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Reports from the 2009 arctic Mars analogue Svalbard expedition

Posted by Adrienne Kish

06-10-2009 18:35 CDT

Topics: Earth analogs

During AMASE 2009, the expedition's goals were to integrate and test two new instruments for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover and four for ESA's ExoMars rover using the FIDO (Field Integrated Design and Operations) rover from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as an advanced mobility platform, as well as test protocols for the future Mars Sample Return mission. We received updates from Juan Rodriguez-Blanco, a postdoctoral researcher from the Earth Surface Sciences Institute, University of Leeds, and also from Adrienne Kish, a postdoctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institution of Washington Geophysical Laboratory.

August 3: Arctic Arrival
August 4: Duct Tape and Coat Hangers in Ny-Alesund
August 5: Setting Up and Breaking It All Down
August 6: The Goddess Appears
August 7: Rifles and Ice Cores and Bears, Oh My!
August 9: Late Night Lance
August 11: Life on Ice
August 13: AMASE reunited
August 14: Rock the Bock(fjord)
August 15: The Goddess Departs
August 16: From Muddy Depths to Whale Spouts
August 17: Searching for Marvin the Martian in Murchison
August 18: The View From Inside a Windowless Box: The SOWG
August 19: A Final SLIce of Glacial Ice
August 20: Dining with the Men in Black
August 25: The End of the Road

Arctic Arrival

August 3, 2009

Ticket desk...security checkpoint...remove laptop, shoes, liquids...find gate...kill time until boarding call...board plane...try to sleep, watch bits of movies, eat...land...deplane... Ticket desk...security checkpoint...remove laptop, shoes, liquids...find gate...kill time until boarding call...board plane...try to sleep, watch bits of movies, eat...land...deplane... Ticket desk...security checkpoint...remove laptop, shoes, liquids...find gate...kill time until boarding call...board plane...try to sleep, watch bits of movies, eat...land...deplane...Welcome to the start of AMASE!

After 36 hours or more of flying and all the jet lag, the first view of Svalbard does not disappoint. Such a stark beauty with dramatic geology rising out of the ocean bearing floating chunks of ice reminding you that you've officially left the August heat and humidity much closer to the equator back home. The AMASErs rallied together in Longyear on the island of Svalbard from all over the globe and collectively tried to get our bearings through the mental fog of jet lag in the land of the midnight sun. There is nothing quite like wandering around the town site and wondering why you are tired in broad daylight and then realizing it's 2 am.

A group of us including our fearless expedition leaders, the Mars rover crew from NASA JPL, members of the Slice team from NASA Goddard, the Life Marker Chip team from NASA Marshall and Charles River Laboratories, and scientists from the Carnegie Institution of Washington all traveled north to Ny-Alesund to the northernmost permanently inhabited research outpost on Earth to be joined later by the rest of the AMASErs arriving on the research vessel Lance. The view of glaciers flowing down mountains on all sides and rock meeting water with blue ice floating past makes every documentary film scene you've ever seen of the Arctic pale in comparison to the real deal. You're left with a sense of being so small in relation to the hugeness of the world around you.

We are going to be busy unpacking and checking out the status of our instruments after the rigors of so many transfers through cargo holds in anticipation of getting to sink our teeth into the very Mars-like environment around us (of course only the geologists will literally bite into the rocks, or at least lick them...a phenomenon that will never make sense to the microbiologist!). The scenery is breathtaking, the scientists are ready, (most) of the equipment and personal gear has arrived, and we are ready to start racking up the science. Let AMASE 2009 begin!

Duct Tape and Coat Hangers in Ny-Alesund

August 4, 2009

Today saw the transformation of bare labs and storage warehouses into fully equipped biology and biogeochemistry facilities and Mars rover assembly rooms. True to the adventure of space exploration, most teams had to deal with parts missing or malfunctioning, resulting in some inspired MacGyver solutions. Alternatives were found, packages located, and sciences moved along. When you are working in a remote area far from civilization, or on Mars for that matter, you work with what you have and deal with the challenges as they arise. The show must go on, and so does the science. The peace and quiet of Ny-Alesund was periodically disturbed by the arrival of cruise ships chock full of ecotourists packing zoom lenses the length of their arms coming to view the quaint scientists and colorful buildings. Just wait until a cruise ship docks and sees a Mars rover picking up rocks--it'll be a paparazzi outbreak that will make people wonder if Paris Hilton was visiting the arctic. We are now set up and ready to start hauling in the samples and putting the instruments to work.

Setting Up and Breaking It All Down

August 5, 2009

The sun was shining on the glaciers all day yesterday, giving us a chance to take some spectacular photos in between projects. It also resulted in an abundance of "small" icebergs let loose into the water in the bay, so we were treated to a flotilla of blue ice moving slowly past the windows of the Marinlab facility while we worked. We were able to review cleaning protocols for instruments involved in analyses ranging from biology to organic chemistry. This also provided an opportunity a lot of laughter with AMASErs in clean room suits doing interpretive dances of the motions of cellular molecules that gave researchers from other groups working in the Marinlab some entertainment value.

The project for the next few days is rover operations with engineers putting the Athena rover to work picking up rocks with the bio team does planetary protection studies to determine rover cleaning and handling protocols so as to not introduce biological contamination from us to the rover. Meanwhile the rest of the AMASE team is assembling in Longyear going through lists of supplies and getting ready to load up the research vessel Lance before swinging up to Ny-Alesund to pick us up on August 10 on the way to the fjords for sample collection.

The Goddess Appears

August 6, 2009

The goddess Athena (otherwise known as the FIDO rover) was had her first public appearance on Svalbard today, and in fact as I write this at 11 pm the team is still out coaxing Athena into picking up various sizes of rocks and storing them in her sample chambers in an activity designed as a prototype for a future Mars sample return. The rover team has done an outstanding job of overcoming some technical difficulties including a temporarily blind robot to get the rover out and doing the science she was built for. The bio team was involved from the side of planetary protection, swabbing the sampling areas of the rover both before and after a special cleaning protocol that has been developed over years of AMASE expeditions to remove all biological and organic material from equipment designed to capture environmental samples to test for life and the molecules necessary to support life. The rover sampling areas were swabbed and then analyzed by a suite of instruments and techniques including DNA extractions and tests for the energy molecule of life (ATP), as well as instruments involved in the technology testing aspects of the AMASE expedition including the life marker chip making its field debut in style, with fantastic results already.

Tomorrow the newbies on AMASE are taking part in Arctic safety classes so we can be ready to head out to the hills on field sampling trips. We are also hoping the fog that had us socked in all day today lifts and we can get a better look at the mountains and glaciers around us. We have a lot of work to do before the Lance research vessel arrives on Sunday with the balance of the AMASE team on board, but we are enjoying the scenery and camaraderie of the Ny-Alesund research outpost in the meanwhile.

Rifles and Ice Cores and Bears, Oh My!

August 7, 2009

There were dark circles under many eyes and not a few sore shoulders today from the ice coring team after they returned from the glacier very late last night carrying 35 kilograms (80 pounds) of ice and metal each. The good news is that the 24-hour daylight makes the long hikes back at midnight easier to navigate! We are busy trying to finish up science analyses of the cores in anticipation of the arrival of the Lance with the rest of the AMASE crew late tomorrow night. It will be good to see everyone again and head off to the fjords in the north of Spitsbergen to the field sites there.

Meanwhile the goddess rover Athena underwent some cataract surgery in an attempt to fix some vision issues with the cameras. Right now she requires guide dogs (or in this case rocket scientists) to point her in the right direction. With good luck and some engineering marvels by the JPL rover team, she’ll be ready for deployment after transport by the Lance to the field sites.

We are all signing off for the night now after a nightcap at the bar at the top of the world with fellow Ny-Alesund staff and visiting scientists. It's quite amazing to meet these people from all over the world and find out how they ended up this close to the north pole to do research of every kind. (Some of that research requires us to shut off all our wireless or Bluetooth devices here due to science investigations using those frequencies.)

There are groups of Indians, Koreans, Americans, French, Norwegians, Brits, and more, all with research buildings here. Ny-Alesund really is just a research campus -- a collection of various dorm buildings, the research houses for each permanent group here, a recreation building with a gym and lounge, a tiny post office, a shop that opens when a tourist ship arrives, the mess hall, and the Marinlab. And the bar that is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays for everyone to come together and unwind in a small room with blackout curtains to give the feel that it's night outside -- if you can ignore the broad daylight streaking into the room every time someone walks into the door.

Tomorrow we load up the Lance and resupply those of us staying a bit longer in Ny-Alesund, so for now it is time for blindfolds and ear plugs and sweet dreams of fjords and glaciers....

Ny-Alesund
Ny-Alesund
You will not find any other inhabited place if you move north. This is the most septentrional settlement of the world.
Juan Diego Rodriguez

Late Night Lance

August 8, 2009

The simple explanation for why there was no blog entry for yesterday is that yesterday rather bled into today -- it's all a bit of a blur. Science being what it is, we were processing samples until the wee hours of the morning and headed to bed for a quick one-hour nap before rising from the dead to meet the Lance as it arrived at the Ny-Alesund harbor. Tired eyes with dark and puffy circles greeted each other from either side of the railing of the R/V Lance, but smiles were found all around as we were reunited with friends and colleagues as the research vessel docked. Hugs all around transitioned into an exchange of gear between the lab in Ny-Alesund and the ship as we reset ourselves for the next phase of AMASE 2009. The ship departed to shouts and laughter and faded into the fog to float along side the icebergs on the way up the island of Spitsbergen to the next field site.

Weather has not been on our side so far this trip, so the activities of the next week are based on a nominal plan which I'm sure will be on to Contingency Plan B or C by the time we finish our coffee and get a feel for what the weather will be like both in Ny-Alesund and for the Lance crew up further north. Helicopters will be used to ferry field scientists and equipment between field sites and labs, and the science show will go on, with allowances made for the notorious variability of the weather in mountainous areas.

And with that we will sign off for the night, and wander off to find out beds in an attempt to catch up on a bit of rest before doing it all over again. It's tiring and sometimes difficult, but it is always rewarding and at the end of the day when you look out and where you are you realize that no matter what worked that day and what didn't you are working at the top of the world and that is an AMASing thing.

The ship Lance in Bockfjorden
The ship Lance in Bockfjorden
Bockfjorden is an amazing fjord system that stretches towards several mountain ridges of different geological ages. There are alpine summits of old granite rocks, Devonian red sandstones, three volcanic cones, hot springs and large glacier fronts that reach the sea.
Juan Diego Rodriguez

Life on Ice

August 11, 2009

You know you are in for a good day when the first thing you do after breakfast is to get fitted for a pair of crampons. Backpacks were loaded with science gear for sampling the microbial life in glacial ice and ice coring gear, not to mention warm clothes, food, and hot chocolate and we headed out to the field site. Did I mention that our ride was a helicopter...? This was my first time in a helicopter, and I must say that it is a pretty sweet ride!

We swung by the Lance and landed on the deck to say hello to the other half of the AMASE 2009 team and grab some lunch before flying out again to the field site on a glacier in Bockfjorden. I am a girl with a love for mountains and snow and ice, but I have to say that getting dropped off by a helicopter on a glacier with the sun glinting off the surface of blue ice as pure, clear water winds its way around rocks and ice in its unceasing path to the fjord below blew away any previous experiences in mountains.

A view from the landscape while flying by helicopter
A view from the landscape while flying by helicopter
Juan Diego Rodriguez
Cryoconites in glacier ice
Cryoconites in glacier ice
Cryoconite are a water filled cylindrical melt-holes that can be easily found on glacial ice surface. The size of these holes is variable but always in the range of centimetres. At bottom of the holes, there is dark material that absorbs solar radiation and promotes melting of the ice beneath it, forming these cylindrical holes. This cryoconites play an important role in the glacier ecosystems because many kinds of living organisms (algae, tardigrada, insects and ice worm) can found nutrients and thrive.
Juan Diego Rodriguez

The view during the flight from Ny-Alesund to Bockfjorden gives you an idea of what they mean when you hear about the polar ice caps. Here we are mid-summer in North America, thinking of our colleagues back home clinging to their air conditioners for dear life in the blistering heat, and we have nothing but mountain peaks and ice in every direction. It is truly beyond description. We sampled runoff water from the glacier, took ice cores, sampled rocks for biology, and sampled the biomass-rich sediment at the bottom of water melt holes called 'cryoconites'. We even had some time to spare before the helicopter came to pick us up to poise for a few shots of us in our white Tyvek bunny suits (worn along with surgical-type gloves to keep us from contaminating the ice coring equipment with our own personal biology) on the white glacier. With the rifles we carried for polar bear protection and the white snow suits on the glacier pack all we needed were the skies to recreate a scene from a James Bond film!

The SLICE team studying life in ice was only one of five AMASE teams out in the field today. Other groups were out in Bockfjorden conducting reconnaissance for rover deployment sites, sampling hot springs, and collecting rocks for geological analyses. It was a VERY full day of science. The scenery could not have been more breathtaking, the science goals for the day were reached, and a generally satisfied feeling was felt as we all packed it in for the day. The science rolls on over the next three days until we do a rotation with some people coming off the Lance, field samples in tow, to continue their scientific analyses in the lab at Ny-Alesund, while other Ny-Alesund-based scientists rotate onto the Lance to sample new field sites. In that time we will have a rover deployment to pick up rock samples; practice a Mars sample return-type scenario for sample caching; do field geology and biology sampling in Bockfjorden; test instruments developed as part of the AMASE ASTEP grant from NASA for in situ field analyses; and more ice coring. It's full steam ahead for AMASE 2009!

Dressing for sample collection
Dressing for sample collection
If you want to obtain the cleanest samples in glacier ice, you have to be appropriately dressed for the occasion! No biological contamination can occur during the sample handling, so all precautions have to be taken. From left to right: Adrienne Kish, Jennifer Eigenbrode, Juan Diego Rodriguez-Blanco (coring) and Liane Benning having fun during a short break.
Juan Diego Rodriguez

AMASE reunited

August 13, 2009

The AMASE crews were united today thanks to several helicopter lifts from Ny-Alesund and some willing and able volunteers who established a tent camp on shore to free up enough rooms for all the Ny-Alesund personnel to move onto the ship. Props to go out to the helicopter pilot and mechanics who worked some serious magic getting all seven of us and our gear safely onto the deck of the Lance before the weather closed in, safety being next to godliness on an expedition like this. We are all settling in to our new environment and will spend the day setting up labs here with all the equipment boxed up from the lab in Ny-Alesund. Once we have our labs up and running here alongside the labs already in place on the Lance we will continue work on all our various projects.

The view of Bockfjorden is varied, with red mountains on one side of the fjord and a volcano on the other side, pitch black with broad patches of green showing the fertility of the volcanic soil. The view is especially good from the hot tub set up on deck to work the kinks out of sore muscles after long days of work.

The field teams are preparing to head out after lunch today after very productive day yesterday. We arrived on the Lance to find only the crew on board; everyone was out doing their science, which qualifies as a very good day. Those of us who are new to the Lance are figuring out the rhythm of life on the ship, while the AMASE newbies are also preparing for the welcome initiation rite of passage this evening. The goal is to unite the crew, old-timers and newbies, and to have a good laugh while we're at it. We are a large group so this is a good way to actually get to know everyone and put faces to names.

Further postings will trickle out as we have limited email access relying on satellites. The expedition is moving northward as weather allows to access additional field sites depending on fog and ice conditions in the fjords. We will keep you updated as we go.

Rock the Bock(fjord)

August 14, 2009

Bockfjorden is a scientific playground to say the least! There is every kind of interesting geology and biology to play with, and today we had about 30 people in multiple locations harvesting samples for analysis.

For those of us who just arrived on the Lance, we jumped into the stream of fieldwork in Bockfjorden that was started by our AMASE teammates several days ago while we were still in Ny-Alesund. It was a good way to get a feel for our new site. The ship deck sees the departure of packs half-filled with food and extra warm clothes, and the arrival of packs over-stuffed with rocks and biological samples.  The various analytical labs are in full swing after everyone shovels down some dinner. Everyone is busy seeing exactly what was in those samples they carried down to the ship. Dinners here are not to be missed -- there is nothing like eating fish that was swimming an hour previously after a full day outside! We are all enjoying the food and the company and the science.

The Goddess Departs

August 15, 2009

Sampling was in full swing again today at Bockfjorden. It was a busy day because it was the last day of helicopter support. There were teams up the volcano sampling the geology and biology, as well as teams on the rocky peaks and along the glaciers. Everyone came back with bags full of scientific treasures and contented smiles on their faces before collapsing into the fatigue after a full day hiking.

We sadly had to say goodbye to some of our rover teammates as the Athena rover operations came to a close with great successes had along the way. We were also able then to be reunited with five of our teammates who had been sleeping in a tent camp on land and celebrate the 60th birthday of Dave Blake, scientist and storyteller extraordinaire. One last day in Bockfjorden before we move on....

From Muddy Depths to Whale Spouts

August 16, 2009

Today we wrapped up science operations at Bockfjorden with trips out to Jotun and Troll springs as well as glacier-based science. The hikes out to Jotun and Troll (especially Troll) springs are strenuous at best, and judging from the sounds of the war stories from the field told over dinner tonight, there were a few close encounters of the muddy kind. It's one thing to get a little mud on your shoes, or even mud up to your ankles, but sinking into mud up to your knees is quite an event! Everyone made it back safe and sound with samples in tow -- and then headed straight to the laundry and showers to remove the remnants of the day's activities from their clothes.

For those of us on the glacier today, we had clear skies and sunshine to keep us warm while out on the ice. A habitability study looking into the conditions for life in ice was conducted, as well as instrument testing from the ESA ExoMars team. For those of us who had never done extensive work on ice, we also were treated to lessons in the use of crampons that will come in handy later in the trip on the glaciers further north on Svalbard.

We wrapped up today with the start of our steam away from Bockfjorden and up to Murchisonfjorden. We were treated to the site of whale spouts as we steamed by, but no polar bear sightings despite our best efforts fueled by rumors of bears feasting on a whale carcass along our travel path. We are off to bed now after a long day to get ready for whatever awaits us at Murchison.

Searching for Marvin the Martian in Murchison

August 17, 2009

Searching for Marvin the Martian in Murchinson

The Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) kicked off today after an overnight steam to Murchisonfjord. This exercise is designed to simulate a rover mission on Mars, with those of us on the science team working from a windowless room receiving only data files as would be received from an actual Mars rover with its instrument suite and cameras. The difference is in our case the 'rover' is the field team of AMASErs out on the field site carrying all the cameras and instruments, setting them up on the rocks, taking measurements or photos and then sitting around waiting for us to make up our minds on what we should do next from our windowless box after we receive the data. Those of us sipping our hot coffee in our nice little heated room were in quite a sharp contrast to those sitting out on exposed rocks in sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures watching ice float past....we felt bad, but not THAT bad (at least WE were inside and warm!!!).

The exercise is supervised by Dr. Steve Squyres, who has had a tiny bit of experience as the principal investigator responsible for the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) missions still alive and kicking on the surface of Mars after an unbelievable five years (they were designed to stay working for roughly three months). The science team locked in isolation had the advantage of several experienced MER operations team members and other NASA and ESA personnel who had been through similar exercises before. We are given the opportunity to use the collection of space experts on AMASE to see what running a rover mission to look for evidence of past life on Mars would be like. The actual instruments that have been designed for use on future Mars rovers are being field-tested on AMASE, so the simulation is particularly accurate and we are able to learn a lot from the exercise.

We'll be continuing the SOWG for at least one more day depending on weather conditions so that none of the field 'rover' team gets too cold out there while we are deciding what rock to analyze next from our warm and cozy living room on board Lance. Then the 'rover' team will take us out to the site to see if it looks anything like what we had pictured in our minds based on only pictures and instrument data. This should be a very interesting experience.

The View From Inside a Windowless Box: The SOWG

August 18, 2009

While we slumbered in our racks last night, the Lance arrived -- somewhere.  We were not told where we were or what we would find around us if we got off the ship since it was time for the SOWG.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with NASA (or any other space agency for that matter!), let me start by explaining that NOTHING can be done in space flight without the use of acronyms. I think that rockets would fail to launch if their payload wasn't endowed with an acronym that was at once descriptive and formed a word that could be shouted into microphones. Today we were awash in WISDOM, Pancam, VisOdom, LIBS, GPR, and of course the SOWG, led by Steve Squyres of Mars Exploration Rover fame.  In what is known as the Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) Squyres used his experience in using science payloads on remotely controlled rovers to analyze rocks on another planet to run a simulation of a week in the life of a Mars rover science team.  The team's goal was to use the rover to find a sample to return to Earth that bore potential indications of water alteration and/or the potential for past life.

This is a simulation of how the rovers are run, and we had the distinct advantage of having members of the Mars Exploration Rover SOWG from NASA as well as instrument leads from payloads on both NASA's Mars Science Lab team and the ESA ExoMars team present on AMASE, both of which are scheduled to launch in the next few years, to run the simulation. It's equivalent to training pilots how to fly using nothing but their instrument displays instead of looking out of the cockpit window.

We had to find and analyze rocks we thought bore traces of past life, decide how to image and analyze them, get the data back, and store the sample for transport back to "Earth." In our case, however, the 'rover' was actually a team of roughly 10 AMASErs sitting outside in the cold all day long doing what we commanded them to do as the 'rover,' sending the data via USB key back to the ship, running the actual analyses with the instruments since they are not actually attached to the rover on AMASE, and sending the data over to the SOWG group locking into an isolated room for us to analyze.

It is a great learning experience, and even more so with the actual instrument leads present. After it was all said and done, they took us out into the field to see if what we thought we were looking at in the photos was realistic to what the outcrop actually was. It turns out we weren't far off. We were at the famed stromatolite outcrops in Murchison Fjord.  Stromatolites are defined by Wikipedia as "layered accretionary structures formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding and cementation of sedimentary grains by biofilms of microorganisms, especially cyanobacteria (commonly known as blue-green algae). They include some of the most ancient records of life on Earth."

The site was a dream for the AMASErs, who ran around taking photos of every rock in site. We learned a lot about how a real rover mission is run, and how precise you have to be in giving instructions to a rover. The main things you get out of this is how long it takes to have a rover do what a field scientist could do, and how far off your perceptions of a photograph are from what the real outcrop looks like. Those are lessons that the instruments leads for ExoMars and Mars Science Lab will put to good use when their missions kick off in a the next few years!

A Final SLIce of Glacial Ice

August 19, 2009

Team SLIce, led by Jennifer Eigenbrode, was accompanied by quite a team of assistants for the last glacial ice coring site for AMASE ’09 at a location called Ismaesestranda.  Field biologists came along to help collect environmental samples to study back on Lance to gain a better understanding of the resources available for microbial life in the glacial ice as well as cataloging the microbes themselves.

We also had a group of buff and manly men to serve as polar bear safety lookouts with their flare guns and rifles to protect us from the beasts who left those gigantic paw prints in the sand on the shore while we dug around in the ice. Besides guarding us from being eaten by ice bears, they also served as a Sherpa team to carry 35-kilogram (80-pound) ice cores in aluminum barrels standing roughly a meter (four feet) high back down the glacier to the labs aboard Lance. The award for best display of Norwegian manliness goes to Morton for carrying not one but TWO ice cores down on his back. It took 5 people to get the pack on his back since the weight is hard to balance with a load that size, not to mention the fact that the weight broke the waistbelt on the pack and it had to be TIED to his waist.  He wandered back down that glacier like he was strolling in a park!

The sampling went well and the ladies of SLIce came off the ice with smiles on their faces.  The adventure wasn't quite over, however. The floating icebergs between the shore of the sampling site and the Lance were simply too tempting to pass by -- so we didn't! Ice axes were put to good use as Lianne gathered samples of sediments buried in the floating ice before we returned to the Lance. Science can be a LOT of fun when you are in the arctic!!

Dining with the Men in Black

Adrienne Kish
August 20, 2009

Today was a day for spectacular displays. It started fairly ordinarily, with us gazing at passing icebergs between science analyses. An iceberg bearing patches of sediment was spotted, floating ever closer to the Lance, providing a prime opportunity for Lianne Benning to collect another iceberg sediment sample. We watched as the iceberg floated closer...and closer...then we hung over the railing of the deck to watch it get even closer...WHAM!

The iceberg broke apart against the well-built hull of the Lance, causing the tallest section to nearly flip over as we stood in amazement on the deck watching the spectacle of the arctic in front of us. Of course then, being scientists, the first thoughts ran to sampling! The ever-ready Lance crew dropped a zodiac into the water and with expert ability maneuvered a boatload of scientists safely through the field of ice chunks that, minutes before, had constituted a single iceberg.  The crew  found a chunk of sediment with a safe approach for Lianne to swing her ice axe at and collect a sample while the rest of us in the boat formed a safety chain holding onto Lianne in her safety suit, just in case. Jennifer Eigenbrode then had her turn sampling, collecting sea water from around the iceberg into sterile jars for analysis back in the lab. Let no opportunity go to waste in the service of science (and fun)!

The second must-see event of the day started at 5:00 pm. Field teams returned, survival suits were removed, layers of down, Gore-Tex, smart wool, polypropylene, and fleece were exchanged for crisp white shirts, black pants, ties, and suit jackets, shiny black dress shoes, and of course the Ray Bans for the Men in Black AMASE 2009 wrap-up dinner. It was quite a transformation for a group used to seeing each other covered in mud and eight layers of clothing! Speeches were made, people were thanked, and the laughter rang out at Steelie and Hans as science and expedition leaders toasted the members of the AMASE ’09 team.

We have become a team whereas 3 weeks ago we were simply professional acquaintances and an international assemblage of scientists. We shared good food, hilarious stories, and toasted the success of the field science which is nearly completed. It's hard to imagine that this wild ride is almost over, but for tonight we are focusing on being in the moment and enjoying each other.

The End of the Road

August 25, 2009

The end of AMASE felt like it happened in a flash, but really it came over the course of four days that blended into what felt like a single moment, so that is how I chose to share the experience with you. Now sit back, feel the sleep deprivation, and enjoy reading about the End of the Road for AMASE 2009.

Aug 21, 9pm-9am: The Captain of the Lance had us batten down the hatches and secure all our science gear for transit as we left Imasestranda in the midst of rough seas with the potential for high winds and waves. For those of us newbies who had never been on a sea voyage before, it was rather reassuring to see how relaxed the entire Norwegian crew was as water came spraying over the sides of the boat. We spent the night rocking up and down with the waves as we took to the open ocean to start our return to Longyearbyen and then home.

Aug 22, 9am-5pm: Seasickness has claimed a good portion of the AMASErs who were forced to forgo breakfast in favor of a handful of anti-nauseates. The rough seas had those who were able to rouse themselves from bed clinging to railings when the boat bucked and rocked. It's quite an experience to watch the water from the shower spout increase in angle from vertical towards the horizontal. Science experiments were concluded and gear packed up for storage as the realization that this year's AMASE expedition was coming to an end.

5pm-6pm: In true AMASE tradition, we all donned our black suits and Ray-Bans for the Men in Black 2009 photo shoot. We came armed with our 'weapons' -- rifles and flare guns, ice axes, rock hammers, knives, ice coring barrels, and of course light sabers and succeeded in scaring the three locals staying in the cabin next to our photo shoot location. We continued the fun on the deck of the Lance taking group shots of each of the science teams as well as NASA, ESA, and Carnegie teams. It's a fun way of preserving the memories of the expedition thanks to Kjell Ove’s mad skills with a camera, and his quickness which prevented a great deal of hypothermia, especially for the ladies of AMASE who opted for cocktail dresses instead of suits which could hide layers of thermal underwear! The sacrifices women make for a good photo!

6pm-1am: Arrival in Ny-Alesund to pack up gear for storage for next year's AMASE expedition and unload into the King's Bay warehouse. This is a homecoming of sorts for those of us who worked in the Marinlab for nearly two weeks at the start of the expedition. You realize just how much gear it takes to run the kind of ambitious science program that this year's AMASErs engaged in when you see all the boxes and gas tanks lined up in the warehouse. The Lance crew was invaluable in helping to hoist huge loads of gear from the ship's hold to the deck as science operations were wrapped up for AMASE 2009. The break on solid land was much needed for those who had suffered from sea-sickness. We loaded back onto the Lance a ton lighter and continued our steam towards civilization.

Aug 23, 1am-1pm: The open ocean once again claimed its victims of seasickness and the rocking motion of the Lance in the rough seas turned into more of a cork-screw motion. Those who went on deck either to breathe fresh air and gain their bearings or to check on science equipment in the labs on deck were treated to the alternating views of sea then sky then sea then sky as the ship bobbed up and down in the waves.

1pm: The Lance docks in Longyearbyen and then the frenetic motions of unloading begin. The rover was raised from the hold and placed into a truck for transport to another ship to begin its voyage home by sea. Action packers full of beakers, hoses, instruments, samples, and of course duct tape were delivered to Pole Position for air delivery back to everyone's home labs. It was a bittersweet experience saying goodbye to the crew of the Lance who had made our trip so enjoyable. They helped lift and load, delivered us to field sites, fed us, kept everything clean, made us laugh, woke us up, and gave us all reasons to smile. We watched as another science team loaded their gear onto Lance and stored food for their voyage in the hold. It's hard to believe that our expedition is over....

5pm-Unholy Early AM: Naps, showers, and souvenir shopping were the orders of the day before enjoying a last supper together. Laughter and camaraderie set the mood as a group of scientists who were acquaintances three weeks ago left as a team of AMASErs. Quick naps were caught before 2:30am wake-up calls and 3am taxis to the Longyearbyen airport for 4am flights from Svalbard back to the mainland of Norway. Hugs were shared all around as each flight took off. We are all running on pure adrenaline at this point -- that and endless rounds of coffee as we wait to board our flights. Snoring and drooling AMASErs were comatose before the wheels were even stowed after take off.

Aug 24. Who-knows-what-time-or-time-zone-anymore….: The entire day was a whirlwind of security checkpoints, boarding lounges, airport cafes for coffee runs, "What can I get you to drink?", "Do you want the chicken or the pasta?", bag checks, passport control, and cattle gate mazes of passengers waiting for the next checkpoint. You could identify the AMASErs in the airports by the side-to-side rocking motion we all had as a left-over from our time on the Lance. We arrived back in Washington DC to two very confusing phenomena after nearly four weeks in the arctic: (1) heat and humidity (it's a shock to the system to go from 0C to 28C….not to mention all the layers of warm clothes we were shedding along the way as the temperature increased!), and (2) darkness. It's amazing how confusing darkness is after weeks of 24-hour sunlight. The DC locals welcomed us home with a good show of DC manners -- hurried people pushed past and around us and all our gear just to remind us that we were back in the hustle and bustle of a major metropolis again. Exhaustion set in as we headed back to the lab to store precious samples in fridges and freezers before we could escape home and indulge in hot baths, beds that didn't rock, and some serious alone time after three weeks of constant contact with people.

Aug 25, sometime-AM: AMASE 2009 is officially over, but the memories of the experience will last a lifetime. The science will continue over the next year as samples are further studied in labs, papers will be written, conference presentations given, and plans made for what needs to be done next year to follow up on these results. Big thanks go out to our fearless leaders: Andrew Steele (science lead), Hans Amundsen (expedition lead), Lianne Benning and Pan Conrad (Management Team), and everyone who worked behind the scenes to make sure that everyone's science was facilitated (you all know who you are). We had a safe, productive, and fun three weeks together thanks to everyone's hard work and participation.

I have words to sum up the experiences AMASE  ’09, but as I reflect back on the past weeks of standing on the deck of an ice breaker watching icebergs float by, seeing mountains explode out from clear blue icy waters, following the path of glaciers into the sea, and feeling ocean spray on my face, I find my mind wandering back to the words of poets far more eloquent than I:         

“Here I sit between my brother the mountain and my sister the sea. We three are one in loneliness, and the love that binds us together is deep and strong and strange.”
-- Kahlil Gibran, The Great Longing

“This moment of yearning and thoughtful sitting alone,
It seams to me there are other men in other lands yearning and thoughtful,
It seems to me I can look over and behold them in Germany, Italy, France, Spain,
Or far, far away, in China, or in Russia or Japan, talking other dialects,
And it seems to me if I could know those men I should become attached to them as I do to men in my own lands,
O I know we should be brethren,
I know I should be happy with them.”
-- Walt Whitman, This Moment Yearning and Thoughtful

“Allons! After the great Companions, and to belong to them!
They too are on the road-they are the swift and majestic men-they are the greatest women,
Enjoyers of calms of seas and storms of seas,
Sailors of many a ship, walkers of many a mile of land,
Habitués of many distant countries, habitués of far-distant dwellings,
Trusters of men and women, observers of cities, solitary toilers,
Pausers and contemplators of tufts, blossoms, shells of the shore,
Journeyers as with companions, namely their own diverse phases…
Allons! To that which is endless as it was beginningless,
To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights they tend to,
Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys,”
Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

 
See other posts from October 2009

 

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