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Welcome to the Pavilion Lake Research Project

Posted on March 15th, 2009 by Darlene Lim

Welcome and thank you for visiting the Pavilion Lake Research Project’s (PLRP) new website.  We have many exciting activities upon us, and we look forward to sharing them with you as they unfold.  We’ve built a web space that reflects the values and guiding principles of our project.  It is here that we will be posting science reports, blogs, pictorials and videos that capture the science and exploration of our project.  We’ll be commencing our 2009 field season in July, but in the mean time, browse our site for a historical tour of our project’s work, and meet the dedicated and diverse individuals who make up the science and exploration team.  

Why is Pavilion Lake the focus of so much work?  The answer is: Microbialites! (cue the ‘tah dah’ music!) The lake is full of them, and we’re interested in knowing why they seem to be concentrated and thriving in this particular environment.  We also want to know how they are being made, and most of all if Life (microbial life that is) is involved in their construction, and if so, why? So many questions…that’s science for you! 


Darlene Lim, Principal Investigator

To answer these questions, our team has spent hours in the water, studying it from the surface to its deepest (and coldest and darkest) depths. It has been a joy every step of the way.  To scientifically explore the lake we’ve done so using all sorts of aquatic tools: Remotely Operated Vehicles, SONAR, and SCUBA diving just to name a few. Included in this list since 2008 are Deepworker submersibles – single person subs capable of diving to depths of 600 m (2000 ft).  One of the PLRP’s goals has been to map the lateral and vertical extent and variability of the microbialites in Pavilion Lake. As well, we’ve wanted to understand these characteristics as they relate to environmental influences in the lake such as bathymetry, slope angles, sedimentation rates and ground water inputs. In 2004, we started doing this mapping with divers, but it rapidly became apparent that we needed a better and safer way to cover the size (6km long x 1km wide) and depth (65 m) of the lake. Here’s where the DeepWorkers come in.  Since humans in DeepWorkers are not subject to the intense pressures of SCUBA diving, we could send scientists and explorers underwater to safely and efficiently map the lake for hours on end. All while munching on cookies provided by our fabulous cook! As a result of the 2008 DeepWorker efforts, we have a contextual understanding of the environmental drivers behind the distribution and variability of the microbialites in Pavilion Lake.  Not to mention a comprehensive map of the lake that is coming together as I write this.  

So this is all very cool stuff scientifically, but as you read this you might still be wondering why the Canadian Space Agency and NASA (our main sponsors) are so interested in our lake activities.  The reasons are two fold: (1) the science has astrobiological relevance to the search for life on other planets, and (2) the underwater science and exploration activities are directly relevant to how we will explore the Moon and Mars with humans.  When it comes to the second reason, we can tell you that the physical, mental and operational rigors associated with the SCUBA diving and DeepWorker operations at Pavilion Lake are very similar to astronaut extra-vehicular activity (EVA) scenarios using spacesuits and pressurized rovers. Underwater, humans must, as they do in space, contend with limited connection to colleagues, protection/isolation from the environment, and life support systems (LSS), all while exploring and conducting science in variable and unfamiliar terrains.  Our project also gives astronauts a place to practice being a real field scientist before putting their boots on the Moon or Mars.  This is why since 2008, and for the foreseeable future, we’ll be integrating astronauts into our field team. From start to finish, the astronauts are as much a part of the science and exploration at Pavilion Lake as the researchers and graduate students. This preparation will mean that no matter which astronaut goes to the Moon or Mars, there will be some really great field science that will get done when humanity gets there.  Can’t wait!

As a final note, I want to say that our project emphasizes Safety, Environmental Stewardship, Science and Exploration, and what makes this all possible is teamwork. Everyone is involved in the science and exploration, and everyone contributes a unique viewpoint and important expertise.   We hope these values are expressed through everything we do, including our new web site. 

Thank you for your interest in our project.

Dr. Darlene Lim, Principal Investigator

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