Some of the team members are already in Santiago, Chile. Others left today, and many will follow this week end. I am leaving with Edmond on Saturday for what will be our first field season for the project. We are heading for Laguna Negra, which will be our site for a “full dress rehearsal” in preparation of the next two years. We will position the Lake Lander and its backup system on the lake where they will stay for about 3 months to capture the melt season in the region of the Echaurren glacier. Elements of the shore station as well as the hydrology experiment will be deployed. The goal of these three months is to collect environmental and biological data in an around the lake, and study how the probe senses its environment. After that period, Lake Lander will come back to the US where the engineering team will start working on its “brain” (the adaptive system).
While the basin of Laguna Negra was carved by glaciers a long time ago, those glaciers are now receding at an alarming pace. As a result, although the lake is still supplied by melt water, it is not anymore, by far, in direct contact with glaciers, and remains highly transparent most of the year. This distance from the glaciers provides a more “manageable” and controlled environment for this first year of operations, and will make fine-tuning the probe easier, compared to the rougher and more extreme environment of the Patagonian glacial lakes where Lake Lander will ultimately be deployed. There, it will be directly at the contact of the ice, in an extremely dynamic environment. Further, the science data collected at Laguna Negra this year will give us the opportunity to compare its physico-chemical structure, composition, ecosystem and biodiversity to those of lakes at different stages of deglaciation.
This first year marks also a time where the probe will be the object of intense “baby-sitting” while our ultimate goal in the third year is to deliver a robotic lake lander that can autonomously sense its environment and make decision on its own on when and how to investigate critical changes in a planetary mission scenario.