Check it out here.
Communications geniuses: Mike “Mountain Dew” Down, Marc Seibert, Mike Miller
By Rafferty Pendery
Check it out here.
Communications geniuses: Mike “Mountain Dew” Down, Marc Seibert, Mike Miller
By Rafferty Pendery
I heard about Clinton and its popular lakes, Pavillion and Kelly, only a few months ago when I approached Dr. Greg Slater about beginning a Masters project under his supervision at McMaster University. Little did I know my interest in geochemistry and astrobiology would lead to a wonderful experience in a small town across the country. When I was offered the opportunity to come to BC to see the field site for myself, collect my own samples, and meet the rest of the Pavillion Lake Research Project (PLRP) team, I was ecstatic. Most Masters students aren’t fortunate enough to do all this before they even start their project!
My research over the next couple years will involve identifying a potential biosignature associated with the precipitated carbonate that makes up the microbialites in Kelly Lake. Biosignatures are mineral, organic, or isotopic characteristics that are unequivocal evidence of life. Microbial biosignatures have been found in similar systems such as Pavillion Lake, and so I’m interested in understanding how these compare to biosignatures that are hypothesized to exist in the Kelly Lake microbialites. The results of this research may have implications in the use of biosignatures in the search for extra-terrestrial life.
When I arrived in Clinton, I had no idea that such a small community would show so much support for the PLRP and be so genuinely interested in our research. Our community day on July 23rd had an exceptional turn out and exemplified the desire of the community to be a part of what we are doing. Tours were given through the Mobile Mission Control Center (MMCC) during the day, where the Science Backroom Team, CapCom, and the Flight Director communicated with one of the deep submersibles while watching a live feed of their underwater mission. I couldn’t believe the number of people who were waiting anxiously to see inside this NASA trailer that was parked by the Cariboo Lodge all week. Later in the day, BC Parks hosted a gathering down by Kelly Lake to celebrate their 100th Anniversary and their collaboration with the PLRP. The Minister of the Environment, Terry Lake, made and appearance and everyone seemed to have a great time. Check out the community day photos here.
I would like to thank the Clinton community once more for being such gracious hosts as our large research team overran their town and studied their lakes. Talking to everyone about this project has made me really excited to start my research in September and has given me a much better perspective on the overall project. My experience here has been invaluable and I hope to return one day in the future!
By: Sarah Soles
Written by: Jennifer Biddle
The PLRP group has been together for quite a few years, doing research on Pavilion Lake and now Kelly Lake in remote areas of British Columbia. As you can imagine, this has allowed for awesome science, cool exploration – and a lot of practical jokes. As I wrote the other day, this is my first year up here, but many of these folks I’ve known for years at this point. The nice thing about the type of work we’re doing – science/exploration awesomeness – is that it pushes a family mentality. We are all relying on each other to do our jobs. Of course within a family mentality, roles need to be filled: the taskmasters, the renegades and of course, the jokesters.
It turns out that a tradition while doing field work in this area is to stop at a local restaurant for a breakfast challenge of consuming a single, but massive pancake. PLRP rumors say that Dr. Allyson Brady is a force to be reckoned with in terms of pancake eating, and stories still circulate about folks in field camp that walked away without empty plates, even if the failure was years ago. A few weeks ago, Allyson spoke with me about the field season and threw down the pancake challenge. Never one to step down from a challenge, I accepted. A few days ago, a group of us went to challenge ourselves with carbohydrates and sugary syrup. The pancakes arrived a tad smaller than usual, but as you can see by the picture – still quite massive. They were absolutely delicious. A bunch of us finished (capturing the feat with photographic evidence). One member of our group failed, and now has permanently received “dishwasher” status, which was actually given to her by the restaurant staff! All in all it was a good time. Unfortunately my body realized what I had done to it a few hours later and I hardly ate the rest of the day! It was a nice diversion from the cold and rainy weather that beset us that day, and a good escape from the awesome confines of the mobile mission command center, where we spend the majority of our days.
Speaking of which, we are spending our days side by side through meals, work and most of us are sharing hotel rooms with colleagues, some of whom we just met when we arrived. Scientists are used to this type of atmosphere – I know that it’s not unusual for me to fold my colleague’s laundry if it means I can get my clothes into the dryer faster! I don’t know if every job has these sorts of hazards! I personally enjoy the collegial family atmosphere and know that when I leave this place, I’ll leave with great friends who I may be lucky enough to work with in the future. I’m also going to leave with a new place to come on vacation: the field camp is new this year in that we’ve been staying at the lovely Cariboo Lodge in Clinton, BC. Even the hotel staff have gotten into the hijinks – their target this year has had his bed made upside down, gotten short sheeted and I’m pretty sure had a canoe waiting in his bed. It’s great that everyone is enjoying the welcoming atmosphere and are willing to have a little fun while working incredibly long days. People who enjoy having fun are wonderful people to work with!
Nicky and I were afforded the unique professional development opportunity to participate in real-time, field-based, multidisciplinary science. The Pavilion Lake Research Project, which developed from an interest to map and explore the distribution of fresh-water microbialites in Pavilion Lake. Each year the project has expended and for 2011 has moved to a new site – Kelly Lake. Kelly Lake is a few kilometers from the village of Clinton in Gold Trail School District. Both Nicky and I work within this district as public school teachers. Currently, Nicky teaches at the elementary level in Cache Creek and I teach at the secondary level in Clinton.
We were both ecstatic about being selected as the exclusive two teacher-participants this year. With some trepidation, we arrived on site at the Cariboo Lodge base camp on our first day at 3:00 pm, not sure what to expect. We met the education outreach coordinator, Jennifer Stonehouse, and were immediately put at ease. Our two and a half day schedule was jammed-packed and, busy; full of a variety of informative sessions with different team leaders, researchers and engineers. We were awed at the extent of the expertise, the scope of the project, and the willingness of participants to share with us.
It was a much more casual and informal environment than what we had anticipated. We soon realized that patience and adaptability were valuable character attributes that all participants possessed. Besides the obvious science and technology applications of this analogous MARSLIFE site, we learned a lot about scientific collaboration and collegial interactions. The evening roundtable discussions with all science teams represented were absolutely illuminative to the true nature of the scientific process, often generating more questions than answers, initiating cross-disciplinary connections, and exciting pure, animated passions for science. Even the inclement weather did not dampen the spirits of those attending. It was an intense, personable, and inspiring experience, in which both Nicky and I feel so fortunate to have been included.
Written by: Gloria Mertens and Nicky Patterson
On July 19th and July 20th several members of the PLRP team teleconferenced with Shad Valley students at the University of British Columbia. The video conference included an Astronaut Q&A, presentation by David Pogue, NASA Crew Systems and Crew Survival Operations, and Nick Wilkinson, Web Development, Logistics Consulting and the man behind the infamous MAPPER.
Here is what they have to say.
Space! This word often reminds us of galaxies, black holes, nebulae and our Milky Way. Never would anyone consider a correlation between space and our tangible surroundings. During a span of two days, a group of 52 Shad Valley students are amazed by the revelation that experiments and research conducted on lakes of our very own planet Earth can assist us with analysis of our universe, beyond our solar system. With access to the Pavilion Lake Project’s website, we were able to thoroughly discover the history, mission statement and aims of this project. Furthermore, we were introduced to the gallery and blog of many talented and committed individuals working with the PLRP. The well-established website provided us with many photos, insights and interactive opportunities surrounding the project. During these two days, we had the opportunity to participate in the interactive activities including helping researchers with the filtration of photos of Kelly Lake and Pavilion Lake. Many of us signed up and thoroughly enjoyed contributing to a worthwhile research endeavor, meanwhile gaining precious insight into the importance of ecological unity. We would like to thank the team of the Pavilion Lake Research Project for their diligence and integrity in the pursuit of knowledge. Thank you for all your time and effort put into this presentation and we wish you the best of luck in the continuation of this project.
Warmest regards, Niki, Julie, Edward, and Danielle Shad Valley UBC 2011
During the informative lectures, we learned many new things. The most valuable knowledge we learned was that we can study microbialites that exist under water on earth, and apply it to further development in space. Being able to speak and listen to professionals in different areas of expertise was very eye-opening and broadened our horizons. Learning about DeepWorker submersibles and the MAPPER software allowed us to personally become more involved in the Pavilion Lake Research Project through the photo-tagging activity. Life in space is obviously quite different from life on Earth, and by being able to speak to a veteran astronaut, we gained further insight into these differences such as dealing with zero gravity, eating, sleeping and other regular daily activities.
Richard Lin, Calvin Kwok and Paul Wong
We think that the work that is being done in Pavilion Lake is really interesting because so much of our world is covered in water, but it remains a huge mystery. Underwater exploration is key in gaining a more complete understanding of our world as a whole. The interactive program is very effective in allowing us to gain better access to first hand information. It is good that the research is not limited solely to the researchers because it allows the general public to get involved in the project and become more knowledgeable about underwater ecosystems. In understanding this information we can begin to comprehend the importance of exploration.
From, Rebecca, Venissa, Patricia
When I’d firstly heard about PLRP, I thought it was like a normal project, but after two sessions, I found out that it was more than that. It was a really big opportunity to know about such project like that, talking to David, and listening to an astronaut’s speech. I have found the answers of my wonderings after that, so it wasn’t wasting of time.
Over the past two days, we have had the pleasure to learn about the fascinating world that exists in Kelly Lake and Pavilion Lake, and the wonderful NASA operation that is currently underway. Before this operation, we had no idea what microbialites were, and how much potential they had in opening our doors to space exploration. In association with this, we found the Mapper website especially creative as it allows us to not only learn about the research that goes on in those lakes, but to interact with the data. However, our favourite experience during this two-day process was getting the astonishing opportunity to interact and correspond with a real NASA astronaut. We learned about the many joys, hardships, and dangers associated with leaving our atmosphere. One suggestion we have for future presentations would be to if possible, make a presentation in person, rather than over skype, as it would increase personal engagement. Overall, this was a truly enlightening experience, and we thank you so much for the brilliant opportunity you provided for us.
Thanks again! Neel, Brian, and Kelly
As members of the Shad community we already have a keen interest in sciences. We are usually exposed to careers such as engineering or research, so it is beneficial to know that there are opportunities to work in other scientific fields. We have learned that there are places here on Earth that are filled with life and yet still unexplored. Exploring depths underwater to further understand space is something we would not have thought of, which is why we found the research done at Pavilion Lake so captivating. The presentation was informative and entertaining, although some technological difficulties made certain parts hard to understand (i.e., the videos). We really appreciated having the opportunity to speak with an astronaut and experts in varied fields.
Catherine & Sophie from QC Shad UBC ‘11
We really enjoyed the talks regarding NASA and the research projects conducted on Pavilion Lake & Kelly Lake. Microbialites were unknown to us before the lectures and learning about them proved to be insightful as it opened our eyes to the many mysteries that have yet to be discovered. The interactive program on the website was fun and educational; and taught us a lot about this newly introduced world of microbialites in a creative way. In addition, speaking to a NASA astronaut gave us the opportunity to listen to the real experiences of being in space – something not very many people have the chance to do. Overall, a very informative and practical experience.
Aaron Vincent, Katy Kemp & Daniel Zhang
Our experience with the PLRP was really informative and intriguing. The use of technology (e.g. Skype and the Mapper) was an innovative way of presenting information and allowing students to be interactive. Before taking part in this presentation, none of us knew about microbialites or the applicable relations between the NASA space program and under-water exploration such as the Pavilion and Kelly Lake projects. Our only issue was some technological malfunctions and lagging that took away from parts of the presentation, but overall, it was a fun and informative presentation in which we all learned a lot. We definitely recommend this presentation to the UBC Shads of 2012, whom will surely be as enthusiastic as we were.
Pia, James, and Amon Shad UBC 2011
Most days I do science in a bright, cluttered (yet clean), indoor laboratory. Right now, I am sitting on the shore of a pristine lake in British Columbia, waiting for samples of microbialites. Long days and late nights in lab is what you pay the piper for sample collections in beautiful, remote locations.
What I knew of British Columbia was what I saw during the Vancouver Olympics and a handful of nature shows. It was beautiful, with tall mountains, good skiing, and killer whales. What I didn’t know was how diverse and rugged the landscape would be. I flew into Vancouver and drove a rental car up to our field site along with my advisor, Dr. Jen Biddle. We passed through the city into tall snow-capped peaks covered in conifers. Beautiful, but about what I expected for BC. My expectations were quickly dashed. Lush forests spit waterfalls down into the Fraser River. Within an hour or two, the conifers gave way to more rock outcroppings, and eventually huge, sheer cliffs with rocks of all different colors. The vegetation changed to more bristly, desert flora. Winding streams worked their way through distant pastures, dotted with gnarled trees, horses, and cows; eventually all spilling into the Fraser, a constant throughout our drive. As we approached the town of Clinton, our base of operations for this expedition, the conifers returned, although this time in different arrangements. The dense coastal firs, spruces, and hemlocks gave way to more sparse cedars and ponderosa pine forests that populated steep, rocky canyons. Tucked away deep in the folds of these ancient canyons are two very unique and exciting lakes.
Pavilion Lake and Kelly Lake are home to a fantastic display of microbialites. A fun, quirky, inspired (from what I’m beginning to see) group of scientists with a variety of backgrounds have descended on these lakes to study these structures because they may hold answers to some of the most profound questions we can ask. What did some of the earliest life on this planet look like? How did it survive and evolve? The fossil records show that for a couple billion years of our planets history, life existed similarly to how it does on the microbialites of Pavilion and Kelly Lake. If these structures were such an important first step in Earth’s life history, might they also be something to look for when we eventually explore other planetary bodies in our solar system and beyond? As a microbiologist, with a strong interest in astrobiology, these questions floor me. To be here in this beautiful countryside searching for answers is what some refer to as “pinch me” moments.
My role here is to help understand the bacterial communities that live on the surface of the microbialites, and from what we can tell, drive their formation. I have spent the past few days taking part in planning and execution of submersible dives and sample collection. Once samples arrive at base camp, I extensively document what I see. Interesting features such as curious green and purple nodules that may be the site of carbonate formation on the surface of the microbialites are sub-sampled and examined under the microscope. Larger chunks of microbialite are carefully bagged and frozen for shipment back to the lab at the University of Delaware. There, I will extract DNA to study the microbial population of these structures on the genomic level to determine which members of this population are most important at different depths. This study highlights one of the unique attributes of Kelly Lake and Pavilion Lake. Microbialites are found in a handful of places around the globe yet these lakes are the only environment where they are found at such a variety of depths (thus differential access to light). It is our hope that these varying growth environments within the lake will be able to highlight distinct attributes of microbialites that made them so successful on early Earth and could possibly aid their formation on other planetary bodies.
Written by: Joe Russell
I’m so excited to be officially joining the PLRP team this year as part of the science team. I got excited about astrobiology in graduate school and after my PhD, was a NASA Astrobiology Institute postdoctoral fellow. When I became a professor, I kept looking for ways to stay involved in NASA and astrobiology science. I collaborate with the NASA Astrobiology Institute at Penn State University and now am part of the PLRP team!
I typically do deep sea research, so the PLRP approach of using manned submarines is not too unusual to me. What is unusual is that we’re taking an analog mission approach to the science and exploration – complete with a mobile mission command center. I’ve been really impressed with the amount of infrastructure that the team has had to create in order to do their work, including setting up wifi in remote places and running video feeds across miles. Typically my research done on a ship has communications already on it – we just hop on and do science. Coming to a remote (and beautiful!) site in British Columbia certainly presents challenges.
Today I got my full immersion into PLRP science and headed up the science backroom team for the third dive in Kelly Lake. One disadvantage of a single manned sub is that only one person is seeing and observing things in real time. Maybe they can take a video, but the rest of us might wait hours to see it. That means decisions are slowed and science might be impeded. So this year the team designed a way to have a sub tethered to a cable, sending video feeds to the surface – and then the coms team has been able to shoot video back to the mobile mission command center. What this means is that many of us scientists can sit in comfort and see and hear what the pilot of the sub is observing. That way we can confer on what we are seeing immediately, add extra sets of eyes to a busy pilot and give advice or opinions on what is happening. Really what we did was sit back and go “Cool!” when a lovely microbialite would pop up on the screen.
We additionally got a true mission-feel when we started doing delayed communications. If an astronaut is off of the Earth, it takes a while to talk to them! So even though our sub pilot was only a few kilometers away, we gave ourselves a delay to see how things would go. Not surprisingly, it did seem easier – doesn’t your job go better when your “boss” stops interrupting you? But we’ll see how well it works when we actually want samples. Maybe 10 brains are better than one – maybe not! It’s part of this week’s experiments. My final experiments won’t be done for a while. We are collecting samples from Pavilion and Kelly Lakes to continue to describe the microbial communities that are in the microbialites. My group is specifically interested in the phototrophic (light-harvesting) communities, who we expect are driving the distinct shapes we see in these structures. Our work is in progress, so now updates yet – but watch for later updates as we start to unravel the mysteries of these beautiful and mysterious microbialites!
Written By: Jennifer Biddle
I’m sure many of you have heard the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Well, sometimes you learn the most when you take something apart and have to put it back together again. We knew that moving to Kelly Lake from Pavilion would provide some challenges and yesterday as our first day of DeepWorker flight operations, we certainly faced a few hiccups. The navigation software had a few bugs and wasn’t talking to the subs. This was problematic as it meant that although we’d still be able to get video from the subs, we wouldn’t be able to track them as they moved around the lake. One of our main goals at Kelly is to map the distribution and morphological variation of the microbialites at the lake and without the ability to track the subs, we wouldn’t be able to identify the location of images that are collected in order to build our map. But, the scientist pilots themselves are also a valuable source of observational information that should not be overlooked and so we decided to go ahead with the flight of at least one of the subs so that we could gather some input about the microbialites and proceed with our science. With that decision made, Sub 7 was away and happily exploring the eastern shore of Kelly Lake. The flight started off under cloudy weather but soon the sun cleared and it must have brought some good luck with it as the navigation software also starting working shortly thereafter and we were able to get tracking for the majority of the flight path. In the end, we didn’t complete our DeepWorker missions quite as planned and Sub 6 was unfortunately not launched. Sometimes science doesn’t go as planned and you need to roll with the punches, we learned a lot and Day 2 of the DeepWorker operations is expected to benefit from these lessons learned and is expected to go a lot smoother. Stay tuned!
CHECK OUT a visual of the ops here.
I was very excited to have a chance to do both today. Last season I had to miss out on the project to due to the birth of my son Joe, it has been two years since I have had the chance to be in the Deepworker, and to see the fantastic microbialites up close and personal. It was also exciting to get a chance to begin Kelly Lake explorations. The first research I did in Kelly lake was during my M.Sc. work back in 1995. Since then I have been working with the PLRP and have been diving in Kelly several times. Although we didn’t know it in 1995, the dives showed that there were HIUGE microbialites in Kelly Lake as well. The chance to work on Kelly lake microbialites in more detail this season is thrilling. In particular I can’t wait to compare the microbialites here to Pavilion Lake. The visibility in Kelly lake is not as unbelievably clear as Pavilion, and the chemistry of the water is different. These differences mean we can start to look at our question of how these microbialites are forming in a new way. The differences between Kelly Lake and Pavilion will give us a new perspective and a new way to investigate microbialite formation.
With all this exciting potential, it was great to get the dive started. It was a little disappointing at first with the visibility being less than expected. But once I got to the slope and the target depth for the contour the visibility improved and got better – I started to see microbialites! At first they were just individual ones, about the size of softballs, sitting on the sediments. From there, the microbialites got bigger and more frequent. There were new transitions between microbialite morphologies, new variations in patterns, and also lots of similarities to Pavilion Lake. This first look at Kelly Lake was as amazing as we had hoped, and I am looking forward as we keep exploring to seeing what new things we find and what new insights we can find to understand the formation of these incredibly interesting unique microbialites.