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New Faces, New Stuff…Same Great Science!

Posted on June 16th, 2014 by Allyson Brady

Has it really been four years since our last full field deployment at Pavilion Lake?  Seems like yesterday. From the laughter and stories that are being shared as PLRP team members arrive and greet friends new and old for the start of our 2014 season (10 years!) it’s obvious that everyone is happy to be back. We had a wonderful season at Kelly Lake in 2011 but somehow Pavilion will always hold a special place as this is really where it all started. Hard to not feel a little emotional the first time you catch a glimpse of the lake from the highway when so many of us have been coming here for so long. During the past few years we’ve been spending our time working through much of the data and observations that have been collected in previous deployments and building the story of the microbialites. As the pieces start to fall into place, interesting findings have generated more unanswered questions that have brought us back to continue to push our science towards fully understanding this fascinating lake. In particular, this year will have a big focus on understanding light levels in the lake and how changes in the amount of light with depth and location can affect the biology and potentially the shapes and sizes of the microbialites.

Things will be a little different this year. We have traded in our ‘scientist in the pilot seat’ submersibles for remotely operated vehicles (ROV). Not only will the smaller ROVs allow us to get up close and personal with the microbialites, but they have brought in a new set of faces to the PLRP group. We’re all very excited to see what these new tools can do (and I admit, I sort of hope I get to drive one). SCUBA diving operations will be back in full swing this year with the added benefit of full face masks for our divers! Now they will be able to communicate with the science team on shore who will be watching the live video feed of the divers in action as they take measurements and collect samples. But we promise not to boss them around too much. As we finalize the set-up prior to operations not even the rain can deter us. Exciting science ahead!

Pavilion Lake Research Project: Wrapping up 2010

Posted on July 20th, 2010 by Allyson Brady

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.

DeepWorker Pilots and Nuytco Team: 2010

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.

The Amazing Pavilion Lake Research Project Team: 2010!

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!

~ Allyson

Meet Allyson: Acting Principal Investigator for 2010

Posted on June 9th, 2010 by Allyson Brady

As the 2010 PLRP field season draws nearer, we are all busy with plans and preparations. This summer will be a bit different for me as our fearless leader Darlene will be on maternity leave and I will be stepping into the role of acting Principal Investigator (PI). A daunting task, but I know I have the support of an amazing team of people and we’re all working towards having a fun, safe and successful field season.

Allyson in final preparation for a DeepWorker flight

Looking back over the last 5 years that I have been involved in PLRP I am in awe of what we’ve accomplished and how much we’ve grown. Last year we successfully mapped additional regions of the lake using the DeepWorker submersibles and re-visited areas of interest identified in 2008 for more detailed imaging and observations. We were also very successful in classifying a great deal of our DW imaging data while in the field. This was a huge accomplishment and the entire team worked very hard to make this happen, we hope to have a repeat this year. Examination of the 2009 data has helped us to identify more regions that show interesting trends that we will be exploring in this upcoming field season.

Flight planning for 2010 is going ahead full-steam! We are very pleased to continue with our astronaut training program this year and welcome Chris Hadfield and the Stan Love to the PLRP gang. I can’t wait to see their reaction to viewing this remarkable lake and the microbialites for the first time.

As always, there are a number of fundamental science questions that we are working towards answering through the exploration of this beautiful lake, not only with DW but with SCUBA and GAVIA as well. We will continue to examine questions regarding the role of biology and physical parameters in carbonate precipitation including: What are the dominant surface microbial and viral communities? Does grazing by macroorganisms affect microbialite morphology? What is the role of algae? How do depth and slope affect morphology? And many more… I’m looking forward to partaking in some great science and exploration activities this summer.

The field season is nearly upon us so stay tuned for more updates!

~ Allyson

How to drive an underwater sports car in reverse?

Posted on July 7th, 2009 by Allyson Brady

Tuesday was my first DeepWorker dive of the season. It was so great being back in the sub! I had almost forgotten how much fun it is to pilot and how amazing this lake is. The objective of my dive was to document transitions in the microbialites as you moved from deeper depths up slope to shallower depths and then back down again. We really want to get an understanding of how the microbialites vary within the lake and what types of lake characteristics (e.g. steepness of slope, sedimentation) might be associated with particular morphologies. This was a new type of dive as compared to the types we had planned last year and I wasn’t initially sure how easy it would be to back down the slope. Going up slope worked quite well, once I was back in pilot mode, remembering how best to combine my foot movements in order to minimize sediment disturbance.

It was really fascinating seeing how the microbialites change as you move into shallower water. You could really see that there were differences in the morphology as you changed depths. Transitions from columnar, smooth surface microbialites to rough, nodular looking ones were common. I also saw some huge microbialite mounds and microbialites growing on rocks and trees, very interesting for answering some of our science questions. Loads of algae were also visible in the shallower depths, everything from bright green filamentous algae to dark green material that resembles shag carpeting.

Screen Capture from the science stenographer showing Allyson's dive track on a map of the south basin in Pavilion Lake.

Screen Capture from the science stenographer showing Allyson's dive track on a map of the south basin in Pavilion Lake.

Once I was within 10 feet of the surface, the next objective was to move down slope along the same pathway capturing detailed video of the area. Hmmm…how do you back up the equivalent of a floating sports car with no rear view mirrors? As it turns out, very slowly and carefully actually does the job! After a few attempts, I think I was starting to get the hang of it and managed to get some quite nice video footage backing down the slope. It took a bit of practice but we’re all here to learn and that includes not just learning about the science, but learning about how best to explore our environment and collect the data that we use to answer our questions. At least I didn’t have to parallel park.

-Allyson

Piloting DeepWorker: not your everyday commute!

Posted on June 24th, 2009 by Allyson Brady

As the field season draws closer, I think about how lucky I am to be part of the Pavilion Lake project and of all the amazing people and activities that are part of my research. This year will be my second time driving the submersibles at Pavilion and I can’t wait! It’s hard to believe that already a year has gone by since the last field season. We’ve been so busy prepping for the science and how we’re going to use the subs this year that I feel the need to stop and remember what a unique opportunity this is and how much fun it is to actually drive the DeepWorkers! Everything from launch, to navigating our flights plans, and to recovery is done with the support of an amazing team of people that allows the pilots to focus on the science and of course, on our driving!

Driving the submersible is in some ways similar to driving a car, but we usually describe how the subs move through the water as ‘flying’, because you are moving in three dimensions like the pilot of an aircraft. Most of the power and control over speed comes from your feet and foot pedals that let you move forward and back, but they also allow you to move up and down at the same time. Of course, learning to steer with your feet rather than a steering wheel is a different story. One little twist of the foot is all it takes to start heading in a new direction. That is, unless you have small feet like me and then it’s a big twist of the foot before you go anywhere! Fortunately I have comfy slippers that help fill the foot pedals and keep my feet toasty warm in chilly depths of the lake. It can definitely get cold down at the bottom of the lake (about 4 ºC) so wearing several layers of warm clothing is a must if you want to stay comfortable. Unfortunately, sweatshirts are not too much fun when you’re waiting on deck in the middle of hot July day but they’re definitely worth it once you’re in the water. I’d also recommend a hearty breakfast before launch as it’s hard to find good snacks at 200 ft. Our missions tend to run around 2 hours and despite the fact that it may sound like a long time, it’s amazing how quickly time flies. In addition to keeping our eyes open for interesting microbialites or other intriguing finds, we also have to keep track of our navigation, video recording, life support and maintain a narration of the environment around us. But it’s very easy to simply get caught up in the wonder of being surrounded by fields of microbialites.

We really are lucky to have the opportunity to explore such a unique and interesting environment. There are so many exciting things to see that I’m always disappointed when the dive is over and it’s time to return to the surface. So with only two more weeks to go, my slippers are packed and I’m ready to fly!

~ Allyson