Planetary Lake Lander Maiden Voyage… On Laguna Negra

Liam and Suzan were joined by Eric for the official Maiden Voyage of the Planetary Lake Lander. Although the floating pontoon and
meteorological station did ride out last winter on the lake, today was the first time that the complete lander, featuring the software and components to complete the mission, navigated on the lake.

Liam drove the lander, powered by an electric motor, from the rocky beach where they had been working for the last week assembling it, and moored it at the temporary mooring location not far off shore from the Base Camp Landing.

“It’s actually kind of beautiful” said team Roboticist Susan Lee.

This will make work slightly easier, because the place where the team was assembling the PLL was over a Kilometer away and required travelling boat with all the tools back and forth. The new mooring location is closer, but it might require more care to work on the floating platform in the lake. But the team say they are up to the challenge.

Today also marked the first day of Bathymetric and Thermal surveying of the lake, with Eric covering several kilometers in the zodiac in survey mode.

Activities Log

Posted by PLL Team

Heavy clouds rushed up the valley this morning and enveloped the Base Camp in a dense fog, precluding any work that required boating. Everybody took advantage of this break to catch up on other jobs that had been neglected by our enthusiasm for the field work.

By noon the sun had burned through the cloud cover, but was accompanied by the strong wind that the forecast had predicted.

Liam and Suzan returned to the PLL location to continue …, while Trey managed the other end of the communication from the Robo-Dome.

The strong wind continued, and about 4 pm a gust nearly collapsed the Robo-Dome on top of Trey and Lisa. One of the bows that hold the Dome up had broken, and it took some quick thinking to jury-rig a splint before another gust came along, and then added extra support guys to prevent further trouble. (The Shelves in the Kitchen tent were also blown over in the gust, but no gear was blown away.)

What is a Limnologist?

Limnologist Kevin Rose

Limnologist Kevin Rose

Pll team member Kevin Rose is a limnologist. He studies inland waters, including the biology, chemistry, and physical characteristics of lakes like Laguna Negra.

In many ways, the chemistry and physics of a lake set the constraints
on what life can and what it looks like. In Laguna Negra, that life
includes everything from phytoplankton to zooplankton to trout. Part
of the Planetary Lake Landers mission is to investigate how lakes
change when the climate changes. Changes in lake physics and chemistry
that result from reduced inflow from receding glaciers, for example,
could change the lifecycle of many elements in the lake and rapidly
alter the food chain.

If you’d like to know more about limnology, check out Kevin’s website

Activity log

By Eric Smith

This morning Nathalie, Nicolas and I took the zodiak titled “Viking 1”
across the lake to investigate the zooplankton at the base of a couple
of small waterfalls.
The trip over was calm, going with the wind, but as soon as we arrived
at the cliffs where the glacial melt enters the lake, the wind started
picking up, strong out of the south, the direction we needed to go to
return to the base camp. After confirming that the copepods population
was active, we headed into the waves for the long wet slog to

While we were off exploring, Liam, Suzan. and Trey continued
assembling the Lake Lander. Already creating its own electrical power
with solar panels. Today they turned on, the electronics, got them to
talk to base camp, and established satellite connectivity to Ames via
satellite. A big success.

The early cloud cover, and increase in wind speeds seem to confirm the
forecast of stormy weather to come, but we are still hopeful that
tomorrow is as productive as today was.

A Greeting from PLL Team Member Eric Wartenweiler Smith

By Eric Smith

Hi All,

Part of my role on the Lake Lander Project will be writing posts for this blog to let you all know what the PLL team is achieving on a regular basis. I tend to write short posts on a specific subject, hopefully accompanied by a good photo, and sometimes with links to more details or information. This will be in addition to working on the bathymetric survey of the lake and supporting other portions of the mission.

A little explanation about how I came to be on the PLL team for 2012. Principal Investigator Nathalie Cabrol and I met when she was preparing a team for the 2006 High Lakes Expedition. The project would include climbing Licancabur Volcano in the Andes and diving into its crater lake in a project to study the origins of life in extreme environments and better understand how to look for evidence of past life on Mars. As a scientific diver and research vessel captain who enjoys extreme environments, it sounded like just my cup of tea.

During those 6 weeks at high altitudes in the Andes we collected a lot of data from that beautiful lake on Licancabur, climbed 3 other volcanoes, and developed a great sense of teamwork.

Something that I confirmed during that trip is that as much as scientific exploration, I also love sharing the excitement that comes with being involved in a field expedition. So when Nathalie contacted me again this year to help out with Education and Public Outreach, it offered the best of both worlds.

So tonight I find myself in the Andes Again, on an expedition that I find incredibly exciting. And cant wait to tell you about. I hope you enjoy the story to come!

All the best,