Science Reports and Blogs

As the PLRP team works hard to tackle the science and exploration questions that fascinate us at Pavilion Lake, we try to take some time to offer personal perspective of our work through our science and exploration blog. Daily Science Reports will commence.Monthly Archives

Haiku Science

Posted on June 24th, 2014 by admin

by Chris Haberle

Pavilion Lake
Study Microbialites,
under water, blue.

Outland Photo, Take 2…

Posted on June 21st, 2014 by admin

Here is a color corrected version of a photo we posted earlier this week. Thanks to Christy Sallee for the editing work and to Steve Squyres for the photo.

Back in beautiful British Columbia!

Posted on June 20th, 2014 by admin

By Jennifer Biddle

I’m so pleased to be back at Pavilion Lake with the PLRP gang to continue our investigations of the mysterious microbialites at the bottom of the lake. Last time we were here there were so many unknowns. We went home, did a bunch of science, published papers (see a few here: and here and it’s amazing how little we still understand about the process of how microbes help make the amazing structures in this lake. (and some more papers from other PLRP labs:,,

As we drove back to the lake: a reminder, this location is simply amazing considering our very flat home state of Delaware!

What are we doing this year? Well, what we found before was that microbial communities didn’t change as drastically as we thought they might. It seems that communities in the lake are pretty stable in terms of actual members. So we’ve all been talking about light lately. Light is thought to be a huge control on these communities, and light changes with depth, and the shapes change with depth….so it should make sense, right? Except that if the actual organisms are the same – it means that the rate of growth is key. This year, we are testing this on samples we collect and in-situ measurements of PAM Fluorometry (equipment provided by Dr. Ian Hawkes and Dale Andersen, the zen masters of diving, see how they’ve used it before here:

Here’s action shots of the PAM fluorometer we’ve set up in a makeshift dark room: (Graduate student Mark Belan is in the box)

And here’s what a microbialite surface looks like when you measure photosynthetic centers:

Mapping the fields of high activity:

I can’t wait to see what amazing results we get from this field season, meanwhile testing operations protocols and refining exploration architecture!

The PLRP team at an ops meeting.

Posted on June 20th, 2014 by admin

Written by: Tamar Cohen

I am delighted to be back up in British Columbia for my 5th visit in support of Pavilion Lake Research Project!  I work as a member of the Exploration Ground Data Systems  team (xGDS – from the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames Research Center.  xGDS supports scientific research and mapping by providing tools to plan exploration routes, explore previously gathered data, monitor existing vehicles and video sources, and take geolocated notes pertaining to the gathered data.

Imagine the problem: we have 2 huge lakes with microbialites on the bottom, but we can’t drain the lakes to wander around and build a map of microbialites!  So we have worked with divers, Nuytco submersibles, and this year is our first time working with ROVs, remotely operated underwater vehicles.  We have also mapped the lake with AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles) in the past, to learn about the bathymetry, or depth of the lake.

Many of our xGDS tools are built around Google Earth and the Google Earth plugin, which allows us to overlay various layers, such as information about where we have been and bathymetry information.  By using xGDS, the scientists can review video and still images and know where in the lake those microbialites are located.  They can then create placemarks and plan traverses in xGDS.

We are using various ROV models, primarily the Seamor ( as well as an Outland ( and a VideoRay (  We are connected to the ROV with a fiberoptic tether, which feeds video data as well as telemetry from the vehicle to the surface.  In addition to that we have strapped on various things to the ROV:

-2 lasers mounted in parallel, so when we see the laser dots we can measure the distance between them

-A TracLink tracking system (, which allows us to track where the ROV is in relation to the surface boat

-A CTD which measures conductivity, temperature and depth

Pulling all of the data that we gather over the years from sample analysis, video, and various sensors helps the scientists form a cohesive picture of what is happening in these amazing lakes.

Since PLRP is an active research site with many scientists doing real scientific research, we are driven to rapidly develop and adapt our tools so that the scientists can work efficiently.  We adapt the work that we do for PLRP to apply it to other similar field research, and it may even be used for a moon mission in a few years!

Tamar Cohen

SGT, Inc

Intelligent Robotics Group

NASA Ames Research Center

ROVs on the job

Posted on June 20th, 2014 by admin

Written By John Blitch

Howdy folks from the fabulous frontier of biological science up here on Pavilion Lake BC! On a personal note, it is great to be back working with NASA after half decade hiatus from robot design to dive into the mysterious world of neuroscience in the context of Human Robot Interaction or HRI. I had the distinct pleasure of working with Dr. Darlene Lim during the Mars Flashline project back in 2001, and relish the opportunity to watch her work her magic in the research realm here as well. As one who has made a career out of compensating for personal shortcomings by task shedding to machines, it is perhaps only fitting that I find myself a slave once again to robot coolness in a magical mission to use Remotely Operated Vehicles (or ROVs) to survey mysterious microbiolites that happen to grow in this unique and stunningly beautiful environment.

Figure 1: Mark Micire rescues JGB on primary ROV while flying secondary ROV

Joining me on this summer’s adventure is Dr. Mark Micire, of FEMA USAR & NASA SPHEREs fame. It would actually be more accurate to state that I’m joining him for the first time at Pavilion Lake. As the veteran ROV guru on site, figures 1-3 indicate that he has already schooled me on the art of robot assisted rescue by using the standby Outland ROV to pull me out of the “cara-cage” that I managed to get the Seamor ROV stuck inside after a record setting five minutes of newbie stick time – earning me the nickname “Captain Sticky Pants” in the process. This is the first time that Mark and I have worked together on a full-fledged field deployment since scrambling robots around the WTC rubble with Arnie Mangolds back in September 2011. Arnie was unavailable this season, which leaves me pulling up short shrift as his substandard substitute.

Figure 2: Initial microbiolite imagery captured with the Seamore  ROV

After a frustrating first day battling wag-the-dog tether tugs from choppy surface conditions we still managed to provide the science team with some apparently interesting imagery of microbiolite features using the Seamor ROV as our primary survey robot, thus earning a promotion to Colonel Sticky Pants for yours truly in the eyes of Shorty the Omniscent Overlord. Over and above the cognitive challenges associated with interactions between robots and diver/astronauts, I find myself fascinated by the mystical aspects of this exobiology representative and its implications for space exploration. The colorful multi-textured nodules comprising this fantasy laden subsurface landscape begs for terrestrial nicknames such as the Grand Tetons, and Bowling Ball Gulch as indicated in figure2.

After swapping out the Seamor ROV with the older Outland ROV late last night, we’ll be battling a new nemesis this morning in terms of what a cognitive neuroscientist might call retrospective interference. This is the kind of issue one experiences after many years using the left foot to hit the brake pedal in a sophisticated automobile with an automatic transmission then suddenly having to switch to a left foot clutch / right foot braking paradigm on an older vehicle with a manual transmission. Braking with one’s left foot it’s not necessarily a “bad” habit, since it can allow for higher control fidelity in challenging conditions, but it can be considered an “inappropriate” habit for an older manual transmission. This effect is magnified many times over when applied to all the control input options available to an ROV operator to extract maximum effectiveness in chaotic operating conditions and/or turbulent currents. We’ll have to adapt quickly, however, because after a couple more days of solo ROV operations, we’ll be operating alongside divers in simultaneous site identification and sample collection activities – the adventure continues!

Diving in beautiful Pavilion Lake, by Steve Squyres

Posted on June 19th, 2014 by admin

Day 1 Underwater

Posted on June 18th, 2014 by Zena Cardman

I can’t help but echo some of Allyson’s sentiments from her blog post yesterday… returning to Pavilion Lake for the first time in years brings back so many memories!  My first season here was in 2008:  as college sophomore with zero fieldwork experience.  Now, six summers later, I still think of Pavilion as home for my scientific growing-up.  It really feels like a family.

But no time for waves of nostalgia… we are back in action!  We’ve already put divers and the ROV underwater, collected microbialite samples for microbiology and geochemistry work, and set out instruments to look at the light available to photosynthesizers at the bottom of the lake.  Here’s a photo tour of PLRP 2014 so far!

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!

Hi PLRP Friends!

Starting June 16th, and running until June 25th, we will be conducting a new phase of science and exploration research at Pavilion Lake.  We are all super excited to get started.

Has been an adventure getting us to this stage – safety reviews, science planning, securing a cook, and everything in between.  But finally, we are about to start our much anticipated field program.  Can’t wait.

This blog will be short, but stay tuned for more from others soon.  You’ll be hearing from our diverse team of researchers, divers and support personnel.  Many of them will be familiar to those who have kept up with our blogs over the years.  Yep, once folks enter the PLRP family, they tend to stay family, which is a super comforting feeling with each passing year.

Speaking of which, Happy Anniversary to PLRP!  We have now been buoyant for a decade.  (how’s that for a little diver humor) Wow, time flies.   On a personal note, I’m super grateful that PLRP has afforded me the joy of working with so many smart, motivated, kind and wonderful human beings. Here’s to the future, and here’s to the next 1o days!

Stay tuned for more!


Many of you have been wondering what the PLRP team has been up to since our last field deployment to Kelly Lake in July 2011.  Well, the answer is that the team has been busier than ever analyzing our field data, updating upon the Exploration Ground Data System (xGDS), and bringing our work to fruition in the form of peer-reviewed academic publications.  We have also had new collaborators join the team from Canada and throughout the US. Two of our key team members have taken up new posts – Donnie Reid joined the Nuytco Research Team, while Margarita Marinova is headed to SpaceX in sunny Southern California in early 2013. Donnie Reid will remain our Logistics and Operations Manager, and we will welcome Mike Delaney into a new role as our Dive Safety Officer.  We also wrapped up our MAPPER citizen science program in December 2012, and extend a very big thank you to all of those around the world who have helped the PLRP team conduct research in such a collaborative way!

We also have some exciting news to report!  Thanks to NASA’s Moon Mars Analog Mission Activities (MMAMA) program, the PLRP team will be commencing Phase 3 of our research program starting in February 2013. Our new grant will provide four years of support, and allow us to follow up on our DeepWorker submersible datasets with focused sampling and imaging field campaigns. Throughout these research activities, we will continue to collect exploration data that will enable NASA to better understand how to plan and execute science-focused human exploration missions.

Our first Phase 3 activity will be a series of Engineering Readiness Tests (ERTs) in pools near to the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California.  These tests will allow the team to focus on integrating software, hardware (remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)) and human assets, the latter of which will be topside (Science Backroom Team, operations support crew), and underwater (Science Divers, support divers). The coordination of these multiple moving parts will require the team to carry out multiple ERTs that will each focus on specific integration nodes of the broader field program. Once these initial ERTs are complete, the PLRP team will carry out a full pool-based mock-up of a field deployment. During this time, we will bring each science, engineering and operational component together to ensure that we are ready to splash and go once our 2014 field deployment rolls around. While are field dates and locations are still being planned, the 2014 and 2015 summers will see the PLRP team return to beautiful British Columbia, Canada to pick up their work at Pavilion and Kelly lakes in earnest. We are all looking forward to seeing the folks of Pavilion Lake and Clinton again soon!

Stay tuned for more as we continue to share our adventure with you all through our website and future outreach endeavors. Happy New Year!

Darlene Lim