The AMASEing Adventure Continues

Interpretive Dances in the Marinlab

by Adrienne Kish
August 5, 2009

Adrienne Kish


The sun was shining on the glaciers all day yesterday, giving us a chance to take some spectacular photos in between projects. It also resulted in an abundance of "small" icebergs let loose into the water in the bay, so we were treated to a flotilla of blue ice moving slowly past the windows of the Marinlab facility while we worked. We were able to review cleaning protocols for instruments involved in analyses ranging from biology to organic chemistry. This also provided an opportunity a lot of laughter with AMASErs in clean room suits doing interpretive dances of the motions of cellular molecules that gave researchers from other groups working in the Marinlab some entertainment value.

The project for the next few days is rover operations with engineers putting the Athena rover to work picking up rocks with the bio team does planetary protection studies to determine rover cleaning and handling protocols so as to not introduce biological contamination from us to the rover. Meanwhile the rest of the AMASE team is assembling in Longyear going through lists of supplies and getting ready to load up the research vessel Lance before swinging up to Ny-Alesund to pick us up on August 10 on the way to the fjords for sample collection.

Athena (FIDO) rocks!

by Adrienne Kish
August 6, 2009

Satellite Image of Svalbard This image from space shows many of the sites of the Arctic Mars Analogue Svalbard Expedition.
Credit: NASA

The goddess Athena (otherwise known as the FIDO rover) was had her first public appearance on Svalbard today, and in fact as I write this at 11 pm the team is still out coaxing Athena into picking up various sizes of rocks and storing them in her sample chambers in an activity designed as a prototype for a future Mars sample return. The rover team has done an outstanding job of overcoming some technical difficulties including a temporarily blind robot to get the rover out and doing the science she was built for. The bio team was involved from the side of planetary protection, swabbing the sampling areas of the rover both before and after a special cleaning protocol that has been developed over years of AMASE expeditions to remove all biological and organic material from equipment designed to capture environmental samples to test for life and the molecules necessary to support life. The rover sampling areas were swabbed and then analyzed by a suite of instruments and techniques including DNA extractions and tests for the energy molecule of life (ATP), as well as instruments involved in the technology testing aspects of the AMASE expedition including the life marker chip making its field debut in style, with fantastic results already.

Tomorrow the newbies on AMASE are taking part in Arctic safety classes so we can be ready to head out to the hills on field sampling trips. We are also hoping the fog that had us socked in all day today lifts and we can get a better look at the mountains and glaciers around us. We have a lot of work to do before the Lance research vessel arrives on Sunday with the balance of the AMASE team on board, but we are enjoying the scenery and camaraderie of the Ny-Alesund research outpost in the meanwhile.

Science in NyAlesund

by Adrienne Kish
August 8, 2009

There were dark circles under many eyes and not a few sore shoulders today from the ice coring team after they returned from the glacier very late last night carrying 35 kilograms (80 pounds) of ice and metal each. The good news is that the 24-hour daylight makes the long hikes back at midnight easier to navigate! We are busy trying to finish up science analyses of the cores in anticipation of the arrival of the Lance with the rest of the AMASE crew late tomorrow night. It will be good to see everyone again and head off to the fjords in the north of Spitsbergen to the field sites there.

Meanwhile the goddess rover Athena underwent some cataract surgery in an attempt to fix some vision issues with the cameras. Right now she requires guide dogs (or in this case rocket scientists) to point her in the right direction. With good luck and some engineering marvels by the JPL rover team, she’ll be ready for deployment after transport by the Lance to the field sites.

You will not find any other inhabited place if you move north. Ny-Alesund, on Norway’s Svalbard island, is the most septentrional settlement of the world.
Credit: Juan Diego Rodriguez


We are all signing off for the night now after a nightcap at the bar at the top of the world with fellow Ny-Alesund staff and visiting scientists. It’s quite amazing to meet these people from all over the world and find out how they ended up this close to the north pole to do research of every kind. (Some of that research requires us to shut off all our wireless or Bluetooth devices here due to science investigations using those frequencies.)

There are groups of Indians, Koreans, Americans, French, Norwegians, Brits, and more, all with research buildings here. Ny-Alesund really is just a research campus — a collection of various dorm buildings, the research houses for each permanent group here, a recreation building with a gym and lounge, a tiny post office, a shop that opens when a tourist ship arrives, the mess hall, and the Marinlab. And the bar that is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays for everyone to come together and unwind in a small room with blackout curtains to give the feel that it’s night outside — if you can ignore the broad daylight streaking into the room every time someone walks into the door.

Tomorrow we load up the Lance and resupply those of us staying a bit longer in Ny-Alesund, so for now it is time for blindfolds and ear plugs and sweet dreams of fjords and glaciers….