The journey of a thousand miles (or in our case, many thousands of miles)


Originally Posted on July 6th, 2010 by Stephanie Nebel


This blog is courtesy of Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP)

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Hello World!  Greetings from the beautiful shore of Pavilion Lake, BC, where the mountains are high, the lake is clear, and the science is plentiful!


Sunset on our first evening at Pavilion Lake.


I write this sitting in what is probably the most utilized building in camp surrounded by nectarines, apples, and Frankenstein Cookies* (which, deliciously, have just come from the oven).  We pile into this building, called Brock’s House, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.  By day, the room is filled with computers and hard drives and people busily processing data (sometimes while simultaneously watching World Cup Soccer/Football and Tour de France cycling).  Every night, we come together as a group for our nightly science meetings.  We share ideas, ask questions, get weather updates, summarize our daily activities, are introduced to the newest members of Team Pavilion, and say goodbye to those departing.

At our largest, the team will consist of more than 70 people from all corners of the world.  The larger team consists of smaller groups, each with their own objectives that ultimately contribute to PLRP. As I type this, the scuba divers are diving to collect samples and document microbialite growth, while the deep worker subs are exploring the central basin of Pavilion Lake. While a single person pilots the sub, a navigator boat floats above the sub to support the deepwater operations. Meanwhile, at the Hab (Mobile Mission Command Center), located just up the road from Brock’s House where I currently sit, people are processing data. Our camp cooks, Jen and Dana, are busily preparing lunch for 61 hungry people (which is no small task). Ashley has headed to town and will be coming back shortly with a truck filled with boxes of food.  The UBC (University of British Columbia) AUV team was out running missions before breakfast and are presently on Pavilion Lake to deploy some instruments, and the UD (University of Delaware) AUV team is busily planning missions for the afternoon.  I’m part of the UD team, along with Art Trembanis and Jon Gutsche. We work closely with the AUV team from UBC and have been given the team name “Gaviators”.

It’s hard to believe that it’s Saturday, and that we now have six days of work behind us.  We arrived on Sunday from Philadelphia, PA via Minneapolis, MN (where we spent a short night due to a late night canceled flight), Denver, CO and finally Vancouver, BC.  The drive from Vancouver to Pavilion Lake was gorgeous, and the snow peaked mountains were unlike anything we left behind in Delaware.


The UBC AUV team prepares for night ops.


Upon our arrival on site, Art, our advisor who participated in the project last year, began showing us around.  We visited the Hab and Brock’s House, where dinner was waiting for us, and then we wandered down a gravel road and found the lakeside cabins that would be our homes for next two weeks.  Along the way, we met many members of Team Pavilion – some who have spent years participating in the project and others, like myself, who were brand new to it.

We all approach the project from diverse backgrounds.  We are teachers, biologists, geologists, dieticians, engineers, scuba divers, chemists, artists, astronauts, physicists, astronomers, zoologists, and ecologists. The unique perspective that each individual brings to the group is fascinating – how an artist views sonar data or how a teacher will take the work done here at Pavilion and integrate it into their classroom. To view your work through a different lens is both interesting and important. It stimulates questions and conversations that further drive the work in new directions.

In the days since our arrival, we have had great success mapping Pavilion with our AUV named “Dora”.  What is an AUV, you might ask??  AUV is short for Autonomous Underwater Vehicle – basically an underwater robot that is equipped with an array of instruments.  The AUV maneuvers around Pavilion Lake, traveling along “lines” that we plan in a computer before the mission start.  This mission plan is then sent to the AUV and she swims off to collect data while we await on shore for her return.  Mission length is controlled by the battery life of the AUV, and typically ranges from 1.5 to 4 hours.


An underwater landslide feature identified with side-scan sonar in Pavilion Lake


The UD AUV, a Gavia class vehicle, has two sonar systems.  Both sonar systems emit sound pulses that travel through the water and then bounce back towards the vehicle when they hit the lake bottom.  One, called side-scan sonar, characterizes the type of sediment at the lakebed.  The second, interferometric sonar, measures the bathymetry of the lakebed.  Using these two instruments, we will produce a high resolution “image” of the bottom of Pavilion Lake.  We are able to identify trees, microbalite structures, and underwater landslides in these records.  Additionally, the Gavia comes equipped with an Ecopuck sensor, which measures turbidity (how much suspended matter there is in the water) and Chlorophyll A (a measure of primary productivity in the water).  A downward facing camera, an oxygen sensor, a temperature sensor, and depth sensor are further part of her payload.

As I walked down the gravel road this evening in the direction of the setting sun, surrounded by people who, a week ago, were complete strangers to me, I thought about how much we have accomplished in the past week and also how much fun we have had together. I’m certainly delighted to have been “engulfed” by such a wonderful team.


*Oh yes, Frankenstein Cookies were successfully thought up by Jen in an attempt to use up some leftover breakfast oatmeal and French toast batter.   Add some butter, sugar, chocolate chips, and flour and bake for 10 minutes.  Result – Delicious!


Jen making early morning Frankenstein Cookies.