Holuhraun Field Work and The Role I Played

August 31, 2019

     Hello everyone! So the summer is officially coming to an end at Western University and the undergraduate students are slowly trickling in. It has been a long a summer involing progress reports, field objective planning, health and safety meetings, and manuscript writing and journal submissions. Now, as fall 2019 approaches, I start to look at what the academic year entails for myself and my research. What is really going to keep me busy this academic year is the data I collected during a recent field deployment at the 2014-15 Holuhraun lava field in Iceland. Part of my PhD research, the work I am completed at Holuhraun will be the second chapter of my thesis. It builds on my Craters of the Moon research focusing on radar interpretations of lava flows, and expands into comparing other remote sensing datasets to radar. My field work at Holuhraun was funded by a Canadian Space Agency FAST grant proposal titled "Volcanic analogues for the exploration of Mars". I would like to thank the Canadian Space Agency for funding this portion of my research, and I would like to thank my supervisor Dr Catherine Neish for including me on the proposal and granting me the opportunity to conduct field work in Iceland.


     I started writing this blog and realized half way through that it was not only going to be difficult to discuss everything that happened during field work but some of the really interesting parts of this research come during the data analysis. So, in the interest of time and trying to stay consistent and publish more posts for you guys I have decided to split the Iceland work into three stories. For the next month, I will talk to you guys about my personal experience in the field, the science goals and objectives with a brief summary of the geologic history of the Holuhraun lava field, and the post field work data analysis I plan to complete throughout the months of September and October. In this post, we will start with my personal experience, and for me this field work was extra special because it was my first time in Iceland :D


     Visiting Iceland was exciting and scary for me but not in the way you might think. Typically, people get excited when they visit Iceland because they can explore ice caves, walk along the black sand beaches, ride horses near the glaciers, or soak away their troubles in the geothermal heated Blue Lagoon pool. Do not get me wrong, all of that had me excited, I just had a few other things going through my mind. In January 2019, I took on the role as logistics lead where I would be in-charge of sorting out travel arrangements (flights, rental vehicles and transportation to and from the airports), booking accommodations for the entire team, ensuring all health and safety documents were filled out and signed by the team weeks before departure, and collaborating with the NASA Goddard GIFT team who were also conducting field work at the same time as us. I have traveled a lot during my years at university so I was accustomed to booking flights, rental vehicles, accommodations, and filling out health and safety forms. All of that was simple for me. The scary part of this experience for me was knowing I had all of this responsibility and did not want to let my team down, our collaborators down, or more importantly my supervisor Dr Catherine Neish down. To ensure everything went as smoothly as possible I remained dedicated and focused to planning the logistical details for Iceland. 


     The months flew by and before I knew it it was late July. On the 24th, myself, Carol Rodriguez (Dr Catherine Neish's MSc Student) and Dr Ethan Schaefer (Dr Catherine Neish's new postdoc) departed for Reykjavik from Toronto Pearson Airport. The travel was quite smooth and the team arrived at Reykjavik (staying at Snorri's Guesthouse) with no issues. We met up with our other two tem members, Dr Christopher Hamilton and Dr Antero Kukko. I will discuss a bit more about their affiliation in the next blog post. We stayed in Reykjavik for two nights before travelling to Holuhraun, which is located in the Icelandic Highlands, in Suður-Þingeyjarsýsla, Northeastern Region of Iceland. After picking up our rental vehicles, we joined the Goddard GIFT team and began our journey (just to let you know our convoy was seven vehicles total. See photos below).



The images above show the convoy of trucks used by the Canadian Space Agency and NASA Goddard GIFT teams. The teams are adjusting the truck tire pressures to prepare them for off-road terrain.


The image above is the view from our vehicle when we drove through fog on our way to Myvatn.


     After a two day journey (stayed overnight at Myvatn, northern region of Iceland) and 3.5 hours of off-road driving and river crossing (yes, we had to cross rivers to reach our campsite near Holuhraun) we made it to Dreki where we set up camp for the next 10 nights. It took us a couple of attempts but we managed to set up four dome tents and all our personal tents. Below you will see a photo of the campsite with the dome tents and some of the trucks. 

Image shows an overview of the campsite



     Now, you cannot tell from outside but the four dome tents represented different stations. The stations were the lounge, kitchen, equipment/charging, and supply. The kitchen and lounge stations are self-explanatory and they were the two orange dome tents. Part of the team work at the campsite involved taking turns cooking dinner and cleaning the dishes. I was really surprised about the meals because we ate really well! We had meals such as chilli, pita bread pizza night, burritos, and curry! Iceland currently stands as the most well-provisioned fieldwork I have ever undertaken. To see what was going on in the kitchen tent check out the image below. 

The yellow tents were the equipment/charging and supply stations. The equipment/charging station was set up to allow some team members to set up their field equipment, run calibrations, and charge batteries. This was an essential station for team member Dr Antero Kukko who needed to charge lithium batteries every night to run his backpack-mounted LiDAR kinematic scanning system (one of my next blogs will go into a lot more detail about his state-of-the-art LiDAR equipment!). 


 The image above shows myself and Dr Patrick Whelley from NASA Goddard preparing a delicious curry for the entire team



Since this blog post is the most informal out of the three Iceland topics, instead of writing out paragraphs of text for you to read I am going to provide a image slide show for you all. The images include camp, fieldwork, and travel photos. 





     Before I finish off this post, I want to introduce you all to the team that I was a part of while at Holuhraun. The image below is the GIFT Goddard/CSA team photo we all took before some members left the field early.


To make this easy to follow, I am going to name each member from left to right: Dr Stephen Scheidt, Carolina Rodriguez, Dr Cherie Achilles, Dr Trevor Graff, Dr Lis Gallant, Dr Patrick Whelley, Dr Kelsey Young, Dr David Baker, Emileigh Shoemaker, Dr Antero Kukko, Dr Liz Rampe (JSC), Gavin Tolometti, Dr Jacob Richardson, Dr Ryan Ewing (SAND-E), Dr Sarah Sutton, Joana Voigt, Dr Ethan Schaefer, and Dr Christopher Hamilton. The team was very diverse, each field personnel bringing their own expertise, enthusiasm and love for the field of planetary science. I could not have asked for a better experience. Getting the opportunity to work alongside NASA Goddard scientists and professors from highly established USA institutions was not only inspiring for me but also gave me even more motivation to work towards a career in planetary science research.


I want to thank the Canadian Space Agency again for providing me the grant to conduct field work at Holuhraun, Dr Antero Kukko for joining our team and sharing his expertise in LiDAR surveys, Dr Christopher Hamilton for his expert advice on volcanism and the geologic history of Holuhraun, and Dr Catherine Neish for entrusting me with the role of logistics lead.


Stay tuned for the Holuhraun science objectives blog!





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