered depressions in the shallows that had the distinct odor of hydrogen sulfide (that horrid rotten egg smell), indicative of the presence of sulfate-reducing bacteria. This led to water samples and pH data being collected from these points of interest. Bekah and Harry Bohm also discovered a region of incoming groundwater in Pavilion Lake. PLRP members have been on the hunt for a recognizable input point for groundwater for years, however given the low, diffuse flow throughout most of the lake, this find has eluded us – until now. The spring was located in the shallows, and was visually and thermally apparent to divers. This will most certainly be a region we will return to in the future to sample the groundwater for limnological and isotopic analyses. With the discovery of this spring, we hope to better understand how to locate others in the lake, and to determine whether or not the groundwater is an important contributor to the development of microbialites in Pavilion Lake.

The UBC-GAVIA team conducted mapping work at Pavilion and Kelly lakes, and added to their growing data base of sonar and photographic images from these two sites. Their research, along with that of Geoff Mullins from Simon Fraser University, has been the backbone of our understanding of Pavilion Lake’s physical characteristics. The SONAR maps produced by Geoff provided high-resolution remote sensing data that was used to plan Deepworker dives throughout Pavilion Lake. Water samples and pH profiles were also collected from a series of other regional lakes and ponds as part of the PLRP’s long-term limnological monitoring program in the area.

Throughout all of these science activities, the PLRP had the privilege of hosting Bill Taylor, a high school physics teacher from California, who was embedded with the team for the duration of Phase II. His enthusiasm, humor, and energy were infectious, and I know that his students will benefit greatly from all that he learnt while in the field with us.
We had an incredible team that made the 2008 field season possible. All supported each other through long, hot days, and late, tired nights. It was amazing to watch in action, and such a privilege to be a part of. Thank you again to the Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nations people, Pavilion Lake Community, B.C. Parks Service, and in particular to Mickey and Linda Macri, and Ron and Lorna Cook, for the incredible support and encouragement. As well, thank you to the Canadian Space Agency CARN program, NASA ASTEP and Spaceward Bound programs, Nuytco Research, McMaster University and the National Geographic Society for funding our PLRP endeavors over the years.
This is our final report for the 2008 field season. Thank you to everyone who has been following our adventures – stay tuned for more to come in 2009.
July 14, 2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Emily's PLRP visit

Brought to you by Emily dela Cruz, Bill Taylor's wife and Network Administrator at City Hall in San Francisco.

I was very excited that I could come with Bill to Pavilion Lake. I saw the link to the place and I though of it as so romantic. But, then he mentioned that there are lots of scientists doing research on this lake so I knew it will be work for him. I didn’t go in depth in my reading on what really it is all about. I didn't know how it would work out for me.

Bill always came home from his days at NASA-Ames talking with enthusiasm about some of the exciting events at NASA Ames, especially about the Phoenix lander and the recent discoveries on Mars. He talks a lot about the dedication of the scientists he have encountered and it is a privilege for him to work with Alfonso, who is so passionate doing his work.

The first morning I came to the meeting, I noticed how organized the running of the research project is and I observed how serious everyone is on their given assignment. People here appreciate what others are doing. People are also more conscious of the time factor to get results within a set time frame . I noticed the commitment of all concerned to generate and disseminate knowledge that would contribute to a fuller understanding of everyone’s project. I noticed the long-standing trust and friendship with those who have been with the project and those who are just getting in. I didn’t feel like an outsider, I just amazed at how everyone sets up labs and how each one collaborates with each other.

The place is so beautiful and the view of the lake and the surrounding mountains is so awesome.

Bill Taylor - California teacher visits Lake Pavilion

Brought to you by Bill Taylor, California High School Physics teacher. Bill is working this summer with Alfonso Davila/NASA Ames as part of the STAR, a teacher training program.

Pictured Emily dela Cruz, Bill Taylor and Alfonso Davila.

Long trip. The camp was not ready for us when we arrived at 12 midnight. Donnie really did extra duty to come pick us up, finding out that we were waiting there at 11:30pm.
A somewhat uncomfortable night’s sleep. Sheets were not clean.
First Day
Uncertainty who was who, what plates and utensils to use for eating. Intros at AM meeting. Emily uncomfortable with that.
Fortunately Darlene asked us what we needed for comfort and we got a much better room. Emily cleaned half the day. Emily and I are greatly relieved!
Recover from trip – very sleepy until after long nap. Then energetic, studied the AP-physics I teach next year
Evening meeting. I hope I don’t get assigned to anything because I still need to study physics. Apparently there is an education person I am supposed to speak with.
Second Day
Alfonso and I sat under the canopy in a beautiful spot and tried to get the Raman to be useful. I don’t think we really understand it.
The divers brought up a “microbialite” or “chimney” from the lake for study! Looks really cool (pic). Some facts (?) I got from Darlene as they were carving it up:
• These were very common in Earth’s early history, very uncommon now.
• Don’t know what creates them – that’s the whole point of the research they’re doing
• What happened in the history of the lake that allowed these to exist here (and not in most nearby lakes)? There is a nearby lake that has some of these but they look different.
• There is biology on the surface – cyanobacteria (green) and some “pods” of another color – what are these pods and why are they there? Are they part of why these structures are created?
• The microbialites could be created biologically, perhaps from the poop of the cyanobacteria on the surface or of the pods
• If we can find out what are the conditions under which they are created, they might turn out to be a good analog for Mars.
Darlene cut the microbialite cross-section with a regular hand saw! They bagged several portions, some for archiving for use at a later date and some for various science members to study now.
• Cross section cut shows layers of colors – maybe iron oxides (rust color)
• Part of it brakes off showing spherical shells [pic] – why?
• Some of them are “oxic” meaning that photosynthesis is happening - cyanobacteria
• Some are anoxic – not sure that this means exactly
• They do know that there is some cell-signaling in the biology. I think this means that the bacteria cells “talk” to each other by unknown mechanisms and this is how they make “slime”.
• Question: what does “microbialite” mean?
• Some scientists think that it will take 10 years to determine the answers
• If they are not created by biology, they might be created by chemical action of the various constituents in the water.
• It’s a ground-water fed lake, so they want to look at the different waters coming in (and leaving?) the lake, and also at various layers in the lake
So I can see now that, as on the Desert Trip (Spaceward Bound Mojave 08), there are various scientists from various places (all over the country) looking at these things using their own expertise and interests. The collaboration is really important because no one of them knows everything. They obviously know that collaboration is important because they like to talk with one another and share the science, and they also are extremely willing to share resources, equipment, time etc. with one another – pretty cool!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Another martian twist at the PLRP

Alfonso Davila

It's about to get really nasty. Tomorrow some of us are heading to the Basque Lakes, a group of lakes characterized by a high concentration of magnesium-sulfate salts, which at this time of the year precipitate here and there and everywhere, forming small brine pools. Bacteria feed on these sulfate salts, leaving behind a collection of sulfide minerals and gases. Getting your nose too close to these pools will engrave long-lasting, stinky memories in your brain. Watch your step, or they may leave long-lasting stains on your boots and trousers too. Nothing in these black and white smelly ponds will be of interest to your eyes, unless your interests lie in finding out if life was ever present on Mars.
Magnesium sulfate salts, mainly epsomite (MgSO4-7H2O) and its dehydrated twin kieserite (MgSO4), are the most common evaporitic minerals identified on Mars so far. They have been found in the vast flat lands of Meridiani Planum and in the steep walls of Valles Marineris. These minerals are a window into a period of the history of Mars when liquid water was stable and abundant on the surface. In the Basque Lakes, magnesium sulfate salts are breakfast for many microorganisms, which in turn are lunch for others and so on down the menu. To many of you the resulting ecosystem may not be the prettiest expression of mother nature's masterpiece, but perhaps the simplicity of a mathematical equation will change your mind:

Mg-sulfate + H2O + Life on Earth = Mg-sulfate + H2O + X on Mars

Figure out X and you may find beauty. This is one of the many equations that justify Mars analogue research. It is based on the fact that there is many places on Earth that resemble Mars today or sometime in the past. Pavilion Lake may be an example. The Basque Lakes may be another. Studying these analogue environments brings us a step closer to understanding Mars, its evolution and its potential for life. It helps us guiding and designing the next robots that will be sent to Mars, and are the perfect grounds for testing the instruments that they will carry, or the life support systems that humans will use themselves one day. This year we brought a portable version of one of these instruments: a Raman Spectrometer. We use the Raman to identify special compounds within bulk samples that are of interest for one reason or another. Organic compounds are one example, sulfate salts are another. The working principle of a Raman Spectrometer is the same as bouncing a ball against something. Bounce it against a concrete wall and it will come right back at you. Bounce it against a pillow and it will come back much more slowly (or it won't come back at all!). After bouncing the ball many times against many different things, you may be able to recognize the type of material you are hitting just by seeing how fast or slow the ball is coming back to you. A Raman does not throw balls but instead it shines a laser into the sample. After interacting with the sample the laser comes back with a different wavelength (wavelength shift), the equivalent to the speed of our ball. Organic compounds and sulfate salts induce characteristic shifts on the laser, which can be easily identified on the screen of the computer attached to the Raman. This way we hope to be able to easily identify any sulfate salts and organic compounds in the lakes. I can almost smell them...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Day at nearby Kelly Lake

Brought to you by Bob Laval.

Weston Pike, Bernard Laval and Alex Forrester launching Gavia into Kelly Lake.

After developing the initial Pavilion Lake Research Project web site near the offset of the project, I have finally been able step out of virtual reality and come on site to meet the team and get a feel for the reality of the project.

I was struck by the warmth of the welcome and the immediate inclusion into project activities. It is inspiring to rub elbows and share food with visionaries, committed scientists, top experts in the field of diving, amazing and gifted support staff with the common denominator of being people who care for people. I have met people who not only love what they do but are a testimony to how education and thorough training can position a person in life to explore possibilities of why things are as they are and how it can prepare us for such things as a flight to the moon or mars.

I spent my first day here mainly plying my trade updating the existing site and exploring possibilities to meet the needs of this evolving and expanding project and best serve its web audience.

Today I was an assistant to a team that went to explore Kelly Lake with the autonomous underwater vehicle, or submarine, used to map and perform a series of tests and scans of the underwater environment. I also travelled the short distance to Pear Lake to assist in the water tests. The team was made up of Dr. Bernard Laval, Alex Forrester, and Weston Pike. I was impressed by the thoroughness of the preparation, the meticulous approach to all operations, the concern for safety and of the ever present sense of stewardship of the environment. It was fun and most definitely expanded my horizons.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute my little bit to this amazing project.

Science week starts, microbialites get probed...

Greg Drushcel and Ben Cowie lower the microelectrode to the microbialite field

by Greg Druschel
Department of Geology
University of Vermont

Sediment porewater redox chemistry in lakes reflects the activity of microorganisms that utilize oxygen, nitrate, manganese, iron, and sulfate, giving deeper sediment porewater a different chemical signature compared to the water column. Of particular note for our research, sediment porewater organisms include sulfate reducers that generate hydrogen sulfide as a product of their metabolism. At Pavilion Lake, the location of microbialites is highly heterogeneous and they have an interesting morphology, including vent-like structures that are often associated with flow in other systems. The ‘vent’ structures observed with the microbialites have not thus far been noted to be associated with any detectable flow, but it has been hypothesized that diffuse flow may be an important part of these structures. Allyson Brady and Greg Slater have found evidence in the microbialites themselves for sulfate reducing bacteria, further suggesting that these organisms may be somehow linked to microbialite formation and morphology. We are investigating if this diffuse flow may cause upwelling of porewaters, or mixing of groundwaters with deeper porewaters, that may contain low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide or other reduced forms of manganese or iron associated with sediment porewater microbes. Hydrogen sulfide reactions may additionally change the pH of the water and potentially cause changes in carbonate precipitation, and some microbialites have been observed to include bands of different colors often associated with iron and manganese precipitates which can also affect water chemistry and associated carbonate precipitation or dissolution. We are using voltammetric microelectrodes that can measure oxygen and hydrogen sulfide (in addition to iron, manganese, and many other sulfur forms) to investigate if any of these reduced chemical forms may be present in and around the vent structures.

Yesterday, Greg Slater and Dale Andersen carried a sampling pole with a voltammetric microelectrode down to a field of microbialites at 70 feet deep in the 3 Poles region of Pavilion Lake. The electrode was attached to a potentiostat and computer on a pontoon boat where I was constantly monitoring the computer screen for changes in redox chemistry at the tip of the microelectrode. Dale and Greg placed the sampling pole in the sediment and placed the voltammetric microelectrode (a little smaller than the size of a small pencil) inside 5 different microbialite vent structures at different levels and outside the microbialites to see if there were any changes in redox chemistry associated with diffuse flow through the microbialite structures. The redox chemistry within these 5 vents was no different than the redox chemistry outside the vents, which was fully oxygenated. Our hypothesis that the occurrence and morphology of the microbialites is affected by a link with sediment porewater chemistry was not supported by measurements at these sites, but we shall keep thinking, working, and looking to unlock the secrets of these fascinating formations!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wednesday: Deepworkers Head Home

Today's blog brought to you by:
Geobiolobist, Limnologist

Today the Deepworker submersible operations have come to an end. We have had 10 successful days of using these subs to map and sample the deepest regions of Pavilion Lake. We found that the Deepworkers were the ideal tool to facilitate deep and long range scientific mapping – they are maneuverable, efficient and safe. Deepworkers gave us an ease of movement and removed the need to decompress or to watch one’s bottom time as you would if we were SCUBA diving. This afforded the scientists the ability to fully immerse themselves in their environment during the submersible dives that lasted 3 hours and covered depths of up to 200 feet. The scientist and astronaut pilots were able to quickly synthesize their impressions of the lake and to focus on gathering thoughtful observations rather than worrying about technical issues related to such lengthy and deep dives.

As the Deepworker activities rolled along, each pilot also saw an exponential increase in their piloting capabilities. During training we were told that it is easy to pilot a Deepworker, and what is harder to do is to know how to pilot the subs well. By the second dive or so each pilot was remarking on the significant increase in their handling capabilities, which allowed them to better focus on the environment around them. This outcome alone validated the use of Deepworkers to achieve our science goals.

The flight planning and science and operational success metrics that we designed in coordination with Dr. Michael Gernhardt from the NASA JSC Astronaut office were highly successful and useful. This demonstrated the incredible utility of having scientists and astronauts explore scientifically relevant analog environments as a tool for preparing for the human exploration of the Moon and Mars. Furthermore, it was extremely exciting for each of the pilots to be able to sit in the Deepworkers and look at the lake in a holistic manner. Each evening we had All-Hands science meetings where the pilots shared their observations with the science, operations and technical team. During these meetings it was very apparent that we had made significant inroads to better understanding the variability and distribution of microbialites in Pavilion Lake as a result of having our previous exploration challenges mitigated by the use of Deepworker submersibles. These meetings were an important and highly productive part of our day as they allowed us time to engage in stimulating scientific banter and to update our dive plans based on the science priorities we identified. As well, the meetings ensured that the data was disseminated to the entire team so that as best as possible, the Deepworker experience was not limited to the six lucky pilots. This deepened the vested interest that each PLRP member had in the Deepworker activities as our science priorities were based on group consensus, which ultimately led to dive plans for the following day.

With the departure of the Deepworker submersibles today, I am relieved and melancholy. Relieved because we have had a safe and productive 10 days, and we met all of our science and exploration objectives. Melancholy because for now our time in the subs has drawn to a close. On this final point, I can write without hesitation that I will miss piloting the subs, but most of all I will miss the intellectual and emotional camaraderie that this endeavor catalyzed in the group. Over 10 short or long days (depending on who you talk to) we created a family made up of folks from all walks of life. Astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians, boat captains, safety officers and one incredible cook. All were passionate about what we have learnt through our Deepworker deployment, and all are looking forward to continuing, growing and evolving this program into the future. As I mentioned in one of my earlier writings, it does take a community and we have created one that I know will move onwards and upwards for years to come. It is such a privilege for me to be a part of this voyage. Thank you to all of the lovely humans who comprise the PLRP community.

July 3, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Robots into the Abyss II

Brought to you by Alexander Forrest, Environmental Engineer

One of the challenges for the team working with UBC-Gavia, the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), is designing missions that play to the strengths of the vehicle. Additionally, the team is optimizing the collected data in order that be used directly by the Deepworker team for flight plan development. A unique application of this is the exploration of the abyssal plain of the central basin of Pavilion Lake. This part of the lake is the deepest part of the lake (~ 55 - 60 m deep) that is generally characterized by a very flat, muddy bottom and low microbialite coverage. Due to the fact that there are few targets of interest in this region, Deepworker pilots find this a tedious area to explore and so prefer to autonomous robots to explore the deep.

The main instrument onboard UBC-Gavia was the sidescan sonar. This device operates on either high or low frequency to render a relief image on either side of the AUV. A common analogy used is that it is like shining a flashlight away from the vehicle and anything that is obstructs the light is bright on one side and casts a shadow on the other. The missions that were run yesterday were being run at high frequency (better quality images) and the reduced range of 30 m (compared to 100 m at low frequency). Making sure there was sufficient overlap between each of the AUV missions, runs were conducted that covered the north half of the central basin.

It was discovered that there was very little of interest in this section of the lake (as was previously expected) but several interesting areas were identified on one edge of the runs. Odd ridging appeared in the images running perpendicular to shore that is currently unexplained (shown in the picture). This has been now identified as a potential mission priority for the Deepworkers if there is sufficient time available. Further exploration of the abyssal plain continues today in those regions that weren't previously surveyed with the boat sonar.
Sample of sidescan sonar data with the centerline representing the path of the AUV, the wavy, vertical line representing the bottom surface with the range away from the vehicle shown on the bottom axis and the obvious ridging shown in the upper right hand corner (~ 20 m off the port side of the AUV).

Divers Blog, no not an ear infection…

Mike Delaney PLRP Assistant Dive Safety Officer

“This is Capcom. Over. Deepworker 7 surfacing in twenty-five minutes. Over.” Dale and I begin to get our drysuits on, gather our skin diving gear and head to the boat for a quick ride out to the sub-barge. As we approach we slow down and hold station awaiting the slight disturbance on the surface of the clear blue water. The shiny dome appears and the pilot waves at us, we don our masks and enter the cool water for the sub to dock. Jeff calls the sub “ Deepworker 7 ensure your manipulator arm is down and you can approach the moon pool. Over.” The sub engages its thrusters and moves toward us; we take hold of the Deepworker to ensure that none of the hundred thousand dollar jewelry, as Jeff calls it; of data collecting devices that adorn the sub are not damaged. We spin the sub around to prepare it to be hoisted up with smiling pilot. I’m lucky being in the water with the subs as I have the privilege to see the excitement of the pilots faces before most and view the new discoveries in the collection basket might help shed light on why this lake is so special.

Monday, June 30, 2008

They care!

Brought to you by: Leanne Booth, Educational Outreach Assistant, BA BEd UBC

The first word that comes to mind when watching the nightly team meeting and thinking about my last few days here is “care.” The caring is evident in everything that is done here. When I arrived, I immediately felt the energy that is put into caring about what is happening here in every sense. From individual projects to individual people’s needs to the overall goals of the project: each aspect is thought through carefully so that every person is respected, needed, and successful. Never have I met such a diverse group of people working toward a common goal who are so accepting and respectful of each other’s expertise and ideas. It is a lesson for all of us to learn from and one I strive to achieve in my classroom. It is amazing to it in action in the adult world because everyone here chooses to care.

I don't work with normal people.

Brought to you by: Zena Cardman

Since I got to Pavilion Lake, I've had the opportunity to befriend an unreal group of people—people who've made careers at all ends of the earth, in outer space, and at the bottom of the oceans. Of course they're all human, and they all take their jobs in stride as if it were the most common thing in the world. I think you have to, in a sense. But at the same time, what lets these people do such incredible things is that they never let it get old. It's both a privilege and a talent to be able to pursue a job you love.

Adding to the list of characters here: Last night Dave Williams, the second of our two astronauts, arrived. Mike Gernhardt has been here since Monday. (Mike was wearing his flight suit today. My brain has more or less oozed its way out of my ear, and my heart has crawled up to take its place.)

This is the first year that Pavilion Lake has gotten the submarines, so there has definitely been a learning curve. These days, though, operations are running pretty smoothly, and the sub pilots have been able to start bringing up samples from the bottom of the lake. We're researching microbialites, which are unusually-shaped carbonate structures. They vary in size and shape—from hand-sized to a few meters large, and from tall, chimney-like structures to structures that look more like heads of broccoli. We want to figure out how these structures are formed, and what causes the differences in shape and size. The submarines help us explore more than we possibly could by SCUBA.

Perhaps even more than the science itself, I'm fascinated by the technology that enables us to do this science. Thursday night Phil Nuytten arrived for a visit. Nuytco, which made the DeepWorker subs we're using, is his company. Phil is a renaissance man of diving, pioneer of underwater technology, and, incidentally, a phenomenal totem pole carver. Yesterday he gave a really inspiring presentation. We got to see footage from the first solo dive deeper than 1,000 feet, see videos of the early development of the Newtsuit, and just listen to Phil talk about his career. He's one of those people who either disregards or loves the fact that something hasn't been done or doesn't exist yet. You want to make a pressurized suit that can go down to 600 feet, but is still flexible enough to swim in? Sure. You just do your thing, Phil.

Yesterday Discovery Channel was here filming us, and they're around again today. I'm trying my best to play it cool, but it's totally not working.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Astronauts, Aquanauts, and Land-lovers

Brought to you by: Damien McCombs Pavillion Lake Research Project OFA Level III Attendant

The stars, the skies, and the deep waters mix at the Pavilion Lake Research Project. From a vantage point, I am able to watch the travelers of these spaces. Loons fly in and land on the lake, swim the surface, and can be seen dropping below the surface. You can literally see them swimming through the clear water. Rainbow trout are visible too, swimming the shallows and breaking the calm surface when jumping with all their might into the open air. In a similar way, the PLRP team is following suit. Dave Williams, of Canadian Space Agency fame, and NASA’s Mike Gernhardt are bringing their astral experiences down to the lakeside and below. The Deepworkers dive to the bottom depths of the lake. Dive teams disappear below the sun-spattered lake top to swim the depths. The deeper they go, the further the thoughts appear to go into outer space. The melding of inner space aquanauts and outer space astronauts makes an interesting combination of minds on Mars and heads deep in the lake. Really, I suppose, that combining multiple disciplines is what this project is all about –the pursuit of understanding microbialites, and in turn Earth, our experiences here, what we could do on Mars and beyond.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Day Three Science Debrief

Today's blog is brought to you by Greg Slater
Assistant Professor
School of Geography and Earth Sciences
McMaster University

It is the end of day three and we are really starting to hit our stride with the science goals that we have set for the deepworker component of the project. Our launches are more efficient and with our increasing ability to have effective debriefing meetings, we are learning a lot from our collective experiences. We are also increasingly getting a handle on mission planning and are benefiting hugely by the direct planning of missions by the science/pilot team. We can use our experiences in our initial dives to determine what future dives hold priority and how to manage scheduling and optimize resources. We are continuing to develop as a team with common goals of advancing our scientific program as well as developing approaches to operational planning and metrics.

In terms of our science goals, we are making excellent progress in addressing our original hypotheses as well as formulating new ones and new directions for this deployment. This is really highlighting the strength of advanced, informed planning, as well as the equal importance of the ability to adjust planning during the project to adapt to new information and insights.

One of our primary research goals is to investigate the role of groundwater in the Pavilion Lake system and its potential contributions to the microbialite formation. This is being addressed by deepworker dives focused on exploring the correlation of microbialites with different geological settings. Much of the north basin, where we began our dive program, is underlain by granite. Such a granite basement would be expected to have relatively little groundwater flow and as such, our hypothesis is that there would be fewer microbialite structures associated with this environment. And our results so far are supporting this hypothesis as very little microbialite structure was observed. The only exception was the region where our research transect was located, which is in fact associated with the only section of argillite/scree slope shoreline where groundwater might be expected.

In our more recent dives in the south basin, microbialite structures have been plentiful. And we are continuing to assess the association of these structures with the potential of groundwater inputs. We have also recently hypothesized that whitish clouds observed during some dives may be associated with groundwater inputs. This new observation and hypothesis is planned to be tested in the coming days using a CTD that will be attached to one of the Deepworkers.

Overall, our progress is excellent and our initial data is really exciting. We are all enthusiastic to continue this exploration and to utilize the unique insights available through the deepworkers to address our scientific questions about this incredibly interesting site.

Robot Immersion

Weston Pike exploring Pavilion Lake with Gavia.
Today's blog is brought to you by:
Weston Pike,
Envionmental Fluid Dynamics

It's good to be back at pavilion lake. The water's clear and I'm assuming the microbialites are happy. The first task on my plate was to set up a weather station. The previous one had to be rescued mid winter due to large sheets of ice moving across the lake at spring thaw. The new station will be set up on shore, which will be more comfortable for everyone, especially the weather station. Between the software and the hardware, things were eventually sorted out and weather data is now being collected. And who doesn't like weather data.

With that out of the way, I can get more involved with the submarines on site. UBC's GAVIA will need some fine tuning, also some very large tuning before it will be operational for my purposes, which includes capturing photos from the deepest basin in Pavilion and Kelly lake. Eventually these photos will be put together into a mosaic. With much help from the premium GAVIA technician Alex, it will soon be fetching me many a fine photo.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Rise of the Robots

Today's blog is brought to you by:
Alexander Forrest, Environmental Engineer
Deepworker missions run til now have been a step forward in terms of human exploration of this lake. At the same time, the past couple of days have also been a step forward in terms of robotic exploration of this lake. One of my active interests in this project is evaluating mission success in terms of human robotic interaction. In order to quantify this, a number of scientific and performance metrics were decided upon in the first couple of days for the contouring style mission. The next step is to refine the analysis of the data in order to compare different deployments.

Concurrent to this work is the deployment of UBC-Gavia, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV), which has previously been deployed here during both summer and winter field campaigns. This is an autonomous vehicle in which waypoints are preprogrammed by the human operator to survey an area. As this style of underwater robot is outside of reliable communication range underwater, it navigates independently of surface control during the entire mission duration.

After several days, and weeks, of software and hardware testing of the instrument payload and navigation systems putting the AUV into the water was extremely satisfying. It was rewarding to run missions without any technical difficulties, but running these missions in conjunction to the Deepworker deployments is the first step to coordinated missions between autonomous and human driven exploration in extreme environments. Another facet of this research is we are using multiple robotic platforms for underwater human exploration. At the same time, it is also an important analogue for extraterrestrial research.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Uh, can I just say that I love submersibles!

Today's blog brought to you by:
Rebekah Shepard, Geobiologist, Astrobiologist

I wish that I could sound more profound and mature, but I can’t make myself beat around the bush. I piloted a submersible around Pavilion Lake for the first time yesterday and it is so splendiferously cool! Not only is it exciting, challenging, and fun to pilot the sub, but the explorer and scientist in me jumps for joy at the opportunity to see so much of the lake in a single dive! I flew the submersible around the entire north basin of the lake at a depth of approximately 100 feet. Usually when we dive the lake on SCUBA we only cover a small transect within the lake, so to fly around the whole thing was mind-blowing!

Much of my dive covered the plains near the very bottom of the north basin, and so much of the ground that I flew over was mud. Now, you might think that mud is not very exciting, but mud is often misunderstood and under-appreciated. While our study of Pavilion Lake often focuses on the beautiful microbialite mounds that cover much of the lake, it is very important to understand the entire ecosystem of the lake. Learning where the microbialites are is very valuable, but learning where the microbialites aren’t is just as vital to our study. Plus, it is important to remember that the formation of the microbialites is the result of a complicated mix of biological processes, chemical processes, and physical processes. These processes are just as active in the muds of the lake, although they may have a different balance. If we can understand this different balance, we will know a lot more about what is influencing microbialite formation.

All those fantastic scientific details aside, I was thrilled to see a few microbialite mounds along my dive. I took some good video of them that will get our catalogue of morphologies off to a good start. It is so wonderful to see all of our hard work and planning come together into a successful first submersible dive! I am so proud to have gotten us off to a great start, and I can’t wait to go back down. In the meantime…lots of data to analyze!
Today's blog brought to you by: Jim Thompson, NASA Dive Team Photographer

The international team is coming together at Pavilion Lake Research Project in a remote area of British Columbia to study microbiolites with mini subs as analog research for the moon and Mars and human exploration under extreme conditions.

Divers in the freezing cold water; subs being hoisted by hand winches and the beautiful raw beauty of this land serve as the back drop for the study of the ancient formations at the lake's bottom, old evidence of life on this and possibly other planets.

We are getting to know each other now, two days into the mission and the objective of launching the subs and the beginning of this stage of research has been a huge success. Top notch scientists, professional arctic divers and graduate students in multi million dollar mini subs are working close together with the common bond of expanding human knowledge of the unknown.

Thousands of photographs have been taken so far, and we are moving into the stage of underwater photography in waters a few degrees above freezing . Long hours of work and research are rewarded with friendship and fellowship, only felt by a close team, many of which were total strangers a few days ago.

Challenging days lie ahead in the coming weeks, science advancement of human knowledge in extreme environs is seldom easy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Safety & First-Aid

Today's blog brought to you by:
Damien McCombs
Pavillion Lake Research Project
OFA Level III Attendant
I had never been to Pavilion Lake before and so I took the scenic route here via Pemberton and Lillooet. An extra early departure left me lots of time to enjoy the sights, boulder in Pemberton, and get really lost once.

A pleasurable drive was just what I needed before “hitting the ground running”. Saturday evening was a flurry of setting up the first aid station, getting the emergency transport vehicle (ETV) stocked, and preparing for the launch of our safety program. Pavilion Lake is a beautiful setting to be working in. Limestone cliffs and towers are surrounded by surprisingly lush green trees and glacial erratic. All this is punctuated by the cold, green, shimmering lake.

Today I started early again, but this time it was to introduce our PLRP Safety Guidelines 2008. This pre-coffee session briefed employees, volunteers, and visitors on the hazards, precautions, and safety guidelines. Meeting led to breakfast, breakfast led to another meeting, and another meeting led to action. The barge and submersibles arrived with the crane at around 9am and work began immediately. Highway flag-persons kept the traffic controlled during crane operations. With cautious and steady work the barge was assembled onto the lake, the cement anchors put in place, and the submersibles stowed onboard.

I’d definitely don’t categorize doing office work in an ETV for 5 hours as interesting or exciting, however, watching the submersibles suspended in the air was fascinating; seeing the subs triggered childhood fantasies of space and underwater travel. Another great day: lots of work, none of which was first aid!

12 hours 'til takeoff!

Today's blog brought to you by:
Margarita Marinova
Planetary Scientist

Yes, tomorrow I leave for Pavilion Lake: 12 hours to be precise. Hopefully with all my instruments ready, my gear packed, and my head still in its place. How busy I am is easy to tell - it's directly correlated with the number of post-it notes on my desk. And these days I look like those office pranks where they cover someone's desk with post-its!

:) Not quite as classy as Bekah's kitcken table, but gets the job done :)

But today I had to do a rather fun TO DO from my myriad of post-it notes - going into the pool to do a little diving refresher with my advisor Oded. Now you may wonder how a 15ft deep pool is any practice for diving at 60 or 90ft in a lake, but it's actually quite helpful and important to review skills and emergency procedures in this rather safe environment (and the fact that today it was 41C (106F) is certainly another good reason). After reviewing procedures while on the pool deck, we splashed in the water and practiced emergency buddy breathing and emergency ascents, as well as staying neutrally buoyant - that is, being able to float in the water without going up or down or touching anything. Being able to float like this in the water is especially important for us because at the bottom of Pavilion Lake is a find powder that if stirred at all becomes a big cloud which means no visibility! And when we need to examine an interesting structure we have to be able to steadily float beside it.

After about an hour of practicing diving in the pool, we felt ready to tackle Pavilion Lake in a few days. That meant the fun TO DO was done, and it was on to a less exciting task - packing. For most trips I can pack in 15-30min, but packing for an expedition is quite different. For one, unlike in the pool where a swimming suit and basic dive equipment was all we needed, in Pavilion Lake we mostly do "dry suit" diving. That means that we put on suits which are waterproof, and then at the hands and neck there are tight rubber seals to keep the water out (think of a baby onesie - but for an adult - with the rubber seals at the wrists and neck). Dry suits are a great idea for diving the cold Pavilion Lake water - it's about 6C (43F) at the bottom - since in water a person loses heat about 4 times faster! But it also makes packing much harder, because not only do we have to pack the suit, boots and hood, but the suit itself is not warm - it's all the winter clothing you can wear underneath that makes it nice and comfy. Which means that with at least 40C (104F) in my room, I was packing for what looked like an Arctic expedition - long underwear, fleecy pants, sweaters, warm shirts. Then with all of that carefully packed and double-checked, I could move on to packing clothing more appropriate for the sunny and warm above-water environment.

Yes! Packing is now done! Now off to deal with all the remaining post-it notes. Can't wait to get to Pavilion!

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Cutting Edge of Science: Washing Dishes and Putting Labels on Stuff

Today's blog brought to you by:
Zena Cardman
biology/poetry student
UNC Chapel Hill

My luggage decided to take an extended layover in Chicago. I, on the other hand, arrived in Vancouver Monday evening. I think I am adjusting well after the initial culture shock, though I’m still getting used to this strange language they speak here. (You want to go oootside? What?)

I suppose for someone my age I’ve had a good bit of experience both in nature and in scientific research. This, however, will be my first time putting the two together. I am so, so, so excited for the chance to take part in a big field research operation, even as the Lowly Field Assistant. Needless to say, we are wasting no time getting ready to head up to Pavilion Lake. The folks here at UBC have settled into what I might call a very ordered chaos.

My job thus far has included: acid washing a myriad of bottles, putting numbers on these bottles, putting these bottles into bags, and putting numbers on those bags. I have also helped with: slicing up some enormous chains, shackling those chains, and getting first aid kits in order. But the biggest beast to tackle? Inventory. We have a shockingly detailed list of something like 557 items—everything from enormous buoys to secchi disks to AAA batteries—all individually numbered by hand.

It sounds alarmingly tedious, but you know what? I really like this side of research. We are deeply involved in every single aspect of this project, start to finish, and it seems we’ve accumulated a team of amazing people to take care of pretty much everything. No research will happen without a lot of logistics and good old elbow grease. Bring it on.

Love from Weston’s couch,

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bekah's Kitchen Table Command Center...

Today's blog brought to you by:
UC Davis

Whoa! Am I sitting down? Yes? Whew… Do you ever get so busy that when you finally sit down it feels like you are still moving? Kind of like when you go skating and then take your skates off, and it feels like you are still rolling or sliding. That is exactly what it feels like to me when I get really busy! And boy, I am really busy now trying to get everything ready for our big field season to start. Field science is a ton of fun and sometimes if you are prepared for it, it can feel like play time. However, for things to run smoothly in the field, it takes a lot of people and a lot of hours to get everything ready.

To give you an idea of how crazy it can get, let me introduce you to one of my projects and my kitchen table. “Kitchen table!” I hear you cry. Yup. Sometimes when tasks get big and complicated, I take over the kitchen table. You’ll notice that my cat Edgar likes to help, although he seems to be lying down on the job! I am trying to assemble our mission operation plan for our DeepWorker exploration this summer. A mission operation plan is a series of guidelines and checklists to make sure that everyone is in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right gear, at the right time. Sounds pretty simple, right? It is, until you realize that we have 2 submersibles, 6 pilots, 5-10 supporting scientists, 5-10 technicians, 5-10 other supporting crew people, and a lot of data. Getting all those people organized is a big job. And don’t forget about all the nitty gritty details. For example, who is getting the videotape off of the sub? Who is labeling it? Where do they take it? Who will make backup recordings? Where will they file the original and the backups? Each individual question sounds very simple, but if you want the field season to run smoothly, you have to make sure you answer all of those questions in advance. Otherwise your risk losing data! The whole reason we are doing this is to gather new information and new data. That is what exploration is. So we want to do everything possible to make sure we get the most and the best data possible.

So there you have it. Field science sure is fun, but as a wise person once told me, field science is 99% logistics. And a significant percentage of that is all over my kitchen table.

Monday, June 16, 2008

‘It Takes a Community’

Today's blog brought to you by:
Geobiolobist, Limnologist

PLRP’s youngest supporter:
Darlene’s wee one trying on
new PLRP t-shirt
displaying the new PLRP logo.

T-minus 6 days and counting – on June 23 we’ll be launching our Deepworker, one-person submersible science and exploration project of Pavilion Lake, British Columbia, Canada. It’s going to be an incredible journey for all involved.

Planning for an endeavor such as this is a non-stop activity. I liken it to a roller coaster ride – with an upward trend, of course. ☺ There are many parts to making a whole. For us, it all started with some sweat, toil and carpel tunnel setting in, and the production of proposal after proposal. Next, the ball started rolling when our proposals were approved for support, and our current funding partners agreed to take on our vision as their own. The PLRP has been generously supported by the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Canadian Analogue Research Network (CARN), with additional funding coming from NASA's ASTEP and Spaceward Bound Programs, and the National Geographic Society. McMaster University and Nuytco Research are also providing support for the 2008 PLRP field season. Without these agencies, institutions and companies, we would not be embarking on the journey which is nearly upon us.

It is also important for us to acknowledge the community of Pavilion Lake, the Ts’kw’aylaxw people, and B.C. Parks. Each of these three groups has welcomed PLRP members into their area with warmth, generosity and constant support. We hold a community day each year to have an opportunity to interact with the community and so that folks in the region can ask us about what we are doing. I think that this dialogue engenders a true partnership between the community and the PLRP in advancing the science, exploration and protection of the area. Each year the PLRP members look forward to this evening, and this year will be no exception given that we will have the opportunity to share in our Deepworker adventures with the community. We hope that the community will be equally as excited, and are all looking forward to their questions as they always take us in new directions of thought and discussion.

Finally, I thought I’d use this blog entry to talk about the group that I work with – the members of the PLRP. Nobody’s getting paid the big bucks to do this, and yet every year everyone puts their backs into everything no matter how mundane the task. Folks sacrifice their summers, time with their families, sleep, eating, you name it, to make this come together. I am buoyed through my tired hours by the energy, excitement and constant smiles of so many of the incredible people who make up our research and support team. I think what I am proudest of with the PLRP is the person to person support that exists amongst the group, and the friendships that have sprung from hours of hard work together. I have read somewhere that the average age at NASA during the Gemini and Apollo missions was 27. This has been held up as the key to their innovation and energy during that time. The average age of the PLRP is likely around 28, and I also think that our youthfulness is one of the wonderful aspects of our group. Everyone is hungry to grow, learn, and expand their horizons. Everyone wants to move forward and recognizes that moving forward together, as a group, will have the greatest impact. It’s so exciting to be a part of this inspiring project.
--DSSL, June 16, 2008

Crises come and go - but the pictures remain

Today's blog brought to you by:
Bernard Laval
Physical Limnologist

Things are happening so quickly it’s hard to keep up. It’s amazing to think of how many crises have come and gone in the last few days and weeks. This picture pretty sums up how I spend my time these days – talking on the phone and sending emails. And yet, through all the chaos, every now and again something will remind of why we are doing this. For example, we’ve recently undergone a much needed update of our website. Going through 1000’s of picures to pick a few dozen good ones to post, I’m reminded of our many recent trips to Pavilion Lake and all the progress we’ve made. Moments like these help to keep me going.

It’s hard to imagine that in a week we will all be arriving onsite. I alternate between relief at seeing an end in sight and panic at the thought of how much has to be done and come together before then. This week will be a shift from working out major planning initiatives and decision making (e.g. first aid, website, budgeting) to focusing on what needs to and what can get done in the next few days, and ensuring that we bring everything we could possibly need to deal with those things that will be completed on site.

Friday, June 13, 2008

10 days until start...

Today's blog brought to you by:
Darlene Lim
Geobiology, Limnology

T-minus 10 days and counting - on June 23 we'll be launching our Deepworker, one-person submersible science and exploration project of Pavilion Lake, British Columbia, Canada. It's going to be an incredible journey for all involved.

Our science goal is to use the subs to extensively map and explore the microbialites of Pavilion Lake, and to sample microbialites from the deepest regions of the lake. To date, these goals have been difficult to accomplish as a result of the (~6km long, ~1km wide) and depth (65m) of the Lake. Even with the number of science divers we have on the project, this has been too large an area to properly survey - until now. The Deepwater submersibles put the scientist in the middle of the action, by allowing us to be both the pilot and the researcher. We are in command of the survey, and as such there is a more direct route between ourselves and our environment. We are expecting that this environmental immersion will provide great scientific depth and insightful observations to our survey.

In addition to the science, we will be using looking at our Deepworker activities as an analogue to human extra-vehicular activities (EVA) on the Moon and Mars. We've begun the involved process of designing EVA and science success metrics for use in Pavilion Lake, other analogue sites, and hopefully someday on the Moon. What's more is tat we are also looking at quantifying the efficiency of robots versus human explorers in hostile and uncharted territories, such as the basins of Pavilion Lake. This is not an easy task, as it begins with defining what efficiency is, and then designing a mechanism for quantitatively measuring this efficiency. This summer will be the start of what we hope will be many years of hard, but extremely fruitful work.

A group of 6 of us spent a week in Vancouver training on the Deepwater submersibles back in May: Bernard Laval (UBC), Greg Slater (McMaster University), Allyson Brady (McMaster University), Rebekah Shepherd (UC Davis), Michael Gernhardt (NASA JSC) and me (NASA ARC). Above is the picture of Allyson, Rebekeh and me being trained. It was an interesting week, with loads of time spent learning to pilot the subs, pick up items off of the sea floor, and find elusive sonar targets in the murky waters of the Burrard Inlet. We all had grins from ear to ear at the end of each day. It is such a gift, and a true privilege to love one's work.

Months of preparations, long-hours, and sleepless nights have gone into getting ready to put the submersibles in the lake in a few short days. Thanks to the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, Nuytco Research and McMaster University for funding our Deepwater endeavors.

I am so looking forward to embarking on the journey to come and to sharing it with all the amazing folks involved with this project.

---DSSL, June 12, 2008