Monday, July 28, 2008

Climb to relic spring site, Sunday, July 27

After ascending alongside the flank of Thompson Glacier, White Glacier soon loomed ahead and to the left.  White Glacier's massive ice collides with the side of Thompson Glacier.  Near here, we deployed a rope and scrambled several hundred feet up to an adjoining ridgetop to continue our way to the spring site.

Science activity summary for Spaceward Bound 2008 Arctic

Saturday 26 July 2008
We left Resolute Bay in a Twin Otter for the 2 hour flight to the McGill Arctic Reseach Statioin on Axel Heiberg Island. Our Station is on the shore of Colour Lake at N79.41550 W90.75120 with an elevation of 180m.

We ate lunch and had our first planning meeting with Wayne Pollard of McGill University. After lunch we hiked down to the active springs at the base of Gypsum Hill. We took a water sample from one of the most studied of the spring sites here:
Little Black Pond. Located at N79.40409 W90.73309 elevation 19m. See photo. Note the gas bubbles coming up in the water.

Sunday 27 July 2008
We hiked along the White Glacier. Our destination was a site that may be a dry relic of a former spring. We found the site at N79.44386 W90.70168 elevation 343m. Samples collected tested positive for carbonate here at the Station.

Monday 28 July 2008
Today we hiked to the active springs. The group from the lower camp (about 7 km away) came to the springs and we worked there together this morning. We measured temperature. As previous data indicated springs located without 10 m of each other have temperatures that differ by 5ÂșC. Tomorrow the lower camp team will bring their shallow seismic equipment and we will try to investigate the subsurface structure of the springs to understand how such close-by springs can have different temperatures.

Tuesday 29 July 2008
Our plan is to go back to the active springs at the base of Gypsum Hill and do the seismic work.

Sunday, July 26: First full day in the field

The Spaceward Bound Arctic 2008 expedition's science goals include looking at a potential relic spring, where spring water may have existed in a previous geological era.  Since we will study the mineralogy and microbiology of a current spring, Gypsum Springs, and given the likelihood we won't find active springs on Mars, studying the mineralogy and microbiology of the site of a long-ago spring will give human researchers an idea, or a template, for searching for relic springs on Mars.  What do you think of this?

We plugged GPS coordinates for the potential spring site, and began a day-long hike out and back to the target area. This involved an initial descent towards the terminus, or end of, Thompson Glacier.  The scenery reminded the team why field science is so thrilling.  Muddy water cascaded and roared its way out of the leading edge of the glacier above thick, tall, dark layers of terminal moraine detritus.  

Travel Day 3: The expedition team arrives at M.A.R.S., Sat., July 26!

Our Twin Otter taxied to the threshold of the Resolute Bay runway for takeoff to M.A.R.S. station. On our third full day of travel, we were ready to arrive.  We'd boarded on a cool, damp, drizzly morning.  The eerily quiet landscape was disrupted by the Twin Otter's dual turboprops firing up.  The team giddily gazed at each other as the plane turned into the wind on the runway, only to be told by our co-pilot that weather was preventing our takeoff.  This happens often in the Arctic.  It was not what we wanted to hear.  We were more than ready to be out of airplanes for a bit, but we understood and accepted why we had to wait a little longer.  

Thankfully, we waited for only a quarter of an hour, then roared into the sky on the last leg.  And what a leg it was!  Clouds, icebergs, snow, enthralling, vast expanses of glacier-carved terrain.  Then, over a ridge and across Expedition Fjord, we spotted the lower base camp on Axel Heiberg Island in Nunuvut Territory, Canada!  After a reconnaissance pass to check the dirt runway's condition, and wind direction, we touched down on our home for the next few days.  We soon met Wayne Pollard, a professor at McGill University, and a kind and giving host to researchers on the island.  He helped us unload our gear, set us up in our camp, and then grilled us salmon steaks.  How fortunate are we? 

Travel Day 2: Iqaluit to Resolute Bay

We left our FirstAir 727 at Iqaluit Airport, and after meeting Matt from CSA, transferred to a twin-engine turboprop for the next-to-last leg of the voyage to the research station.  This leg took us to Resolute Bay, with a refueling stop in Hall Beach where we saw our first sea ice from terra firma.  We landed in an overcast, damp and drizzly Resolute Bay.  The nice facility there is run by the Polar Continental Shelf Project, and is a major jump-off point for high arctic research expeditions in this part of the Arctic. 

Here we located our science gear that had been flown up in late June from NASA Ames Research Center aboard an Air National Guard C-130 Hercules.  We accessed e-mail, had a team meeting on mission science goals, and crawled in our sleeping bags in a group tent, excited for the chance to fly out the next morning, weather permitting, for the final leg of our trip:  a Twin Otter flight to M.A.R.S. on Axel Heiberg Island.