Status Report

NASA Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition Field Report (AMASE 2007): Orientation and Adjustments

By SpaceRef Editor
August 18, 2007
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NASA Arctic Mars Analog Svalbard Expedition Field Report (AMASE 2007): Orientation and Adjustments


We are on our way out of Isfjorden at the moment. We left Longyearbyen about two hours ago. The water is still calm, hardly showing any waves and although clouds cover the ship, sunlight peaks through along the horizon brightening distant glaciers. Straight ahead, the brown mountainous edges of the fjord frame a bank of low clouds whose upper edge bursts with light.

We finished the safety overview of the ship and now many of us are milling around the front deck taking in the view. The newbies begin to remark on the beauty of this place and photos are casually snapped. I’m cozy on the upper front deck in my down jacket, hat and gloves, all tucked into my camping chair. Enjoying the view, I feel the happiness that has been growing in me all week. I know it will only increase the farther north we go.

I have decided to incorporate some Notes and thoughts from other members of the crew this year. The first to contribute is Ivar Midtkandal, Director of Safety for AMASE and sedimentologist on the CheMin team.

Longyearbyen being among the safest places on Svalbard, one of the most important parts of the preparations here is the safety course, which everyone has to attend. The course is held by UNIS, the University Centre on Svalbard, and includes a classroom presentation that covers the different aspects of staying safe in the field (weather, ice, emergency kit, communications and more), and a session at the shooting range with a short talk/discussion on how polar bears typically behave (they are typically very unpredictable). Everyone on this year’s AMASE did really well on the rifle range, a reassuring observation for everyone on the trip.

There seems to be a thousand little things to take care of during the last days in Longyearbyen, and as one of the Norwegian speakers with a local knowledge of the town, I have been involved in several of the logistical issues that arise. We have been waiting for a number of shipments that might or might not arrive; phone calls to a variety of people that we rely on for gear, access to buildings and transportation; arranging areas for instrument testing; getting the right maps and satellite images. It can be quite stressful, and I was raring to get onboard Lance and get underway. Once everything is loaded onboard the ship and everyone is accounted for, the expedition becomes a contained variable, and Bockfjorden is the first stop. That’s when the real work begins, away from emails and phones. Long days outside with great scenery and world-class geology is what a field season on Svalbard is all about.

When we awoke this morning, the Lance was sailing into Bockfjorden. By lunchtime, we had anchored in front of Sverrefjell. As I walked onto the deck to take a look at our surroundings, I couldn’t help but feel a sense that I had come home. I feel a bit strange saying that having spent a mere five days of my life here a year ago. Despite this, I feel a peaceful sense of belonging here.

This morning Paul and I continued to trouble shoot our injured GCMS system that is still leaking after the attempted repair on the weld break and is now also having problems with the mass spectrometer electronics. After lunch a small crew headed out to collect snow algae samples on the glacier, the rover team worked on the rover and the rest of us took a hike on the slopes of Sverrefjell. At the base of the volcano, we heard a brief lecture from Hans, the expedition leader and petrologist, on the origins of Sverrefjell and why it is of interest to AMASE. During his thesis work, Hans discovered unique carbonate spherules that are the only known terrestrial analog to the Martian meteorite ALH84001. This meteorite sparked much controversy several years ago about whether or not scientists had discovered life on Mars. Interest in the connection and formation mechanisms between ALH84001 and Sverrefjell carbonate spherules are what initially led to the creation of AMASE.

This evening our mass spectrometer ceased to work entirely. I spent twenty minutes on our satellite phone with the manufacturer once again and came up with several options for the troubleshooting the problem. Wandering around the deck in the evening, we spotted a seal that surfaced several times as it swam around the boat!

This evening our mass spectrometer ceased to work entirely. I spent twenty minutes on our satellite phone with the manufacturer once again and came up with several options for the troubleshooting the problem. Wandering around the deck in the evening, we spotted a seal that surfaced several times as it swam around the boat!

Today’s Notes contributor is Ragnhild Ronneberg, a director at the Research Council of Norway and an unexpected last minute addition to AMASE this year.

Hi, my name is Ragnhild Ronneberg. Born in Stavanger, Norway in 1954. I am on this expedition because of a growing interest for research in the Arctic (some of which belongs to Norway) – and a great deal of luck. I was interested in observing the science activities on AMASE and received word about two hours before sailing that there was space for me to join for a few days. My wish came through. My scientific background is in biochemistry and nutrition, and I have my PhD in marine lipids (fish oil) back in 1985. Wow – what a long time ago!

Last Saturday (August 11th) I was leaving RV Lance after 8 days on board with Studietur Nord – a group of 25 people; policymakers and decision makers within R&D – most of them with specific interest or responsibility for the Northern areas. In this region we see recourses for oil and gas production, and fish and marine – all in a sensitive environmental area where the climate is changing. We’re looking at how pollution and “bad things” might be studied alongside exploration and research for new industry. We also looked at how to preserve, care for and improve the environment. Studietur Nord went all around Svalbard – and we saw polar bear (at a distance of 1.5 km), we were attacked by walruses (a group of hormone filled youngsters?- we think). Anyway he bit a big hole in one of the small Zodiac boats, and 6 people on board had to be rescued. We managed though and nobody fell in the sea. We saw a lot of beautiful birds, polar fox, seals and whales. We also had a great number of lectures while on ship and on shore. We learned facts and figures about Svalbard; former polar expeditions, settlements mining, hunting etc. I know a lot more now about the possibilities, threats, strengths and weaknesses in this region.

To be on this ship again (after the week with the other group) is fantastic. These scientists on AMASE 2007 are a marvelous group of people. I feel very privileged to be this close to space scientists out in the field hunting for similarities to Mars! Minerals and biological material now mean something very different to me than pure nutrition. It is just great! Thanks to all of you for letting me join you and thanks to Hans Amundsen, in particular, who gave me the opportunity to come with this exciting expedition. I will remember this forever. Wishing the best for all of you during the following weeks of research and for the upcoming Mars journey with the Rover -taking Mars science down to Earth.

Kirsten Fristad
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

About Kirsten Fristad in her own words…

Kirsten Fristad here again. I’m privileged and excited to be back writing Notes from the Field on AMASE 07. I am a planetary scientist working in the Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) Lab at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland where I have been for the last year and a half. I graduated from Macalester College in 2005 with a major in geology and core in astronomy knowing I wanted to pursue a research career in planetary science. Through summer internships with several planetary scientists, I developed a background in analyzing martian and lunar planetary remote sensing data and Mars analog field work in Alaska. Over the last year I have continued to organize the Goddard/SAM Team contribution to AMASE, conducted organic analyses of AMASE samples, designed and built new field hardware and participated in two other expeditions in Utah and the Mojave.

Following AMASE 07, I will be staying on in Norway as a Fulbright Scholar to begin graduate work at the University of Oslo. I am very much looking forward to exploring more of this beautiful country, reconnecting with the country of my ancestors and filling up on pickled herring and lefse!

SpaceRef staff editor.