Thursday, August 15, 2019

Just Plain Life Balance


Working in a garden is peaceful, fun, and productive

            In 2016 when I received the ALS diagnosis, people said to me, “Great! Now you can retire.”  Their well-meaning sentiments were influenced, probably, by the fact that work is something that is slightly onerous to them and to be avoided. If you have enough money to retire, why not? There are others in my life—usually research scientists like myself—who are still in the “game” even in their mid- to late seventies. They understood that I needed to decide for myself when it was time to close down a career that I’ve loved for more than 40 years. After a lifetime of go-go-go, its not easy, and we haven’t learned how to slow down and turn off our work.
            For scientists and academics who work with their creative sides most days, the division between work and not-work is blurred. This is most often referred to as work-life balance. I submit that it’s better to think of this as life balance. Many younger scientists have written to me recently intrigued by my stories of being a mom and a wife and even a woman, as well as a scientist. How did I manage this fairly successfully over the years?
Embrace the holidays!
            Don’t be afraid to be the Captain of your own Ship. Others can make you feel like you aren’t good enough or don’t work hard enough. This should be for you to decide. Although I worked a 50+-hour workweek for the majority of my career, I also took off completely for holidays, soccer games, and physical exercise. The short times away really don’t matter in the long run, because they serve to refresh your life—and maintain important balance.
            I have a couple friends who, even in their sixties, always tell us when I ask how they’re doing answer, “Out of control!” They both work 60+ hours a week, and really aren’t enjoying the effort all that much, because their work stems more from obligation than joy. More time spent working doesn’t necessarily mean you get more done that matters. All of us know folks who work themselves ragged, but never seem to submit the paper or make the revisions to get it published.
            Other friends, both science professors married to each other, have made a rule that one or the other of them came home to greet their children when they got off the school bus at 3:30 pm. A look at their productivity and accomplishments shows that although they may have had a longer “lag phase” in their early, baby years, they quickly made up for the “lost” time when the kids reached elementary school. The upside of a system like this is that because they negotiated life balance for their married life, they’ve developed a robust system for dealing with future life and career challenges.
            When asked, my husband attributed his life balance to the fact that he chose to remain in a job that gave him freedom to do what he deemed was important. No one wants a boss or supervisor breathing down your neck, telling you what to do. The other aspect of his life balance was to remain in a job that was not stressful. If there was stress, it was self imposed, not external. Not everyone is that fortunate, however, but it’s something to consider when making life choices.
            Some of my best ideas have come from times when I’m not at my desk or the laboratory. They occur when I might be relaxed, maybe even with a beer or two, when my brain eases up from the day-to-day “work” that makes life difficult. Control of your life, if you can get it, and freedom to do what you love, if you plan things and chose the right path, should ultimately lead to life balance—a combination of what you get paid for and what you don’t.

Testing Technology for NASA


Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) Project
By the 2006 expedition, the priority for AMASE trips shifted towards testing new instruments in the field prior to their being selected for space flight on upcoming Mars missions. In a proposal to the Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) program, we asked the following questions:
1) How do we access suitable samples?
2) How do we identify, sample and detect molecules of interest at suitable spatial and detection sensitivity scales?
3) How do we ensure sample integrity and control for cross contamination by organic, biogenic and inorganic molecules?
4) How do measurements from laboratory and field instrumentation compare in terms of analyzing terrestrial samples from a Mars relevant environment?

         Each year we worked with a JPL crew that brought along a sophisticated rover
Cliffbot rover in Svalbard
 that was put to the test on slopes and terrains similar to those found on Mars. JPL scientists Terry Huntsberger, Ashely Stroupe, Paulo Younse, and Michael Garrett took turns operating the Cliff-Bot rover. This team was given 2-3 days of special time to test their rover. Many of us envisioned the rover swiftly covering the landscape in a matter of minutes, reaching out its robotic arm, scooping up sediment and returning faithfully to its base. Unfortunately, sending a rover over a complex landscape, as though it were on a remote planetary body, was a much slower, hour-by-hour and inch-by-inch process that tested the patience of many a crewmember.
         The project now included two instruments that were ultimately chosen to fly on Mars Curiosity: CheMin and SAM (Sample Analysis on Mars). CheMin’s instrument PI is David Blake, a scientist at NASA Ames. Blake, a US Navy veteran and an expert in designing and testing field X-ray mineralogy instruments, is also quite a character. Dave sang navy songs laced with profanity, told jokes and funny stories of all types, and laughed with a distinct pirate-like “Har har”. To say he brought some “color” to the expeditions is an understatement. SAM’s PI, Paul Mahaffey, brought a crew of scientists from NASA Goddard including Pamela Conrad, Jennifer Eigenbrode, and Inge Loes ten Kate. SAM is a combination gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (GC-MS) equipped with the capability of high temperature pyrolysis GC-MS and a tunable diode laser for measuring methane and its isotopic composition. CheMin was fully portable and field deployable; SAM was not.
Mission "manager" Steve Squyres
         In addition to instrument teams, Steven Squyres, the PI of the Mars Exploration Rover mission with Opportunity and Spirit, was invited to observe sampling in the field and to conduct mock Mars sampling exercises (Science Operations Working Group: SOWG--pronounced “Sahg”) based on his experience “roving Mars” from Earth. Squyres was our most “famous” AMASE participant. We were a bit in awe to first meet him, but he quickly adapted to the informal, give-and-take atmosphere of discovery that was AMASE. Steve is a rail thin guy who likes to climb ice mountains in winter and must have the metabolism of a bird. Dressed in black track jacket and jeans with his head wrapped in a red printed bandana, Squyres led the SWOG sessions seriously. He also had the chance to participate in active fieldwork, where he was often a fish out of water so to speak, since he is a space and planetary scientist with little training in biology.  He particularly enjoyed helping out Verena Starke with her work and sampling at Troll Springs.
Paul Mahaffey and his SAM prototype
         The SWOG exercises were designed so that scientists and engineers, required to work together in teams during real missions, would learn as a group how to answer the four technical questions posed above. The question of how to access suitable samples had to be tackled separately with specialized practice with the rover team. Our second question--how to identify, sample and detect molecules of interest at suitable spatial and detection sensitivity scales?-- took up most of our time.
         For many of the last AMASE expeditions, about three SOWG exercises were held each year. Traveling with AMASE was a German camera crew led by Nicole Schmitz, who was testing a camera that she hoped would fly on a future Mars mission. She joined AMASE expedition photographer Kjell Ove Storvik, Steele, and Amundsen, who chose an outcrop for investigation.  The two photographers then provided PanCam like photos that were sent back to the team “on Earth”--meaning inside a room on the ship--for them to analyze. Photos were in black and white and then pieced together to form a mosaic of the outcrop. The CheMin, SAM, UV fluorescence, and Life Marker Chip instrument teams were assigned an energy budget. For each measurement requested, the team needed to use up one or more of its energy allotments to “pay” for the analyses.
Pan Conrad and Dave Blake with his CheMin
         After the teams finished arguing about where on the outcrop the samples should be taken and how they would use their precious energy resources, the crew on land sampled the outcrop with hammers and delivered the samples to the instruments. CheMin, UV fluorescence, and the Life Marker Chip instruments were deployed in the field; SAM on board ship. When the analyses were completed, data were “downlinked” from “Mars” to “Earth” for inspection and analysis. At this point, teams argued as to whether they were able to detect molecules of life on “Mars”. The discussion then shifted to whether or not a sample should be cached for future return to Earth for more sophisticated sampling.
         These exercises were intense: periods of high drama and discussion, followed by periods of restless inactivity, cooped up on the ship or lounging on a rock outcrop. All samples were brought back to the ship and analyzed by the full AMASE crew with a summary report for each SOWG exercise. As ASTEP funding and matching European Space Agency funding neared completion in 2010, AMASE entered a period of uncertainty in particular about its focus on discovery-based science versus technology testing. Folks like Blake and Mahaffey needed to turn their attention completely to Mars Science Laboratory. The yearly, international expeditions with Hans, ESA and NASA collaborators, and Carnegie scientists ended on the flat side.

Microbial Life in Svalbard


AMASE team 2010
It is generally presumed that if we are able to detect life on another planetary body, it will most likely be similar to our simplest forms of life--the microbes. Therefore, NASA’s concentrates on looking for microscopic signs of life. From the 2001 NRC report:
“The detection of extremely low levels of microorganisms after spacecraft sterilization involves increasing refinement of laboratory techniques designed to detect known types of terrestrial organisms.  It also requires research into the possibilities and consequences of failure to detect unknown or poorly known microorganisms that exist within Earth’s environment.  The detection of extant life on samples returned from another planet, or analyzed in situ, is a much less well-defined venture.  It requires a set of assumptions about the fundamental nature of life that might exist on another planet.”

         The NRC quote defined how we searched for “signs of life” during the 2004 AMASE trip as we sampled along the flanks and waters of Jotun Hot Springs. On the travertine terrace several tens of meters high, the water from three spring outflows had temperatures around 30°C. At each outflow, a small pool 1 to 5 cm deep supported a dense covering of microbes and algae, green in color, and often filamentous. As the effluents passed down the travertine slope, they cooled and were replaced by larger filamentous organisms and diatoms. I was drawn to study the thermophiles there and the scene brought back great memories of fieldwork in Yellowstone National Park. Now working with the Carnegie and JPL groups, we developed a completely different sampling and strategy plan.
         We took a step “backwards” so to speak and walked away to refrain from immediately collecting the obvious organisms in the springs and devised a coordinated sampling plan on the terraces adjacent to the springs hoping that they would present a greater life detection challenge. The Carnegie team of Andrew Steele, Jake Maule, Jan Toporski and Maia Schweizer were determining the microbial composition and biomass using field-based PCR and an ATP-based bioluminescence and LAL (Limulus  amebocyte lysate, an extract from the horseshoe crab) instrument manufactured by Charles River Laboratories. My task was to measure ammonium and nitrate extracted from these samples as well as to determine the absorption spectrum of microbial pigments. The JPL group, Pamela Conrad, Lonny Lane, and Rho Bhartia, were testing a UV-fluorescence prototype instrument. We argued for several hours on the outcrop before taking the first sample and making measurements. The microbiology group sampled first so as to avoid contamination that could come from our activities.  I sampled next, since my sampling was simple: a scoop of travertine adjacent to the microbiology sample. Last came the UV-fluorescence team who took their time troubleshooting their instrument along the way. They encountered numerous problems including computer screens that literally froze, telephone type cable connections that shrank in the cold and made no contact, and light contamination from sunlight.
         Nitrogen concentrations for both nitrate and ammonium in travertine samples were more than three times greater than volcanic rocks nearby. In waters downstream from the springs’ sources, ammonium concentrations were relatively high then decreased, while simultaneously nitrate concentrations increased to levels similar to those of ammonia in sources.  These data clearly indicate microbial nitrification. Pigments were extracted in the field at 4°C (ambient air temperature). In these “off axis” samples, the absorption peaked at about 400-450 nm, indicative of the Soret band of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants. In many samples, light absorption in the near ultra-violet (UV) range (360-400 nm) indicated the presence of the pigment scytonemin, a microbial pigment synthesized to protect organisms from UV damage. The absorption bands were especially strong in what we called “black” and “white” sediments.
On the way to Troll Springs, crossing an Arctic River
         Back in the lab at the Carnegie, I analyzed total nitrogen as well as the carbon and nitrogen isotope biosignatures of the organic matter of these samples. Total nitrogen in these sediments was five times greater in hot spring sediments relative to adjacent volcanic rocks. Compared to the extractable, inorganic nitrogen measured on board ship, the total nitrogen was overwhelmingly organically bonded nitrogen. The isotope patterns of carbon and nitrogen in biomass and rock samples from Jotun Springs varied over short distances reflecting the activity of living microbes in effluent waters. If there had been no microbial activity, I would have found uniform isotope patterns.        
         Based on the carbon signatures of microbes, we surmised that the concentration of dissolved CO2 coming from the hot spring sources must be high. Again, if we were measuring the carbon signals of abiogenically derived organic carbon, we would expect the patterns to be much more uniform. On Earth, the “background” value measured in what is supposed to be “clean” materials Is actually slight oil contamination that is ubiquitous.  I concluded that 1) based on changes in nutrient concentrations over the spatial extent near the springs, 2) elevated concentrations relative to igneous rocks, 3) the absorption of light in the visible and near UV region, and 4) the variable isotopic compositions that these represented biosignatures of life in these samples.  
         Over the years, we made many trips to Troll Springs, which are located about 6 km from the shoreline. The hike there circumnavigated Sverrefjell Volcano, crossed a marshy area where we had to step on clumps of moss to prevent sinking in quicksand, before reaching a rushing, cold Arctic river about 100 m wide. There were few comfortable or safe options for crossing the river. Option one, encase your hiking boots in trash bags and run quickly through the water, hoping the bags stayed on your boots. Option two, put the trash bags over your feet, then back in your boots. Wade more surely through the river channel, but you’ll have wet boots on the other side. Option 3, run as fast and as fleet as you can and hope that your boots remain as dry as possible. All three options generally resulted in cold feet and wet boots. Having a dry set of socks in your backpack was a good idea.
         Troll Springs spread out on the landscape for about 500 m. Some of the springs had dried completely, while others were going full blast. Those with active flow supported robust communities of microorganisms (Starke et al., 2012). Gases emitted from the springs had high concentrations of CO2 (Jamtveit et al., 2008). I measured nutrients and pigments in soils, sediments, and springs from this area for many years. Particularly interesting were the rock samples in which the cyanobacteria and other microbes were found mainly within cracks and crevices (e.g. endoliths).
Polar bear eating a seal on an ice flow
         In 2004, we discovered a relatively small area at Troll Springs littered with hundreds of small bird bones. Upon closer inspection, we realized the bones were clustered around an Arctic fox den, which was situated on the side of a dormant spring where the soil was warmed year round. Immediately, I collected bones and soils from around the den. During repeated trips to Troll Spring over the next five years, it appeared that a fox inhabited this den continuously. Based on the isotopic composition of the soils, I found that the fox’s “influence” on the landscape through its feeding and excreting activities extended 60 m in three of the cardinal directions (e.g., North, South, East, and West) from its den. Plants growing on those soils had distinctive isotope values for both carbon and nitrogen that showed “fertilization” from prey caught on the shorelines. Isotopic analyses of the small bird bones showed the fox diet consisted of both terrestrial (e.g. ptarmigan) and marine birds. About 80% of the bones were from marine seabirds, such as kittiwakes. Accordingly, the fox was responsible for bringing nutrients from the ocean into a nutrient-starved terrestrial environment creating a green, “hot spot” that could be seen from some distance. Although “foxes on Mars” is a ridiculous notion in itself, this discovery was a robust example of how biological processes of organisms can physically and chemically alter the landscape in which they lived.
Collecting gases from thermal springs
         The second focus of 2004 AMASE was to sample the ice and rocks in a small cave near the top of Sverrefjell Volcano. It was an exciting climb to near the top of this 525 m volcano. Perched precariously on a ridge top, we deployed the microbial instruments, the UV fluorescent probe, and I collected samples for nutrients and isotopes. Hans Amundsen hacked into the ice with a sterilized ice axe, and the team bagged a substantial chunk of ice to be shipped back frozen to the United States, apropos of sample return from Mars. The microbe team found elevated levels of ATP and LAL-luminescence in the ice relative to surrounding rocks. Their PCR results indicated eubacterial and Archael genes. In the breccia surrounding the ice, we identified genes amplified from sulfate reducing bacteria. Similar genes were not found within the ice. These samples were particularly interesting because they surrounded the layered carbonate found on earlier trips by Amundsen and Treiman. Organic carbon in these samples was <0.1%, a very low amount. They also contained carbonate carbon with isotope values of indicating that these carbonates were precipitated in freezing conditions under glacial ice, perhaps with mantle-derived CO2.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Andrew Steele--AKA Steelie

Maia Schweitzer, Jan Toporski, Steelie, Jake Maule, Marilyn, AMASE 2004
            With Wes Huntress as our new Director in 1999, we began a search to hire a replacement for Ed Hare—someone who would be a full time astrobiologist. Carnegie and the Geophysical Laboratory hire people in very different ways than universities. It is the sole discretion of the Director of the department to chose and negotiate with a new staff member. For the astrobiology position, we advertised widely and received a number of applications from interesting, qualified individuals. A short list was struck and about five people each spent a couple of days visiting the campus, giving a seminar, and trying to impress the scientific staff.
            At the time, I was involved in using a new time-of-flight mass spectrometer to identify unknown compounds in complex mixtures. The instrument, the Protein Chip Reader, could measure the coupling of an antibody with its antigen very precisely. I had heard about a young man at Johnson Space Flight Center who was developing a similar system—except miniaturized—for flying on an upcoming Mars mission. He also heard of what I was doing and wrote me an email asking to visit the Laboratory. I was excited by the prospect, asked for his CV, and invited him to come for a seminar. Meanwhile, his CV was circulated to the astrobiology hiring committee. We considered him a potentially viable candidate.
            Andrew was, by then, working in England, so flew over to the States the weekend before his seminar to get adjusted to the time change. I met him briefly before his Monday seminar, telling him, “Hey! Do you know we have a staff position open for an Astrobiologist?” He did not. The news sent him into a bit of a panic, because Steele is usually informal in his mannerisms, dress, and speaking style. Apparently, he purchased a new outfit, updated his talk, and practiced it again and again before arriving at the Lab for his “visit” early Monday morning, which morphed into an impromptu interview. His combination of microbiology, meteorite geochemistry, technology, and Mars science was a perfect fit for what we were looking for. An offer quickly followed.
Marilyn and Steelie fish seining, Chesapeake Bay, 2002
            Andrew—Steelie—as he is known to almost everyone, looks the part of a 1990s British rocker. In fact, he is an accomplished guitarist and composer of rock music, playing and singing in a Takoma Park band. His light brown hair reaches to the middle of his back, or is frequently up in a man-bun or back in a ragged ponytail. Wearing jeans purchased at a boutique shop in London and a t-shirt with science logos, Steelie can light up a room with his outward enthusiasm. He wears his personality and feelings on his sleeve, however. When he’s in a bad mood, it shows. When he’s deep in thought, he paces, looking at the ground, muttering to himself about thermodynamics and Mars.
            Born in January of 1966, I was barely 13 years old when he was born. When we traveled to conferences, NASA meetings, and fieldwork, we looked like an unusual pair. Once—just once—in an airport rental car lot, a stranger said to him, “Your mother is waving at you over there.” That comment resulted in endless teasing. I was not old enough to be his mother, but earned the nickname of “Ma”. While he liked to say he thought I was “matronly” when he first met me, I enjoyed saying about him, “Yeah, he’s my son, living in the basement, doesn't have a girlfriend or a job, plays on an old Hitari video game all day.” The razzing continues to this day.
            Steelie hit the ground running at the Lab and built a strong team of young postdocs and students who adored him and his unconventional style. People came from around the world to work with him. He set up his first lab in Ed Hare and John Frantz’s old labs, shoehorning in autoclaves, microbial culture apparatus, DNA identification instruments, and sophisticated microscopes. He was known for working odd hours. I’d see him slink by my office around 11 am, backpack slung over his shoulder, often laughing. He worked until late at night, sometimes regaling his colleagues with emails at midnight. Steelie had never been responsible for lab personnel before. Sometimes he loved the job, other times he found it a bother.
            Often he was late for lab, committee, and informal meetings that he himself had set up. Finally one day, fed up with this, his lab group and I “decorated” his office with thousands of Styrofoam peanuts. When he saw the mess we created he was furious and let his lab mates know, in no uncertain terms, he was angry with their childish behavior. I let him know that I was the mastermind of the prank, and that if he wanted grown up behavior, he should be on time like a professional adult. We glowered a bit, then burst out laughing. I can’t say he completely changed his ways, but he grew more “adult like” and commanded the respect of his peers and lab group.
            Steelie’s first field trip was with my lab group who were investigating the effects of chicken waste (i.e., chicken &%*t) on the ecosystem. On his first attempt at fish seining, he lost his sandal in the mud. The remainder of the day he wore one shoe. His next trip was the 2003 expedition on AMASE. In Longyearbyen, he purchased a pair of fancy red hiking boots, which gave him huge blisters when he climbed Sverrefjell volcano for the first time. Never, ever one to give up, Steelie went on to become Chief Scientist and an accomplished Arctic explorer over the years.
         Although we were focused primarily on the ice cave-carbonate at the top of Sverrefjell in 2004, we were also excited to collect mantle xenoliths, rocks produced deep in the Earth’s interior then propelled to the surface during eruption.  Xenoliths are found in great abundance on the surface of Sverrefjell. For a biogeochemist, I was at first unaware of how special it was to find rocks like these. I collected almost 50 xenoliths, each about 8 to 10 cm in diameter. The amount of “organic” carbon in xenoliths was typically 0.01%, even lower than the surface volcanic rocks. Nitrogen was undetectable.  Usually with these low organic carbon concentrations, we would suspect contamination, however, Steele’s further investigations with Raman spectroscopy confirmed the indigeneity of the organic carbon.
         Steele et al. (2007) compared the Bockfjorden Volcanic Complex (BVC) carbonates from Sverrefjell Volcano to similar carbonates in the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite—the very same meteorite that others had mistakenly thought contained signs of life. Optical microscopy confirmed that the carbonate globules were in the form of magnesite between rims of magnetite. Raman spectroscopy revealed some zoning in the carbonates. Both the meteorite and the BVC carbonates contained the iron mineral hematite in close proximity to macromolecular carbon (MMC), measured as ordered and disordered graphite. Others had found MMC in ALH 84001 (Becker et al., 1999; McKay et al., 1996) and had trumpeted their finding as evidence of life. That said, the distribution of graphite in the meteorite and the BVC carbonate are very different from that of biologically-derived organic matter found in ancient rocks. Using the BVC sample, which was generated in mantle rocks deep in the Earth, Steele et al. argued for a similar mechanism of formation for the meteoritic organic carbon through reaction series with iron oxides, graphite, and CO2. Because the carbon phases were imaged and analyzed in situ, this work confirmed the indigeneity of the organic carbon in xenoliths as well as that of the ALH 84001 meteorite.  Whether this MMC was biological in origin was the next question. Arguments supporting or refuting the original McKay et al., (1996) paper have targeted the group’s conclusion that organic matter in the meteorite was of biological origin. Steele et al.’s (2007) paper put a nail in that argument.
         Steele and colleagues (Steele et al., 2018) continue to coauthor papers on martian organic matter from measurements made by the Curiosity rover. He followed up this work--once again taking full advantage of the martian meteorites that we have on hand that can be fully analyzed by sophisticated instrumentation. Using confocal Raman imaging spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy, he was able to examine the intimate details of organic matter formation. His findings, consistent with Mars Curiosity measurements, show that it is the interaction of brine-fluids with sulfides and spinel minerals by an electrochemical mechanism that results in the deposition of complex organic carbon in the martian samples. They conclude “The hypothesis developed from our observations on martian meteorites has profound implications for our understanding of other martian phenomena, including the presence of methane in the atmosphere and the origin of the refractory organic material in ancient sedimentary rocks found in situ by the SAM instrument.” Steele and his colleagues who participated in AMASE (Eigenbrode, Benning, Fries, Siljesrtom, Conrad, and McCubbin) “cut their teeth” on the samples from Sverrefjell volcano, demonstrating the power of collaborative inspiration often related by field investigations.
Marilyn and Steelie's normal faces
         Steele is one of my Science Brothers. Now that we live and work thousands of miles away from each other, when we call the other answers the phone “As I live and breathe!” I watched over his daughter when his second child was born. He mentored my son Evan when Chris and I moved to California. Steelie was one of the first people I told about my ALS diagnosis. I was one of the first he told about his mother’s passing. I may be more matronly than ever. His hair and beard are tinged with gray, but we’ve got a firm hold on life and science.

Ice Fields to Hot Springs: Targets for Science investigations

The Babes of Science: Tobler, Fogel, Conrad, Benning, and Eigenbrode
Science deliberations at Jotun Springs 2004
         Target areas for investigation were set before each year’s expedition. For the instrument engineers, there is every landform and slope imaginable, often within easy walking distance from shore. With many rock types, cold weather, and remote electronic access, the Svalbard environment put lab-designed instruments to a realistic test. All of the team was intrigued by the presence of glaciers, permafrost, Arctic rivers, and sea ice. The polar regions of Mars contain water ice year round. Learning how to look for signs of life in snow and ice became a major focus in subsequent years. Svalbard is cold enough to contain ice caps, laminated ice that has existed for hundreds if not thousands of years. Two geothermal environments, Troll and Jotun Springs, are the most northern thermal features on land. Troll Springs built significant calcium carbonate (travertine) deposits forming terraces that extended over several 100 m.  All of these features were within a distance from our ship that allowed for relatively easy sampling and collection of specimens as well as field deployment of instruments.
         In 2004, our first sample site was the Bockfjord Volcanic Complex (BVC) including Sverrefjell volcano, which rose up from sea level to over 500 m. Vertical lava conduits, some of which are filled with magnesium-iron-calcium carbonate minerals are relatively rare on Earth. These rare mineral forms were cemented into lava rocks and were part of the draw to go to this remote area. Previously, Hans and Allen Treiman found the rare carbonate minerals in the form of small globules in this Svalbard area (Amundsen, 1987). The globule-like form is nearly identical in appearance to similar minerals in the martian meteorite ALH84001—reportedly harboring martian life (Treiman et al., 2002). Work in 2003 hinted that there was microbial activity on the layered Mg-carbonate coatings on the BVC lava conduit walls. Our stable isotope data on carbonates suggested that the coatings were deposited by low temperature glacial melt-water. 
         Across the inlet from the BVC were the high, steep Devonian red beds that looked strikingly like the iron-rich red rocks of Mars. Although these weren’t as satisfying geologically to us, they held a certain spell when you climbed these mountains letting you easily imagine walking on the surface of Mars itself. One year, postdoc researcher Jake Maule borrowed a prototype space suit and roved the redbeds reminiscent of Armstrong’s first moonwalk 50 years ago. Maule was interested in entering the astronaut-training program; a few years prior to his AMASE experience he and I flew on NASA’s vomit comet to measure how the immune system would work at zero gravity. We learned that antibodies couple with their complement molecules, antigens, even easier at zero gravity than they did on Earth.
         Near the end of the expedition in 2004, we hiked at midnight in the land of 24 hour daylight to the Ebbadalen Formation in Billefjorden, an area that included Carboniferous sediments (about 320 million years old) with calcium-sulfate bearing minerals formed by evaporation that were deposited from a shallow marine setting. Outcrops contain mixed sulfate and sedimentary rocks analogous to evaporite sediments studied by the Mars rover Opportunity. Our team of 20 reached the outcrop at 2 am and swarmed over the layered rocks, rock hammers out and tapping. We found many sedimentary deposits hosting structures similar in appearance to the “blueberries” found on Mars. Clearly this was another example of a Mars analogue site.  

Get your ass out of bed! AMASE call for action

 Morton, intrepid deck hand and polar fisherman
AMASE men in black photo 2005

 The sun never sets in Svalbard in summer. It travels in a 24-hour circle in the sky not quite reaching directly above and of course, never dipping below the horizon. The 24-hour daylight was good for long working days, but the AMASE scientific team had a tendency to stay up to all hours of the night –like 3 or 4 am, then difficult to arouse for the 7:30 am breakfast call. I was usually one of the first of the scientific team to wakeup and go to the mess hall for a cup of coffee. This was a quiet time to chat with the crew, the cook, and the captain. I would wander into my “lab”, maybe finish off an analysis or two, and then see who had come for breakfast. Often it was only one or two others.
         I became the unofficial alarm clock, knocking on all stateroom doors, opening them up a few inches, and shouting, “Get your ass out of bed!” I wrote some lyrics sung to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner: “Get your ass out of bed, or you’ll wish you were dead, cause what’s coming up next is Morton upside your head!” Morton, a senior deck hand, was a giant, strong, irreverent Norwegian man well over 6.5 feet tall. On our first trip with him, he thought we were a bunch of sissies. When he took us ashore in the zodiac boat, he made a point of ramming it hard onto the shoreline. He delighted in picking us up and squeezing us in bear hugs. When our voyage was over and we were back in Longyearbyen, Morton consumed many shots of aquavit and sought us out for “loving” torture. We’d worn down that brusque behavior, and by the 2nd year, we all welcomed each other with gusto. By our third voyage together, I treated his injured, infected toe in my role as Chief Scientist and First Aid provider. When the captain heard of this, he was puzzled why a scientist would treat a crewmember. He eventually learned on AMASE, we were one big Arctic family.
         Breakfast consisted of a spread of Norwegian cold cuts (meats), rather bland cheese including geetoast, a molasses colored sweet cheese spread, blood sausages (delicious), tomatoes, cucumbers, and occasionally fried eggs. At every meal, we were presented with smoked fish products in bowls or in tooth paste-like tubes that you squeezed onto thin, unsalted crackers. There was always bread, jams, and peanut butter to supplement the meal. As the AMASE team straggled in, the level of conversation grew with excitement for the field day ahead.
         A small management team of Hans, Steelie, Liane Benning, Pan Conrad, and I met briefly at 8:30 am, often on the bridge to coordinate with the crew. Then, we piled down to the “day room”, where we met informally, worked on computer data, and in general hung out. Hans Amundsen outlined the daily plan and decided who was going where, with whom, and when.  Steelie served as Chief Scientist once we received NASA funding. Typically there were two to three teams going to places for science sampling, discovery, or instrument testing. Each team was assigned a safety person, which was Hans, Ivar, or one of us who had successfully shown we could hit a target with a rifle. The AMASE photographer, Kjell Ove Storvik, was assigned to one of the teams. After this brief meeting, we scrambled to our labs loading our day packs with supplies, making sure we had sufficient warm clothing for all types of weather, and then packed a lunch, hot tea or cocoa, and assembled on deck with our survival suits on ready to board a small boat heading to shore. Once on shore, we unzipped the bulky orange suits, put on our boots, checked our rifles, radios, and flare guns, shouldered our packs and set off.
         Because of the eternal daylight, teams often stayed out for 12 or more hours if the field area was remote or if we were conducting timed sampling or difficult measurements. Most often, teams called for pickup around 6 pm, in time to stow samples on board ship, and change for dinner. Depending on the cook, dinners were a highlight of the day. Before embarking from Longyearbyen, we had all stopped off at the liquor store and packed in wine, beer, and the occasional bottle of gin or aquavit. Generous “senior” scientists often brought a bottle of red wine to the dinner table to share. We discussed the day’s exciting discoveries, commiserated over broken instrumentation, and argued about all sorts of topics in astrobiology, space science, and NASA-ESA relationships.
Marc Fries Warning!
         After dinner, everyone went to their labs and began the evening analytical sessions. I assembled nutrient assays, extracted rocks, labeled and dried samples, wrote more detailed field notes, uploaded data to my computer and graphed it, and thought about the next day’s work. Others tweaked their instruments, fixed broken power supplies or cables, took spectra, and wandered between labs sharing samples and ideas. By about 11 pm, some called it a day and went to bed, others assembled on the deck with another beer, or headed to the upper deck to bask in the makeshift hot tub on the R/V Lance. It was a tricky time of day. When Norwegians take the cap off a whiskey bottle, they typically throw it out, meaning that the bottle is passed around until it’s empty. Sometimes it was a challenge to keep things “between the navigational beacons” so to speak. What happens in Svalbard stays in Svalbard.

Winter in the "Olden Days"

  Greenvale Raiders: Marilyn, Albert Stein, Freddy, David Fuhrman, 1960 My mother claimed, and rightly so, that she walk...