Data Days: Geologists Find Benefits in Pausing For Reflection

Data Days: Geologists Find Benefits in Pausing For Reflection

Field team science lead Kelsey Young presents the first day’s findings. (Photo: Kayla McKiski)

By Nicola Shannon

Geologists often spend weeks or months in remote locations collecting data that they typically don’t analyze, or even glance at, until they’re long out of the field.  “Data analysis is usually the next season,” said Jake Bleacher, a veteran field leader for the RIS4E project and many others.

Sometimes the delay can cause problems. One member of the geological research team, Patrick Whelley, recalled an expedition when the GPS system for a key piece of equipment was down the whole time without anyone noticing.

RIS4E’s excursions to volcanic fields are different. The team builds in days for analysis, discussion and, sometimes changes in plans.

All hands crunch the numbers. (Photo: Briana Lionetti)
CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

For its trip to New Mexico’s Kilbourne Hole,  Jose Hurtado, a team member from the nearby University of Texas at El Paso, hosted two days of data analysis that alternated with the two days in the field.  During each of these data analysis days, the RIS4E team members discussed and consolidated the data from the two simulated extra-vehicular activities, or EVAs, that astronaut Butch Wilmore and geologist Liz Rampe conducted the day before.

The hour-long excursions through areas of Kilbourne Hole were a key to planning what astronauts of the future might do on an extraterrestrial surface. The data days were meant to help the team learn what to change the next time they performed EVAs in the field, as well as to replicate the relay of information from two astronauts to their base or habitat.

This system of data analysis days alternating with field days is very rare in geological field work, Bleacher said. “Data analysis is usually the next season,” he said.

This means that the scientists often don’t check or put together their data until they are far away from the field, which can lead to problems. Patrick Whelley, a collaborator from Goddard Space Flight Center and operator of the LiDAR instrument, recalled an expedition where the LiDAR’s GPS system didn’t work for the first two field days without anyone noticing.

The team’s first data analysis day was Tuesday, after the first day in the field. The instrument teams first separated to put together their scans, photos and readings from the two EVAs the day before. The teams then relayed their information to Kelsey Young, RIS4E’s deputy field lead, who presented it to Wilmore and Rampe, who then used it to decide what parts of the process could be improved and what sites they would visit the next field day.

One of the issues that got the researchers’ attention on Tuesday was that the site where Wilmore and Rampe had simulated parking their rover was too far from the area where most of the EVA then took place. So, the LiDAR and hyperspectral scans, which had to be taken from the rover parking site, were broad and partly obscured by vegetation, lacking enough detail to be useful for geological analysis. The team discussed this issue at its first data analysis session, and Wilmore and Rampe parked much more strategically the next day.

Another problem was the heat.  The first field day hit 105°F, and the LIBS, LiDAR, and hyperspectral camera were all having trouble toward the end of the day. The team brought a small tent, an umbrella, and some extra coolers to protect the instruments on Wednesday. These small changes greatly streamlined the team’s EVA work on the second field day, something that the team noted on Thursday, their second and last data analysis day.

Thursday’s discussion was not focused on things to change, because there would be no more EVAs, but rather a wrap-up discussion on what was learned and how it would affect their trip back to Potrillo next year. The team made plans to spend some time next year exploring the bottom of the crater, which they weren’t able to reach on this trip, and to focus on specific areas that this year’s data marked as geologically interesting.

Kelsey Young, foreground, prepares the day’s findings to show the team. (Photo: Briana Lionetti)
CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

Thursday’s meeting also included a discussion of operation tactics. Wilmore, who took part in two missions to the International Space Station, reminded the team of some inconsistencies between these mock EVAs on earth and an actual EVA in space.

“Liz was writing notes and doing those type of things that geologists do, but you wouldn’t be able to do that in a real EVA,” Wilmore said. “Maybe someone could follow behind her with a book taking notes that she would take so she could use more of her time doing the assessment overall.”

The team discussed how much real-time data would be “good enough” during a real EVA, with limited time in a dangerous environment. An astronaut could quickly make decisions about where to go, when to make a measurement and when it would be best to just grab a rock and take it back to the rover to save time.

The final debriefing on Thursday took about an hour an and half, and the RIS4E team agreed these analysis days were valuable and necessary.

“In general I think this concept is brilliant,” said Amy McAdams, who operated the LIBS instrument. “All field expeditions should do it.”

Field team science lead Kelsey Young presents the first day’s findings. (Photo: Kayla McKiski)

By Nicola Shannon

Geologists often spend weeks or months in remote locations collecting data that they typically don’t analyze, or even glance at, until they’re long out of the field.  “Data analysis is usually the next season,” said Jake Bleacher, a veteran field leader for the RIS4E project and many others.

Sometimes the delay can cause problems. One member of the geological research team, Patrick Whelley, recalled an expedition when the GPS system for a key piece of equipment was down the whole time without anyone noticing.

RIS4E’s excursions to volcanic fields are different. The team builds in days for analysis, discussion and, sometimes changes in plans.

All hands crunch the numbers. (Photo: Briana Lionetti)
CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

For its trip to New Mexico’s Kilbourne Hole,  Jose Hurtado, a team member from the nearby University of Texas at El Paso, hosted two days of data analysis that alternated with the two days in the field.  During each of these data analysis days, the RIS4E team members discussed and consolidated the data from the two simulated extra-vehicular activities, or EVAs, that astronaut Butch Wilmore and geologist Liz Rampe conducted the day before.

The hour-long excursions through areas of Kilbourne Hole were a key to planning what astronauts of the future might do on an extraterrestrial surface. The data days were meant to help the team learn what to change the next time they performed EVAs in the field, as well as to replicate the relay of information from two astronauts to their base or habitat.

This system of data analysis days alternating with field days is very rare in geological field work, Bleacher said. “Data analysis is usually the next season,” he said.

This means that the scientists often don’t check or put together their data until they are far away from the field, which can lead to problems. Patrick Whelley, a collaborator from Goddard Space Flight Center and operator of the LiDAR instrument, recalled an expedition where the LiDAR’s GPS system didn’t work for the first two field days without anyone noticing.

The team’s first data analysis day was Tuesday, after the first day in the field. The instrument teams first separated to put together their scans, photos and readings from the two EVAs the day before. The teams then relayed their information to Kelsey Young, RIS4E’s deputy field lead, who presented it to Wilmore and Rampe, who then used it to decide what parts of the process could be improved and what sites they would visit the next field day.

One of the issues that got the researchers’ attention on Tuesday was that the site where Wilmore and Rampe had simulated parking their rover was too far from the area where most of the EVA then took place. So, the LiDAR and hyperspectral scans, which had to be taken from the rover parking site, were broad and partly obscured by vegetation, lacking enough detail to be useful for geological analysis. The team discussed this issue at its first data analysis session, and Wilmore and Rampe parked much more strategically the next day.

Another problem was the heat.  The first field day hit 105°F, and the LIBS, LiDAR, and hyperspectral camera were all having trouble toward the end of the day. The team brought a small tent, an umbrella, and some extra coolers to protect the instruments on Wednesday. These small changes greatly streamlined the team’s EVA work on the second field day, something that the team noted on Thursday, their second and last data analysis day.

Thursday’s discussion was not focused on things to change, because there would be no more EVAs, but rather a wrap-up discussion on what was learned and how it would affect their trip back to Potrillo next year. The team made plans to spend some time next year exploring the bottom of the crater, which they weren’t able to reach on this trip, and to focus on specific areas that this year’s data marked as geologically interesting.

Kelsey Young, foreground, prepares the day’s findings to show the team. (Photo: Briana Lionetti)
CLICK PHOTO TO ENLARGE

Thursday’s meeting also included a discussion of operation tactics. Wilmore, who took part in two missions to the International Space Station, reminded the team of some inconsistencies between these mock EVAs on earth and an actual EVA in space.

“Liz was writing notes and doing those type of things that geologists do, but you wouldn’t be able to do that in a real EVA,” Wilmore said. “Maybe someone could follow behind her with a book taking notes that she would take so she could use more of her time doing the assessment overall.”

The team discussed how much real-time data would be “good enough” during a real EVA, with limited time in a dangerous environment. An astronaut could quickly make decisions about where to go, when to make a measurement and when it would be best to just grab a rock and take it back to the rover to save time.

The final debriefing on Thursday took about an hour an and half, and the RIS4E team agreed these analysis days were valuable and necessary.

“In general I think this concept is brilliant,” said Amy McAdams, who operated the LIBS instrument. “All field expeditions should do it.”