1. Lanzarote and the Lunar Landscape
Something special for this weeks blog, my trip to Lanzarote, Spain. Now before everyone starts thinking "Gavin, did you just take a week off from work to go to Lanzarote!", this was not a vacation it was in fact a field reconnaissance survey for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Lunar Science Maturation Study (PHASR). The field trip involved visiting potential analogue field site(s) on the island, and conducting a geological survey. The survey required documentation of the rock outcrops and volcanic regolith, a description of the terrain, abundance and distribution of mantle xenoliths or glass material in vesicles, and distinguishing a diverse suite of rocks. A lot of images were taken at the sites, along with notes in a notebook and IPad. This blog will give you a brief summary of my experience at Lanzarote, and my field work.
Getting away from work is always bliss, even if it is only for a short period of time. On this field reconnaissance survey I was the only geologist out of a team of four. The team comprised myself, Dr Matt Bourassa (Western University), David Gingras (CSA), and Sylvain Mondor (CSA). David and Sylvain are engineers, and were the representatives of the CSA for this field reconnaissance survey. We visited seven potential analogus field sites, three of which are ranked to be the most optimal for the mission in terms of meeting science objectives and logistic checks (e.g. accessibility, proximity to supplies, and locations of emergency services).
Lanzarote is a Spanish island and is situated 100 km off the coast of Morocco. The island has an extensive volcanic history, formed from episodic eruptions starting at 35 Ma (Late Eocene, Priabonian stage). The surface of the island is covered in lapilli (volcanic material, 2-64 mm), cinder cones, fissures, lava flows, and caldera volcanoes. The volcanic features are well-preserved in response to the coastal and dry climate of Lanzarote, only receiving 16 days of precipitation a year on average! Surprisingly, the locals have managed to grow their own crops on the island, using the lapilli as soil. Their crops consist of grape plants, and wineries are found across the entire island.
The landscape of Lanzarote was appealing to the PHASR team at Western University and the CSA because of its analogous appearance with the lunar surface. The lapilli, cinder cones, lava flows, and fissures all show resemblances to geological features on the Moon. The lava flows and lapilli appear similar to the basalt and regolith samples brought back from the Apollo and Luna samples. The landscape offered a more traversable terrain than Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho (our first proposed analogue site). The sites have greater surface area, the lapilli offers more traction for the rover, and lava flow outcrops and fragments are suitably distributed mitigating limitations for using stand-off and contact science instruments. The European Space Agency (ESA) have used Lanzarote as a site for testing rover mobility and contact science instruments, and to train Europe’s future astronauts! ESA recommended we visit their training site, called Tinguatan (Image below).
The seven sites visited during this trip are called: Tinguatan, Pico Partido North and South, Las Lapas o del Cuervo, Valle de la tranquilidad, Bomba Volcanica Gigantesca, and Ortiz Cardona. Overall the sites comprise the same geology. The geological features include: A’a lava flows (clinkered surface, aphanitic texture (very fine-grained, cannot distinguish minerals using a hand lens), and rubbled flow layer at their base), angular, dark grey lapilli only varying in colour at locations where ground and meteoric water alteration occurred, flat-hummocky terrain, and surrounded by cinder cones. Fluid alterations have left red and yellow material, which is slightly finer grained than the lapilli. The red material is ferric oxide minerals, while yellow material is interpreted to be a secondary iron-bearing oxide mineral (could not identify the mineral in the field). What was a real treat to find in the lava flows were mantle xenoliths containing a high abundance of olivine crystals. Finding xenoliths at most of the sites proved to be easier than expected as most outcrops and fragments contained at least one xenolith.
Geology was not the only item on our list to check off for the reconnaissance survey. We had to check the logistics of each site, making sure the site is accessible for off-road vehicles to transport equipment, proximity to roads, buildings, tourist paths, emergency services, etc, and what permits we would need for the site.
As I mentioned earlier, three out of the seven sites we visited met most of the geological and logistical requirements. We ranked Tinguatan, Valle de la Tranquilidad, and Ortiz Cardona as our top field site choices for the PHASR analogue mission. All three sites have their own advantages: (1) Tinguatan has very little vegetation cover and has been recommended by ESA. (2) Valle de la Tranquilidad has flat terrain allowing the rover to travel at high speeds. (3) Ortiz Cardona has a flat-hummocky terrain allowing the rover to be challenged when moving up slopes but still perform long traverse routes, a high rock abundance for sampling, far from main roads, and outside of the Natural Park restrictions. The Western and CSA teams are currently in discussion for selecting the best site out of the three. Personally, I think Ortiz Cardona is the best site for the PHASR mission because its terrain varies in slope making it appear more analogous to the Moon, has a high rock abundance for stand-off and contact science, accessible using a dirt road, and has a low vegetation cover. If you would like to see images of the sites, please go straight to the image gallery at the end of this blog.
I could write about my entire my trip in this blog but I feel that showing pictures in a chronological order will be more colourful and enjoyable! So here we go!!! (Images summarizing the field reconnaissance survey).
2. The Return from LPSC
Only a week after I returned from Lanzarote on the 11th of March I had to prepare for the 49th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference meeting held at the Woodlands Texas. The conference lasted four and a half days from the 19th - 23rd and I attended poster and oral presentations on a range of planetary science research topics, from astrobiology to the icy moons of Jupiter. My favourite presentations covered research projects on the surface of Titan, terrestrial impact cratering, shock metamorphism, planetary volcanism, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter instruments.
I did not attend the conference on my own. I attended with both of my research groups: Neish Lab and Team Dr Crater. All 16 of us had oral and poster presentations, some of us even had two posters or both a poster and oral. We supported one another and attended each others presentations, even the ones that were first thing in the morning (although when you decide to wake up at 6 am to have a quick morning workout the morning presentations are not so bad)!! One presentation in particular was from one of our own Neish Lab, Josh Hedgepeth talking about Impact Cratering on Titan! It was a very good and intriguing talk and I encourage all of you guys to follow Josh (@jjosh_h) if you would like to learn more about impact craters on Titan.
Other oral presentations were given by members of Team Dr Crater. I was not able to take photos of them at the podium but I can guarantee you all of the talks were well spoken, clear, engaging, and had an element of enthusiasm. Below is a picture of Team Dr Crater, members include: Dr Gordon Osinski, Dr Livio Tornabene, Dr Matt Bourassa, Dr Eric Pilles, Dr Melissa Battler, Patrick Hill (PhD Candidate), Zach Morse (PhD Candidate), Christy Caudill (PhD Candidate), Sarah Scholes (PhD Candidate), Shannon Hibbards (PhD Student), Matthew Svensson (PhD), Jen Newman (PhD Cnadidate), myself haha (PhD Student), and Jordon Hawkswell (MSc Student).
I don't have a picture of Neish Lab from the conference (which is ashame, we really should have gotten one). Well, I can tell you Neish Lab consisted of Dr Catherine Neish, Dr Mike Zanetti, myself, Josh Hedgepeth (MSc Student), Jeff Daniels (MSc Student), and Kevin Fan (BSc Student, University of British Columbia).
Speaking of poster sessions, I presented two posters at LPSC this year, titled "Redox Conditions and Lava Flow Surface Roughness" and "Impact Melt Sheet of West Clearwater Lake Structure: A Geochemical and Petrographic Analysis".
Annoyingly, I forgot to get a photo of myself in front of my redox conditions poster so we will have to settle for the West Clearwater poster. Sorry everyone, next year I promise to not forget presentation photos.
With this being my second time attending LPSC, I felt more comfortable meeting students and professionals from other institutions and research organizations. Even during the poster sessions I approached a couple of people who were experts in the field I wanted enter for my PhD. I explained what research proposal I was going to write for my PhD, how to collect the data, and what questions my research would answer. They had some great advice for me and agreed it was a good idea for a PhD. I took on all of the advice and plan to find the background literature to help me write up my PhD proposal, which I can now say will be on the physical and chemical properties of impact melts: terrestrial and lunar.
When I was not listening poster and oral presentations, and catching up with friends I made from short and field courses I was attending afternoon and evening events. One in particular that I found very compelling was the Tenth Annual Susan Niebur Women in Planetary Science Event focusing this year on "Imposter Syndrome". I found the event eye opening for me because it helped relieve some stress I have had about the quality of my work and whether others in the planetary science community will find it engaging and interesting. It has helped me realize I am not the only one that thinks harshly about their own work, talking with them during the event has made everything a lot less stressful than it was a few months ago.
The 49th LPSC not only helped me academically, it helped me realize I should take a step back, remove thoughts on negative work quality and why I think it is not going to be accepted into the planetary science community, and strive for my fullest potential during my PhD!
On a more cheerful note, before we conclude this blog I received an email from the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) during my trip at Lanzarote. I have been accepted into the LPI Exploration Summer Science Internship!!! I will be an intern at LPI for 10 weeks in Houston over the summer (end of May to start of August), working with Dr David Kring, attending lectures almost everyday, and completing workshops on utilizing the Deep Space Gateway platform for future planetary exploration (it is no longer called Deep Space Gateway but I am still calling it this because I think the name does not reflect the platforms purpose).
The next blog will talk about my PhD research, so do not worry you will all be informed about what it is I plan to do for the next 3 years and 5 months (wow that long huh...!).
Unrelated to research, the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games has now officially begun! I have a feeling this is going to be an event to remember! Obviously, I will be supporting Scotland in the games, have to show my support for my little sister in the gymnastics sessions!
See you all next time!