Day 5 - Sailboat Libra Arrives and Day One of SOWG

August 8, 2008 / Written by: Jason

Early this morning the sailboat Libra ( arrived with the two SAM boxes, as well as down jackets those without – perhaps the critical piece of gear needed for long ‘sitting around sampling/taking data’ times in the field. Libra is a truly beautiful ship – an approximately 18 meter steel hulled craft built with exquisite care and attention to detail by a German craftsman for his own use, just sailed up to Svalbard by her new owners – one of whom is Lance’s Chief Officer, Eilif. She handles easily and is sturdy enough to sail through pack ice without any worries. Down below everything is perfect with beautiful and well built woodwork and stainless steel, an oil burning stove with hot water circulated to the bow and stern keeping all cozy and warm….I had serious thoughts of stowing away but duty called. She made excellent time from Longyearbyen even though she encountered pack ice on the way – sailed expertly by Sverre-Oistein, Mette, and Unni.

We offloaded the boxes and Jen and Pan went into high gear to bring the SAM GCMS fully up and running including pyrolysis capability – heaters and thermocouple temperature sensors were installed to the gas distribution manifold to bring online the injection system – then leakchecking and getting it all up and running and calibrated.

Today was the first day of simulated Mars Rover Operations (called the Science Operations Working Group, or SOWG). This is a carefully setup and choreographed exercise involving almost every AMASEr as well as the ship’s crew in support – where one team, kept ‘blind’ to anything outside of the operations room on board ship, receives and analyzes data, selects rock targets, makes operational decisions, and generates command sequences using the same procedures and a truncation of the same tactical flow as used for NASA’s Mars rovers. A second team goes into the field with the JPL CliffBot Rover, the WISDOM ground penetrating radar, the remote sensing instruments and the contact instruments – with runners from shore to ship to bring samples to additional analytical instruments – all this appears to the operations team to be a single autonomous rover on Mars.

Steve gave us an inspiring and deeply insightful introduction to the task in front of us – doing field science work not with one’s own hands, eyes, and mind as we had been doing the last days, but remotely through the eyes and instruments of a Rover and with the combined brainpower of a team of scientists and engineers – all under a terribly tight time constrained schedule. He could have taught us all the techniques he and the MER Rover operations team developed over the last several years, but instead followed a different and much more effective strategy. He set up the problem and just threw us as a novice operations team into it to sink or swim – so that we had to experience first hand all the initial failures and successes and work out solutions in a very intense and high pressure environment – heightened by the knowledge that there was a whole team of your friends out in the field freezing and waiting for your uploaded sol’s (martian day’s) commands. Garret and Torbjorn set up a datalink from the field team to the operations room on board and we were off and running.

Steve took the role of mission manager – our only contact with the Rover on ‘Mars’ and Alan was the SOWG chair for day one. I had the roll of Keeper of the Plan (KOP) – capturing the ongoing analysis and plan development and gathering all the pieces to assemble the command sequence. The scientists in the SOWG split up into science theme groups – as MSL is doing for the next Mars rover mission. We were allocated two strictly enforced hours between receipt of data from the previous sol’s downlink and the deadline for uplink of the commands. We blew our first sol as Mars rover operators when the two hour deadline hit us without the plan finished and ready to upload– and all felt very bad about this, and guilty about our comrades out in the field freezing. At this point Ashley came to our rescue particularly to my rescue, with a half hour critique session – injecting a few direct and critical pointers and giving us the benefit of her thousands of hours of MER operations. The second sol went vastly better and soon we were clicking along in high gear, analyzing the data generated by activities we had commanded the previous sol and rapidly putting together a plan of attack to move towards our mission objective of selecting and caching samples for return to Earth. Also our guilt was somewhat assuaged when the Rover/Instrument field team were sent soup and hot chocolate. Day one of the SOWG was extremely intense, exciting and challenging – indeed a peak experience for all of us, and we on the operations floor are exhausted but eager to pick up again tomorrow.


Day 5: Better Living Through Caffeination

August 8, 2008 / Written by: Marc

We are finished with the day’s “rover operations”. We got in three Sols’ worth of operations, looked at many a rock and drove the rover a whiplash-inducing, NASCAR-ish 1.5 meters! (On second thought, canc that “NASCAR” comment, as there was no left turn involved) By the third Sol, the chaos and uncertainty was largely gone and we were pretty well oiled.

There was coffee involved, actually. Claus and I discovered that there is a digital counter on the front of the coffee dispenser that records the number of cups of coffee served. We’re up to 1580 or so, and it’s become a game to get the “high score” with your coffee. Whoever gets their coffee last gets a higher number, and Claus has stated that a high enough score will get you an extra life. I’m pondering jamming the dispenser button overnight with a broomstick, and scoring a fat Cup of Coffee Number 3000 or so in the morning. That ought to at least put me high enough that I can enter my initials or something. Or a quick trip into the drink at the hands of the crew. Unless I can blame Claus for it…


Day 5: Great Whales o' Fire!

August 8, 2008 / Written by: Marc

The SOWG (“S@#$, Oh Wow – Golly!”, I think) group has been working hard for the past few hours, performing simulated rover operations. One group is out in the field somewhere, shivering. The second group is in the common room of the R/V Lance, learning how to run a rover from within a closed room. All of the data we receive comes through the rover’s cameras (so far), although we have the option of requesting a wide range of measurements. We also have to move the rover, which takes time. These measurements include remote instruments such as PANCAM, NAVCAM (like those on the MER rovers), and the contact measurements Raman (yay!) and infrared spectroscopy. From there, we have the option of collecting a sample of an interesting rock or soil and conducting pyrolysis GC-MS (the SAM instrument), XRF/XRD using the Chemin instrument, nitrogen analysis, and caching for return to Earth. We can also use a ground-penetrating radar during traverses (the WISDOM instrument). I’ll spare you all the gory details of how each of these things work. I suggest an internet search for each name if you’d like to know more, but the short version is that we can analyze all manner of aspects of the rocks and surface around the rover. In order to assemble a complete picture of whether a location contains life, did harbor life, or could have supported life at some time in the past, we need to look at a complete picture of that site – hence the mineralogy, organic compound detection, imagery, spectroscopy, and close inspection in terrestrial laboratories. Finding life is easy if you’re in the Amazon and have eyes. Finding life becomes tricky business if you’re in a cold, low-atmospheric-pressure, oxidizing, irradiated, and remote place like Mars where your data trickles down like its coming through a soda straw. If you’re looking for remnants of long-dead life, then magnify the above a bazillion-fold. Ugh.

So – we’ve got this fairly daunting task, and have to assemble all these tools, equipment demands, and a room full of people into a usable data product. I must admit that I never fully appreciated just how difficult it is to quickly analyze the trickle of data, form a plan for collecting the next day’s (or Sol’s) traversing + data/imagery collection + what-not, assimilate that data into what we already know about the site from previous work, and try to plan a step ahead to the next data cycle. All of this has to be done on a scale of minutes, in a room full of people who are all feverishly churning through their own part of the data to turn it into something meaningful, from which the next round of decisions will be based, etc. etc. etc… It is an orchestra. If you like your orchestras working on a diet of Coke, and coffee, that is. We’ve got no time for legato around here!

Plus, the rover can break.

On top of all of that, the rover operations team needs to operate on a higher analytical level at the same time. The rover will find new, unexpected discoveries like “sand” composed entirely of silica, or “blueberry” outcrops, or meteorites on the martian surface. These things need to be integrated into the compendium of knowledge-goodness that we know about Mars, and once again folded into the next set of decisions on how to operate the rover. Squyres and his team do this with a real rover on a real, distant planet, with CNN and other idiot-journalists misinterpreting the findings as they go. Yeah, I’ve got a new appreciation for this process after just a few hours of a pared-down version of it, and my hat’s off to those guys and gals. I also find that I want more of it, ‘cause I guess I can’t say no to the Coke, and coffee thing. Who knew that Mars rovers were addictive?!?

We have sent a set of commands to the rover, and now we wait for a few hours in an essentially windowless ship (we’re not supposed to look outside!) while it does its thing. This is something like sending the commands to Spirit or Opportunity, then waiting around for the next Sol’s uplink. It’s relaxing and maddening at the same time. So, now we wait …


Day 4: Pan's Entry

August 7, 2008 / Written by: Pan

Today we assembled a wonderful, interdisciplinary team of scientists to go to Sverefjell Volcano. We set out to measure the features of habitability on the snowy slopes. Our plan was to climb to the summit and make measurements on the way down. The weather does what it will, and in spite of constant snow and ever-thickening fog, we had a good crack at environmental measurments in three different sites. The fog and near white-out conditions prevented us from reaching the summit. The team of intrepid explorers included: Marilyn, Lauren, Mihaela, Linda, Jason, Marc, Claus, Henrik, Pettr and me.
At the first site, we measured:
1. Incoming solar radiation
2. Slope
3. Air temperature and humidity
4. Percentage of various observable life, eg., moss, grass, lichen, other plants, etc.
5. Temp of the surface and temp 10 cm down
6. Presence of organic molecules with induced fluorescence
7. Dominant rock type

We also collected rock samples, soil samples and biological samples. Thanks to all, and pictures and data will be posted tomorrow


Day 4: A Good Field Day

August 7, 2008 / Written by: Jason

Today it is snowing on and off, with what looks to be very poor visibility on the higher slopes. One team went ashore and headed up the volcano to carry out surveys and obtain samples for the habitability studies. The visibility at a two hundred meters was poor enough that we decided to sample the region we could see – rather than proceed higher and have snow cover over the area. Sampling went very well, as didi the in-situ measurements related to the general environment. Petter and Henrik, and Marc kept a sharp watch for polar bears, due to the short warning we would have if one happened upon us. All went well – Michaela and I were quite pleased with the clean sampling technique we used for the SAM samples.

The geology team climbed to the cave at 400 meters elevation, set up a tent with analysis equipment and brewed up some strong espresso. Svein-Erika is now an honorary field geologist, and reports that this geology stuff is good!

Andrea went to the field with FTIR, which performed very well.

A good field day – we are forming into a real team.


Day 3: AMASEry Goodness to Date

August 6, 2008 / Written by: Marc Fries


I’m Marc Fries from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and the resident Texan. My “job” here is mainly to do some Raman spectroscopy of mineral samples collected from the various field sites here. Raman has nothing to do with noodles. It’s a technique for identifying minerals, among other things. I’ve cobbled together a two-color Raman spectrometer, meaning that it uses lasers of two different colors to collect spectra. This mighty fine piece of hardware is called the Point Observation Spectrometer for Extreme Environments 2000, or P.O.S.E.E. 2k for short.

And yes, it’s a joke. But the instrument is real.

Now, one of the most important things we do here on AMASE is instrument testing. In other words, we take our wanna-be instruments out into the cold and mud and polar bears and see what breaks so that we can improve them. In that respect, the mighty fine P.O.S.E.E. 2k is an overachiever – the darned thing doesn’t work at all! The laser for one color conked out, and the spectrometer for the other did likewise. That turns my complicated piece of sophisticated, scientific equipment into a complicated paperweight.

Oh well. Research funding isn’t spent on the things that already work, ya know. It’ll all be fine, given some work once I get back to a well-equipped laboratory. It just won’t be fine while I’m out here.

Luckily for me, testing my balky equipment isn’t my only task here. I’ve got a lumbering beast of a Raman spectrometer to analyze samples brought back to the ship, and that one is working like a champ. Once we get to the Palander ice cap next week, I’ll devote my time to performing a reconnaissance for meteorites there, switching topics entirely from Raman spectroscopy to Rocks From Space. The theme is – have a plan! You don’t actually have to use it, but keep it handy.

Periodically I’m asked what kind of scientist I am. In other words, am I a geologist, or an astrobiologist, or a phlebotomist, or a witch doctor. The answer is, darned if I know. I was trained as a materials scientist with an emphasis on analytical techniques, but in the years since then I’ve picked up experience in everything from microbiology to geology to meteoritics (the study of meteorites – no weather involved!), physical geology, geophysics, various works by Slater. The answer is that I don’t know if any label fits, as far as titles go. I’m a scientist, and that answer will have to suffice. The reason I bring this up is that it applies pretty broadly to everyone here. This is a very experienced group, full of young faces that have amassed a tremendous diversity of knowledge in an extraordinary array of topics. They’re a fantastic group, which makes it extra-special bonus-fun to insult them freely and for no apparent reason. Apparently it’s called team building.

That’s it for now. I’ve spent a few days on board the R/V Lance so far, busting my gluteus on a boatload of dorks, and all is well to date. The scenery is absolutely unbelievable, the science is fascinating, the polar bears are thankfully absent for now (knock on simulated woodgrain), and the Raman spectroscopy photons are cheap and plentiful. I shall report on future madness as it unfolds.

Cheers, Marc Fries


Day 3: Pan's Entry

August 6, 2008 / Written by: Pan

I came here to do three things:

Study habitability as a function of several environmental factors

Do some experiments with an instrument that is similar to one going to Mars next year. I’m a member of the science team for that Mars instrument (called SAM), and I want to learn as much as I can about the chemical evidence of “bio-friendly” environments.

And my team is interested in optical techniques that can help scientists select rock targets of interest on Mars and other planets. If one can select the target that is most likely to yield an interesting result before hacking or drilling it open, that one can minimize the use of precious, possibly non-renewable resources.


Day 3: Ice Cores Return and Field Instruments

August 6, 2008 / Written by: Jason

Eilif has us participating in a Lance tradition – a daily photo contest open to everyone on the ship. Each day has a theme such as ‘landscape’ or ‘light’ and all entries are due by 10 pm in the bridge – images as taken without any processing with software. All of us, AMASErs and Lance crew alike are avidly printing out our best shots.the judge is Kjell Ove – our brilliant expedition photographer – who not only documents the expedition but is an experienced arctic explorer who knows so much about this arctic world – he helps keep us all safe and well. All entries regardless of ranking get his comments and insightful critique on the back. Am very proud of my second place landscape – of which Kjell Ove said: “a beautiful classic landscape, well balanced and good to look at.” Today I was part of a team that went back to the glacier to retrieve the ice cores – originally intended to be retrieved by helicopter, but now to be packed out by AMASE ‘mules’ – the backup plan. The WISDOM team (Svein-Erik and Mats) joined us to begin the Ground Penetrating Radar study of the ice depth and other transitions at the top meter or so of the glacier. The hike up the glacier was great – were dropped off by boat on a perfect little beach just in front of the glacier, and was a short hike up to the cores. As the ice-girls (Jen and Liane) with Paolo helping set about drilling a couple of additional cores, and as our leader Pan and Dominique kept watch for polar bears – I found this place so quiet and calm and beautiful that I decided to take a nap.set up some pads, pulled my hood down over my eyes, and just drifted off. We brought all the cores down and they are safely in the ice lab – also known as the ‘red tent’ as it is an on-deck facility the ship’s crew set up for the processing of the cores. A second team including a good number of ‘mules’ was all set ashore and on deck to go hike back up to Troll springs to pack the water samples out when the Helicopter , taking advantage of an opportune break in the weather providing good visibility to land on Lance’s helipad, showed up with a team of Japanese scientists. This nixed the back up water retrieval plan, and the helicopter retrieved all the water for the Troll Patrol’s analysis on board.

Nicole took Pamcam out to the field, in the vicinity destined to be ‘Mars’ for the upcoming Mars Science Operations exercise. She did imaging and set about checking and operating pancam with very good results. Fernando took the Raman/IR contact instrument out to the same site as pancam to take some measurements and prepare for the Operations exercise. The Sailboat Libra set sail from Longyearbyen with the two SAM boxes safely aboard, headed to Bockfjorden. We ate Morten’s wonderful fresh fish for dinner – cooked with a marvelous rich cream sauce. Was a great AMASE day.


Day 2: Alan's Entry

August 5, 2008 / Written by: Alan

Despite the gnarly weather, the CheMin team headed up Sverefjell and successfully demonstrated CheMin in challenging field conditions. Within 30 minutes of arrival (including a leisurely lunch), we had CheMin running, identifying minerals, and finding a new one for the site.

We climbed up to the ‘Ice Cave’ locale on the NE ridge of Sverrefjellet, ascending from rock to snow and into falling snow fog. At the ‘Ice Cave,’ we set up CheMin, and it started immediately, run by wireless from a PC. Svein-Erik, normally a Ground Penetrating Radar expert (of the WISDOM team) today became a field geologist – he found a piece of the rare carbonate formation from the cave (poking out from the snow). We dried it to powder, and poured it into CheMin’s cell. Within 20 seconds, we had the mineralogy: magnesite (which we knew was there), and dolomite (which was a new find!).

Our other goals, systematic sample collection and search for more carbonate deposits, remain frustrated. It’s tough to collect rocks with 10 cm of snow on the ground, and even harder to find white carbonate deposits in a whiteout. Monday we’ll try again; after all “Tomorrow is another day!”

“Watch out where the huskies go, And don’t you eat that yellow snow!”

Frank Zappa, RIP


Day 2: The Troll Patrol

August 5, 2008 / Written by: Verena

Svalbard is one of my most favorite places to be in the it came to the point where I made the decision to concentrate my research project for my dissertation on Svalbard. I am interested in the adaptation of microorganisms to extreme and changing environmental conditions. Investigating this process has the potential to help us better understand how adaptation has occurred in a wide range of terrestrial and possibly extraterrestrial settings. Troll Springs on Svalbard provides a perfect site to study these processes.

Already in Longyearbyen we put together a team (Verena, Marilyn, Mihaela, Lauren, Dominique, Garret, Steve, Kjell Ove), called the Troll Patrol, whose job is to hike to Troll Springs and assist me with the sampling. I had a plan, I knew what I wanted to sample and had an idea how to do it, but reality is much different than theory. Our ship reached Bockfjorden much later than anticipated, which put us into the tactical position where the Troll Patrol had to decide if we wanted to sample over night or go out the next day. Due to time pressure and enabled by the constant daylight we decided to hike to Troll Springs in the evening, sample over night and come back in the morning.

It was colder in the Bockfjorden area than I had experienced in the previous years. Snow and ice was lying on the beach where the boat dropped us off; something I hadn’t seen before. The wind was sharp, biting our face and we still had a long walk in front of us. But the cold couldn’t take our spirits. Team members who had been to Troll in the past couldn’t wait to be back and newbies were looking forward to seeing the Springs. Occasionally we stopped to admire the landscape, plants and rocks, but time was passing by quickly. One of our biggest challenges were several small river crossings. The worst thing I could imagine at that moment was getting wet, cold feet and still having several hours of walking and sampling in front of me. So we got out our big plastic bags, put them over our boots and legs and crossed the rivers – staying dry.

After four hours of hiking, we finally reached Troll Spring. The first moments we just stood there and admired the beauty of the springs and terraces. It was great to be back. One thing I didn’t account for in my theoretical sampling strategy and plan was snow. Although it started snowing very heavily it couldn’t stop us from sampling and enjoying our time at Troll springs. We had to be constantly vigilant – always very careful that no one would get hypothermia. It was getting late – and very cold. Slowly the team got tired. We sampled precisely, wrapped up our stuff and left it cached at Troll for the helicopter to retrieve when the weather cleared, and hiked back towards the ship after five hours of very successful work at the spring.

It is amazing how much strength one can have in important and critical situations. Although everybody in the team was tired, we always paid attention to what was happening around us, watched out for polar bears, but also kept walking and walking. When we crossed the rivers we didn’t bother anymore to put on our plastic bags. We knew that we would be home soon after a very long day (and night). We reached the ship just in time in time for a wonderful breakfast made by Emil the cook and Kristin and Marianne the mess crew.

I am very proud of the Troll Patrol. Although we didn’t plan for snow, cold wind and overnight sampling, we all did a great job. And there is something else I realized that night/day: one can have the best sampling strategy, but it is the team standing behind you that will get you were you need to be and compete your task successfully accomplishing your goals. AMASE doesn’t just mean being and doing science in a great place like Svalbard, but it also means working with a great bunch of people, who are my mentors and friends. One thing that I have learned from this expedition is that the success of the expedition depends on everyone on the team putting the team first; putting the group objectives before their personal objectives.