The PLRP 2010 field season has come to a close and I am both saddened by the fact that operations are finished for another year but excited by the prospect of adding the data we’ve collected this year to our growing body of knowledge about this unique lake. I am in awe of the work that has been done by this amazing team and of how much we’ve grown, while maintaining the sense of adventure and camaraderie that to me, helps to define the PLRP.
We’ve taken great strides towards answering many of our research questions and in the process, with every answer we have come up with many more questions that will keep the PLRP team occupied for quite some time. Fortunately, our family continues to grow and every year we welcome new individuals who bring a unique perspective and desire to tease out the mysteries Pavilion has to offer. We have also been blessed this year by the addition of two little members to the PLRP family, Darlene Lim’s daughter Amelia and Greg Slater’s son Joseph. We look forward to the day when they are exploring the lake alongside us.
The PLRP provides a wealth of research opportunities, and not just those focused on understanding the processes leading to the formation of the structures at Pavilion Lake but also to understanding fundamental biological, chemical and physical processes. The research contributions from our participating scientists and graduate students have resulted in a number of recent publications and are essential to increasing our understanding of Earth and astrobiological systems. We’re very proud of the role that the PLRP has played in developing operational technologies and protocols that not only help us meet our science objectives but provide important input into future space science missions.
With the addition of our two newest scientist pilots, astronauts Chris Hadfield and Stan Love, we had 34 DeepWorker missions over 10 days of operations. This year we were aided greatly in our pre-season flight planning by the wonderful team from NASA Ames led by Matt Deans and David Lees who developed an amazing flight planning tool that enabled us to search images and flight paths from previous years while building flight plans in Google Earth. Flights this year were planned to collect images of the remaining unexplored regions of the lake, to record detailed images of areas of interest identified from 2008 and 2009 data and to use the submersibles in combination with other analytical tools such as a conductivity, temperature and depth (CTD) instrument and our autonomous underwater vehicle(s) (AUV). Our ability to review post-flight video data in the field, an effort pioneered in 2009, added greatly to our productivity as this information was used immediately by the science backroom team to modify existing flight plans to best optimize our data collection. As part of the daily flight debriefs, we have also continued to apply metrics associated with scientific productivity to understand factors that influence scientific exploration. New this year to the DeepWorker flight repertoire were long ~ 5 hour flights and two night flights to investigate the grazing activity that we suspect may occur in the lake. To add to the innovations this year, Nick Wilkinson designed a fantastic, interactive program for use in classifying the microbialite images. This new tool will allow us to efficiently organize and process our field data over the coming months. Stay tuned for updates.
In case our DeepWorker operations didn’t keep us busy enough, we had a number of other important activities included in the field schedule this year. The UBC and University of Delaware AUV teams produced fantastic images of the lake bottom that were often used to compliment the DeepWorker flights and give us a better picture of where interesting structures and features are in the lake. Numerous SCUBA dives were performed by our intrepid team of divers to collect water and microbialite samples that were shared between various research groups in an effort to combine and compliment analytical findings. These samples will be characterized from a virology, microbial lipid, isotopic and genetic point of view to provide more information about the role of biology in the formation of the microbialites and what biosignatures may be left behind. Water samples were collected from nearby lakes including Crown, Turquoise, Pear and Kelly Lake to continue to help us put Pavilion Lake in context. Kelly Lake, which also hosts microbialites and has been an area of interest to the PLRP team for many years, was also the focus of significant AUV activities this year. Microbial mats were once again collected from the Cariboo Plateau lakes and giant pancakes were eaten by all (well, almost all). As a new participatory activity this year, our visiting teacherswere given the task of selecting a SCUBA dive based on their understanding of the research questions of interest (on their first day no less!). I’m happy to report that they eagerly interviewed members of the team before presenting their selected dive and rationale to the group for inclusion in the next day’s diving schedule. Community Day was another great success this year with the team happy to show off our work and answer questions from the many visitors we had to the site. Busy indeed!
We plan on continuing our updates throughout the year as we analyze samples and work through the amazing amount of data that were collected. Thanks to all who have read about our activities and through this process, have joined in our adventure. See you next year!