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My Summer time Journey to MARS

This previous summer time, PVL PhD pupil Alex Innanen traveled as much as the excessive arctic (on an expedition led by Prof. Haley Sapers) to check an instrument referred to as MAGE which can sometime fly to Mars. Mockingly, the identify of the analysis base at which they had been stationed is itself named MARS! Given the cruel situations, the identify is maybe merited and lots of house companies use this space to check out applied sciences they hope to make use of in exploration actions. (Picture above: MARS as seen from up on Gypsum Hill. You possibly can see the sting of Color Lake under, and Wolf Mountain rising above the ridge, with Crown Glacier beside it.)

by Alex Innanen

As a part of my PhD work, I’ve been working with an instrument referred to as MAGE (the Mars Atmospheric Fuel Evolution experiment), which is meant to review hint gases within the martian ambiance (together with methane). The instrument is an off-axis spectrometer, which I received’t get into element about right here, however it is ready to measure very small quantities of and adjustments in methane and different hint gases.

In July, I used to be fortunate sufficient to have the ability to take a model of the instrument as much as Nunavut for testing – particularly to Umingmat Nunaat (ᐅᒥᖕᒪᑦ ᓄᓈᑦ), or Axel Heiberg Island, the place the McGill Arctic Analysis Station (MARS) is positioned. MARS is at 79° N and alter, which isn’t fairly as far north as you’ll be able to go in Canada however is fairly darn shut. There have been three of us going up: myself, Haley, and Calvin, a grad pupil from CalTech. Up north, we had been joined by two grad college students from McGill, whose group was then amalgamated with ours.

The explanation for going so far-off to check the instrument is due to two websites close to MARS which are potential martian analogues – Misplaced Hammer and Gypsum Hill. Each are hypersaline (very salty) chilly springs, that are house to methane seeps. The polar desert additionally has a lot of polygonal terrain, which is shaped from the freeze-thaw cycle within the floor and has additionally been seen on Mars. Polygonal terrain also can present attention-grabbing methane dynamics, with the troughs performing as a supply of methane and the centre of the polygon performing as a sink. 

Polygonal terrain on Umingmat Nunaat seen from the air. 

However earlier than we might get to taking measurements and ensuring the instrument labored in such a distant location, we needed to get there. The primary leg of our journey was from Toronto to Ottawa, from the place our flight would go away. We spent a pair days in Ottawa doing final minute procuring and packing and repacking out many coolers and baggage of apparatus and meals. We needed to deliver not solely the non-public issues we would wish for round three weeks within the north, but in addition all of the scientific gear for the MAGE experiment and organic sampling that might even be accomplished, and meals to final us for our time at MARS. Altogether we had 9 items of bags, most of which was outsized by the airline’s requirements, in addition to a 40-50 L backpack apiece.

From Ottawa, we took the Canadian North airline as much as Iqaluit. Iqaluit is already above the tree line and, having by no means been within the arctic, as quickly as we set down I used to be blown away by the panorama, which is totally not like every other place I’ve ever been. We had three hours in Iqaluit, so we left the airport to do some wanting round earlier than it was time to get on a (smaller) airplane to our subsequent cease,
Mittimatalik (ᒥᑦᑎᒪᑕᓕᒃ, Pond Inlet). We had a short cease there, then a fast hop to Ikpiarjuk (ᐃᒃᐱᐊᕐᔪᒃ, Arctic Bay), after which lastly on to Qausuittuq (ᖃᐅᓱᐃᑦᑐᖅ, Resolute). That is the place the Polar Continental Shelf Program (PCSP) has a base, and from the place we might be flying out to MARS. 

The plan was to spend a couple of days at PCSP earlier than flying to MARS. Nevertheless, this plan was shortly derailed by the climate. It was a really moist 12 months, and except for us, many different groups had not been in a position to get to their subject websites due to a mixture of fog, thunderstorms, and, at MARS, an lack of ability to land the small twin otter planes as a result of the bottom was too moist. Being caught at PCSP was not the worst factor on the earth. We bought to satisfy a lot of different scientists and find out about what they had been as much as, go for a lot of hikes and recognize the gorgeous arctic panorama, and pack and repack and put together for once we ultimately had been in a position to go to MARS.

Our subject staff in entrance of the Twin Otter that took us to and from MARS. From left to proper: Calvin, Haley, Louis-Jaques, Scott and Me. 

On July 13, 10 days after we bought to PCSP, it lastly occurred. The fog had lastly lifted sufficient for us to get out, and whereas the bottom was nonetheless too soggy to land proper at MARS, we had been in a position to land a couple of kilometers down Expedition Fjord. From there, us and our piles of apparatus had been ferried as much as MARS by helicopter. The helicopters had been a really particular a part of our time at MARS. We had initially deliberate to have just one helicopter day to take us to Misplaced Hammer, which is one Fjord south of Expedition. Nevertheless because of the issues with the dual otter flights and different components, we ended up having a helicopter at MARS almost everything of our journey. Between us and one other group we additionally had loads of pilot hours, so we had been in a position to make not solely a number of journeys to Misplaced Hammer but in addition to Crown Glacier and the a lot nearer Gypsum Hill springs (that are inside strolling distance, however whenever you’re bringing a bunch of apparatus with you it’s good to get a carry).

MAGE close to the foot of Crown Glacier.

MARS is on one aspect of Gypsum Hill, overlooking Color Lake and a view down Expedition Fjord. As soon as once more I used to be completely blown away by the wonder, particularly since once we landed the solar had peaked out of the clouds on its means across the sky. Like Qausuittuq, Umingmat Nunaat is a kind of area often called a ‘polar desert’, however it didn’t appear to be it. Not solely was the tundra soggy from a lot unseasonal rain, however it was carpeted with every kind of artic crops – saxifrage, arctic poppies and even a type of tree, the arctic willow, which as an alternative of rising upwards sends its branches alongside the bottom. As I used to be taking measurements with the MAGE instrument within the camp, a bee buzzed previous me, and I used to be stunned to see one thing that seemed like a butterfly. It was a butterfly! One of many nice components of staying someplace with so many scientists is you get to find out about their areas of experience, and there was an entomologist at MARS who instructed us all in regards to the sorts of bugs we would see. 

The key aim for the MAGE instrument was to have the ability to deliver it as much as nearly 80° N and switch it on – success! Extra success adopted, and I managed to get readings at MARS, the 2 spring websites, the polygonal terrain close to MARS and on the foot of Crown Glacier. I had a number of enjoyable determining the place to place the instrument, greatest run it with its energy limitations, and what would possibly make an attention-grabbing set of readings. Not solely did the instrument efficiently accumulate information on methane abundance, however we additionally discovered how we would have the ability to enhance the instrument and the info we collected. As an example, I used to be measuring wind route by holding up a roll of flagging tape and seeing which means the dangling finish blew. An anemometer would allow us to get way more detailed details about how the wind results our methane measurements.

The MAGE instrument taking measurements with Misplaced Hammer spring within the background. The white cone-like mound is fabricated from Gypsum, with the spring hiding inside.

Earlier than I left for the journey, I used to be extraordinarily nervous, not solely as a result of I had by no means undertaken subject work like this earlier than, but in addition as a result of I’d be spending almost three weeks in one of the distant components of the world and had no thought what to anticipate. However from the second I set foot in Nunavut I knew I’d made the appropriate option to go. There have been nonetheless difficulties, like when it appeared like we would by no means make it to MARS, or getting annoyed with the restrictions of the instrument, however taken altogether not solely did MAGE preform admirably however doing fieldwork helped me uncover and strengthen expertise I didn’t know I had. I’m so grateful to have had this expertise.



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