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Michelle Brown's picture

Tired But Happy

I am writing this journal at 2 a.m. My face is red and still stings a little from the windy snowmobile ride back from the field camp where I have just spent 15 hours. My research team is hopefully fast asleep in their tents out on the Barwick Valley. They will soon be waking up and breaking down camp. They have spent the day collecting sediment at the remote, highly protected site in the Dry Valleys to get a better understanding of the level of pollutants in the sediment. I said goodbye to them this morning and then joined the SIMPLE team. We both are having lots of adventures!

Team Walking to HelicopterTeam B518 boards a helicopter for an overnight trip to the Barwick Valley.

All About SIMPLE

I spent the day with scientists, engineers and support staff from the SIMPLE project. Today the team launched its underwater robot, Artemis, under the sea ice for the first time without tethers. They did this from a field camp that is about 7 kilometers south of McMurdo Station, out on the sea ice near the ice shelf.

SIMPLE campSIMPLE camp sits between McMurdo Station and the continent of Antarctica out on the sea ice.

Michelle Brown outside camp SIMPLEMichelle Brown stands outside the SIMPLE field camp, with Mt. Erebus and McMurdo Station in the background.

A Big Robot with an Important Job

Artemis is an impressive robot. It weighs 2700 pounds, is about 15 feet long and a little less than 4 feet across.

ArtemisThe robot, Artemis, gets reviewed before its mission under the sea ice.

Artemis' mission is more impressive than its size--it is helping scientists test out new developments in robotics to one day understand life in space! Dr. Britney Schmidt, a principal investigator (PI) of the project, is hoping Artemis can lead the way to robots identifying the ice on Jupiter's icy moon, Europa. Although this is a long way off, Artemis may be the first step in getting there--similar to the development of rovers on Mars.

Dr. Britney SchmidtDr. Britney Schmidt looks at a water profile in preparation for Artemis' dive.

Dr. Schmidt is a professor from Georgia Institute of Technology and is looking at the ice shelf in Antarctica as a proxy for Europa. She believes that the dynamics of the ice shelf and how it interacts with the ocean are similar to the dynamics on Europa. There is so much to learn about the ice, both on Earth and beyond. Artemis can collect data like ice depth and other measurements to help scientists study this.

Data from ArtemisArtemis collects lots of different data. Here are just some of the measurements recorded during Artemis' dive today.

On the Cutting Edge of Robotics

Artemis was designed by Stone Aerospace. The company, headed by Bill Stone, is based out of Texas. For the Artemis project, Stone Aerospace is collaborating with a number of people, including Britney Schmidt and Peter Doran, to collect important data about the ocean and ice shelf. Artemis also has some innovative robotic components that help push the limits of the field. For example, Artemis has a robotic arm that can extend upwards to analyze the sea ice. It has a Protein Fluorescent Spectrometer (PFS) on it, which uses wavelengths to detect specific protein signals. This is useful to better understand life on the sea ice, as well as identify if there is life on Europa.

Artemis TeamProgrammers talk through their work while Artemis swims under the sea ice.

Artemis also tackles a problem that limits most underwater robots: navigation. Since radio waves cannot travel well in water, it is not possible for robots to use GPS to track where they are. Artemis is up against an even tougher challenge because it is diving under sea ice. Unlike open-water robots, Artemis has to surface at a very precise dive hole location to be found. Most underwater robots use a technique that has been used by sailors and other navigators in the past called dead reckoning. Dead reckoning measures your speed and direction to calculate where you are. Artemis knows its direction thanks to a gyroscope and can also track its speed. However every time this data is calculated, there is a slight error. Over time those errors can add up and result in a lost robot. The designers of Artemis have come up with some great solutions to counter this. They utilize a beacon which stays in the dive hole. It sends out a signal which a transceiver on the front of Artemis can receive and help find the dive hole. With the beacon is a string of LED lights which Artemis can also recognize with a special camera. Both these systems help ensure Artemis can find its way home under the sea ice.

Science in Action

Today was a very exciting day at the SIMPLE camp because the team let Artemis explore the sea ice without any safety line. I felt like I was in the control room at NASA, watching the robot's systems functioning after being tweaked and improved. However, it was when Artemis lost power and stopped unexpectedly below the sea ice that I felt I was really experiencing science in action. The team responded quickly to assess the power outage and review an already thought-through plan about out how they were going to get Artemis back safely. Once the power went down, the team tracked the time and estimated the direction Artemis was travelling in. Team member Brian went out to the expected location with a machine that can detect a magnetic pulse which Artemis sends out every 30 minutes. Because of the power failure, Artemis only sent out a short magnetic pulse, but the team had calculated the right location and Brian found Artemis! To confirm this, the team drilled a small hole and fed an underwater camera through it. Artemis was spotted close to the location.

BrianTeam member Brian stands in front of Artemis as the team prepares for the dive.

Artemis is programmed to hover close to the surface, even if it has no power. This allows it to be easily retrieved. With Artemis' location found, the team called in support to help retrieve the robot. Drilling expert Mel came to the rescue and drilled holes in the sea ice. Rob Robbins and Steve Rupp (who helped us with our research) also helped out by tethering Artemis to ropes so it could be pulled out of the hole. Artemis was carefully placed on the back of a PistenBully and brought back to the camp.

Artemis and PistenBullyA PistenBully carefully drives Artemis back to its home after being retrieved from the ice.

Science is Hard Work!

When I left Team SIMPLE near 1 a.m., most of the team members were preparing to bring Artemis back inside the main tent. Although the robot's power died, there were a lot of successes today. Artemis traveled 1 kilometer on its own with instruments working correctly. Also, the team's systems for finding and retrieving Artemis when something goes wrong proved to work. What impressed me the most about my day with Team SIMPLE was how dedicated and enthusiastic the team was about solving problems and making Artemis work. Artemis represents a push forward in underwater robotics. Advances like this do not come easily, as can be seen by the long, cold hours team SIMPLE works. While I was helping out SIMPLE, scientists all across Antarctica were working to better understand the world around them. My research team, for example, was hiking for miles across the Dry Valley to monitor and better understand human impacts there. Science is important and adventurous, and it is hard work.

Team SIMPLEThe team checks in for a meeting before launching Artemis. Aside from determination and perseverence, coffee fuels a lot of their work!

Ice POD

Today we learned about Team SIMPLE's robot, Artemis. Artemis was designed to understand the dynamics of the ice in Antarctica, and potentially Jupiter's frozen moon, Europa. What instruments and data would you expect Artemis to have? Post your answer in the "Ask the Team" section. You can download a PowerPoint slide of this Ice POD here: 20_icepod.pptx

Ice Picture of the Day day 20The Ice Picture of the Day discusses Artemis and its connection to Europa.

Brought to you by...

Today's journal is brought to you by Ms. Raugh's class at Pioneers School in Pennyslvania.

Brought to you by Ms. RaughToday's journal is brought to you by Ms. Raugh's class from the Pioneers School in Pennsylvania.

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Bella Wright's picture

Bella Wright said:

What are the working conditions out in the Artic?
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 Hi Bella, This is a great question! Much like the Antarctic, the working conditions of the Arctic depend on where you are. Some places may be colder than others. One difference between summers in Antarctica and summers in the Arctic are the bugs! From my understanding, there are a lot of mosquitos in many parts of the Arctic! You can read about expeditions in the Arctic too--search www.polartrec.com!
Bella Wright's picture

Bella Wright said:

What are the working conditions out in the Artic?
Bella Wright's picture

Bella Wright said:

What are the working conditions out in the Artic?
illiana boswell's picture

illiana boswell said:

how long did it take to build and launch the underwater robot?
Kt Engel's picture

Kt Engel said:

How long have you been studying Antartica
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 Dear Kt, I started becoming interested in Antarctica in 2003, when a friend from college traveled here to study geology at Mt. Erebus--an active volcano here. As a science teacher, I talked about glaciers in Antarctica, as well as how it may be affected by climate change. Though it wasn't until getting involved with PolarTREC in 2011 that I learned about the vast science connected to this continent.
Andrew's picture

Andrew said:

My question is, Who has funded the research and what kind of discoveries do you hope to make in the near future.
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 Hi Andrew, Funding is the big reason all this science is possible! A lot of projects (my research project included) are funded at least in part by the National Science Foundation. Since SIMPLE's robot is working towards understanding life on Europa, NASA also partially funds some of their work.
Julia Glenn's picture

Julia Glenn said:

What do you think is the most dangerous thing that has happened while on an expedition, and why?
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 The most dangerous thing that has occurred is that people have fallen into crevasses. People have died in the past from this occasion. In the early expeditions, people have also died from falling into crevasses as well as from starvation after being stuck out on the ice. Here at McMurdo there are a lot of precautions put in place to ensure everyone is safe.
Guest's picture

Guest said:

Why did you choose to go to the Antarctic?
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 I chose to go to Antarctica in 2011 because I wanted to learn more about polar science in Antarctica and get the chance to work with scientists and share that experience with my students. This year I was invited back--I had not thought I would have another chance to return. I chose to return because I value the work that I have done with my research team as well as the experiences I've gained meeting and working other scientists here. I wanted to continue these experiences both for my own professional development as well as to be a role model.
Emma ivie's picture

Emma ivie said:

How long did it take to build the underwater robot?
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 Dear Emma, This is a great question! The project has been going on for 4 years, so I believe that is how long it has taken. I will double check with the research team though!
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 Hi Again Emma, I stand corrected--the robot took about 1 year to build! Thank you for a great question!
Luca's picture

Luca said:

How does the robot get under the sea ice?
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 The robot gets under the sea ice by being hung up and lowered into the dive hole. A big wench (a chain that can pull heavy objects up and down with a machine) helped pick up and lower the robot. I took a video of it--hopefully I'll be able to upload it to the blog soon!
Sarah 's picture

Sarah said:

What made you want to go to Antarctica and why?
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 Dear Sarah, This is a great question. The first time I went to Antarctica in 2011, I wanted to go because I was interested in learning about a completely different environment from what I knew, and was excited to work with researchers on science projects that I could connect back to my students. When I was invited to return back this year it was a much more difficult decision--I decided to return because I find the work here in Antarctica to be very important. Also, I would like to be a role model to my daughter and show her that women can do important work in science, even in extreme environments like Antarctica!
Will Jones's picture

Will Jones said:

Are there really pollutents in the sediment? What kind of pollutents are there, and how can it change are world if there is too much? From: Will Jones 8th grade
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 Dear Will, Thank you for an insightful question. Our research team has confirmed that there are pollutants in the sediments here. We have found PCBs (a toxic chemical), hydrocarbons, and trace metals in the sediments. If there were too many pollutants in the Earth, then organisms would not survive. For example, we see that there are less types of organisms in Winter Quarters Bay because of they can't tolerate the pollution. That affects the whole food chain!
Lucas Kinnaman's picture

Lucas Kinnaman said:

How does such extreme cold effect someone physically (such as movement), and mentally (such as ones motor skills and ability to function in general)?
Susan Steiner's picture

Susan Steiner said:

Hi Michelle. Just loving your journals, and the wonderful questions you've been receiving and ever patient answers. Great webinar today! What an experience you've had..your daughter will be very excited and proud of you I know. I wondered about your snowmobile ride...was it with at least one other person or snowmobile? I know there are plenty of safety protocols but just checkin'! Take care and enjoy.
Michelle Brown's picture

Michelle Brown replied:

status: 1 Dear Susan, It is so nice to hear from you! I'm so glad you enjoyed the webinar--I was hoping it was understandable and enjoyable. Yes--when I was riding back from SIMPLE I rode on the back of a snowmobile which a researcher drove. He actually offered to have me drive back, but I was so exhausted that I didn't trust my abilities. It is possible to take a snowmobile on your own out on the ice, but you do have to travel with another person on a snowmobile (i.e., you are not allowed to go out on your own). You also have to radio in to a central operations area and let people know when you are leaving, where you are going, who you are with, an emergency contact person, and when you are expecting to be at your next location. When you arrive safely, you must radio in before the estimated time, or else emergency search and rescue teams are alerted!