11 April 2008

Success in the Mojave!

Tuesday, 08 April 2008
Cave Detection in the Thermal Infrared
NASA Spaceward Bound!

Image: QWIP thermal image of Pis-gah lava flow. Top left of image is non-cave feature, which is within a sandy exposure. Our cave (where we were collecting temperature and barometric pressure data) is in the bottom right. There are other features glowing purple which represent a series of holes. Some of these are actual caves, while others may be too small for a human to enter (without getting stuck). Dark blue = very cool, light yellow = very warm. Credit: NASA-GSFC.

Golly, breakfast did come early. The dinner bell sounded at 7:00 AM. I didn’t get to sleep until almost 1:00 AM, and being beat from the wind and little sleep in the field, I was a little haggard. Fortunately, Eric whipped up a great breakfast. So, I got the day started with a hearty meal.

Image: I was giving my progress report to the team at Zzyzx Field Station. Credit: Jennifer Small.

During breakfast, Murzy called. Grounding the computer worked!!! The computer had collected imagery over the night and was still logging! What great news! It looked like we were going to get 24 hours worth of data after all.

After breakfast, we had our meeting. With each Spaceward Bound, the group would meet and discuss progress made in the field and the scientists would report their plans for the day. This gives the students an opportunity to decide who they wanted to work.

Image: Penny, Bill and I discussing the plan of attack for the day. Credit: Jennifer Small.

We were quite fortunate. Most of the teachers wanted to work with the cave scientists. I am very pleased that so many people were interested in caves. The cave team was comprised of Drs. Penny Boston and Mike Spilde (who were in charge of the cave microbe sampling demo), the cave detection team (Murzy, Glen and myself), and Bill Liebman (a good friend, long-time caver and geologist). Once we got our bearings straight, we loaded up the trucks and vans and headed for Pis-gah.

Image: I was discussing with the Spaceward Bound team what the Cave Detection Crew had been doing over the past four days. Credit: Jennifer Small.

Penny and Mike were going to demonstrate how to sample cave microbes and explain why cave microbes are important to astrobiology. Glen, Murzy and I will discuss what we did for the past three days at Pis-gah. Also, Bill and I were going to enlist some assistance from a few teachers to pull our data loggers, and the rest of the group would go with Penny and Mike.

Image: Explaining the HoboPro data loggers, placement in the cave, and why this is important to characterizing cave thermal behavior. Credit: Jennifer Small.

Bill and I had the opportunity to work with Vienna, Fatma and Nicole. We went to our first cave to collect our temperature sensors. Before we entered the cave, Bill and I discussed caving ethics and cave safety with them. This was their first time in a cave, so we wanted to make sure they understood the fragility of cave systems and they were aware of the risks associated with working underground. I think it was a lot of fun for them. Once we pulled our sensors from the first cave, the students went on to join Penny and Mike. They wanted to learn how to sample for cave microbes.

Image: Nicole, myself and others (out of frame) joking about something before entering the cave. Image: Jennifer Small.

Bill and I continued on to our non-cave feature and our last cave to retrieve our data loggers. It was great to hang out and cave with Bill again. While I did have the opportunity to spend time with him at the NSS Convention in Indiana last July, we didn’t get in any time underground. So, we hiked across the lava flow, went to these two features, chatted quite a bit, and pulled the data loggers. Once done, we headed back to the vehicles.

A while later, Penny, Mike and about 20 students returned. We said our goodbyes, and Glen and I headed for Flagstaff. The mission was a success.

Image: As we were leaving our study area, Glen spotted this rattler on the road. Species: Western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox). This beauty was about four feet long.