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