Goddess of the Arctic

AMASE reunited

by Adrienne Kish
August 13, 2009

The ship Lance in Bockfjorden. Bockfjorden is an amazing fjord system that stretches towards several mountain ridges of different geological ages.
Credit: Juan Diego Rodriguez

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 located at almost 80 degrees north, and it is still being affected by glaciers.
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory


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

Instrument testing for the ESA ExoMars mission was performed during the 2009 AMASE Expedition to Svalbard.
Image Credit: ESA

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

Dr. Steve Squyres, PI of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers, was on hand to supervise.
Credit: NASA

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.