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NASA AMASE 2008: Day 2: The Troll Patrol

Status Report From: AMASE 2008
Posted: Monday, August 11, 2008

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August 5, 2008 / Written by: Verena

Svalbard is one of my most favorite places to be in the world.so it came to the point where I made the decision to concentrate my research project for my dissertation on Svalbard. I am interested in the adaptation of microorganisms to extreme and changing environmental conditions. Investigating this process has the potential to help us better understand how adaptation has occurred in a wide range of terrestrial and possibly extraterrestrial settings. Troll Springs on Svalbard provides a perfect site to study these processes.

Already in Longyearbyen we put together a team (Verena, Marilyn, Mihaela, Lauren, Dominique, Garret, Steve, Kjell Ove), called the Troll Patrol, whose job is to hike to Troll Springs and assist me with the sampling. I had a plan, I knew what I wanted to sample and had an idea how to do it, but reality is much different than theory. Our ship reached Bockfjorden much later than anticipated, which put us into the tactical position where the Troll Patrol had to decide if we wanted to sample over night or go out the next day. Due to time pressure and enabled by the constant daylight we decided to hike to Troll Springs in the evening, sample over night and come back in the morning.

It was colder in the Bockfjorden area than I had experienced in the previous years. Snow and ice was lying on the beach where the boat dropped us off; something I hadn't seen before. The wind was sharp, biting our face and we still had a long walk in front of us. But the cold couldn't take our spirits. Team members who had been to Troll in the past couldn't wait to be back and newbies were looking forward to seeing the Springs. Occasionally we stopped to admire the landscape, plants and rocks, but time was passing by quickly. One of our biggest challenges were several small river crossings. The worst thing I could imagine at that moment was getting wet, cold feet and still having several hours of walking and sampling in front of me. So we got out our big plastic bags, put them over our boots and legs and crossed the rivers - staying dry.

After four hours of hiking, we finally reached Troll Spring. The first moments we just stood there and admired the beauty of the springs and terraces. It was great to be back. One thing I didn't account for in my theoretical sampling strategy and plan was snow. Although it started snowing very heavily it couldn't stop us from sampling and enjoying our time at Troll springs. We had to be constantly vigilant - always very careful that no one would get hypothermia. It was getting late - and very cold. Slowly the team got tired. We sampled precisely, wrapped up our stuff and left it cached at Troll for the helicopter to retrieve when the weather cleared, and hiked back towards the ship after five hours of very successful work at the spring.

It is amazing how much strength one can have in important and critical situations. Although everybody in the team was tired, we always paid attention to what was happening around us, watched out for polar bears, but also kept walking and walking. When we crossed the rivers we didn't bother anymore to put on our plastic bags. We knew that we would be home soon after a very long day (and night). We reached the ship just in time in time for a wonderful breakfast made by Emil the cook and Kristin and Marianne the mess crew.

I am very proud of the Troll Patrol. Although we didn't plan for snow, cold wind and overnight sampling, we all did a great job. And there is something else I realized that night/day: one can have the best sampling strategy, but it is the team standing behind you that will get you were you need to be and compete your task successfully accomplishing your goals. AMASE doesn't just mean being and doing science in a great place like Svalbard, but it also means working with a great bunch of people, who are my mentors and friends. One thing that I have learned from this expedition is that the success of the expedition depends on everyone on the team putting the team first; putting the group objectives before their personal objectives.

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