Spain, Caves, & Canada

On Tuesday I flew to Canada, after a week-long astrobiology course in Spain.  Tomorrow I’ll drive up from Vancouver to Pavilion Lake, to spend the next couple weeks deploying submarines with the Pavilion Lake Research Project.  I’m so pumped to be working with many of the same folks who were at the lake last summer–plus all the new people.  This year’s lineup includes:

1. more astronauts
2. more undergrads

…both of which I’m really excited about.

I’ve spent the last few days helping out with inventory and packing at UBC, and trying not to feel too overwhelmed with the amount of stuff we’re going to cram into this field season.  I’ll keep you posted!  In the meantime, below is a pair of photos from Spain.  In addition to seminars on subjects like microbial metabolisms, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and  Saturn’s moon Titan, we were treated to an afternoon of spelunking.

Here we are inside El Soplao cave:

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…and here are a few of the ladies, posing outside afterward:

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More soon,
Zena

Two Astronauts

I don’t work with normal people. Since I got to Pavilion Lake, I’ve had the opportunity to befriend an unreal group of people—people who’ve made careers at all ends of the earth, in outer space, and at the bottom of the oceans. Of course they’re all human, and they all take their jobs in stride as if it were the most common thing in the world. I think you have to, in a sense. But at the same time, what lets these people do such incredible things is that they never let it get old. It’s both a privilege and a talent to be able to pursue a job you love.

Adding to the list of characters here: Last night Dave Williams, the second of our two astronauts, arrived. Mike Gernhardt has been here since Monday. (Mike was wearing his flight suit today. My brain has more or less oozed its way out of my ear, and my heart has crawled up to take its place.)

This is the first year that Pavilion Lake has gotten the submarines, so there has definitely been a learning curve. These days, though, operations are running pretty smoothly, and the sub pilots have been able to start bringing up samples from the bottom of the lake. We’re researching microbialites, which are unusually-shaped carbonate structures. They vary in size and shape—from hand-sized to a few meters large, and from tall, chimney-like structures to structures that look more like heads of broccoli. We want to figure out how these structures are formed, and what causes the differences in shape and size. The submarines help us explore more than we possibly could by SCUBA.

Perhaps even more than the science itself, I’m fascinated by the technology that enables us to do this science. Thursday night Phil Nuytten arrived for a visit. Nuytco, which made the DeepWorker subs we’re using, is his company. Phil is a renaissance man of diving, pioneer of underwater technology, and, incidentally, a phenomenal totem pole carver. Yesterday he gave a really inspiring presentation. We got to see footage from the first solo dive deeper than 1,000 feet, see videos of the early development of the Newtsuit, and just listen to Phil talk about his career. He’s one of those people who either disregards or loves the fact that something hasn’t been done or doesn’t exist yet. You want to make a pressurized suit that can go down to 600 feet, but is still flexible enough to swim in? Sure. You just do your thing, Phil.

Yesterday Discovery Channel was here filming us, and they’re around again today. I’m trying my best to play it cool, but it’s totally not working.