WATSON (Wireless Analysis Tool for Subsurface Observation of Northern-ice-sheets) project

PI Institute/Department Email
Bhartia, Rohit
Funding Agency
Program Manager Funding Agency Email
Voytek, Dr. Mary
Space Physics\Astrobiology
Space Physics\Planetary Science
Science Summary

The WATSON project (Wireline Analysis Tool for Subsurface Observation of Northern-ice-sheets) integrates recent technological drilling advancements and instrumentation to enable spatially resolved in-situ detection and characterization of organics, microbes, and potential biosignatures in the subsurface ice record. In-situ characterization of subsurface ice will lead to a better understanding of life in ice and constrain our understanding of how it can survive and be preserved in the icy regions of planetary bodies (e.g. Mars poles, Europa, Enceladus). Detection of organic, microbes, and potential biosignatures on solar system bodies and their spatial distribution are fundamental capabilities required to meet NASA’s strategic goals. This capability was highlighted by the Mars 2020 Science Definition Team (SDT) report and subsequent Mars 2020 payload selection that incorporated instruments such as SHERLOC, PIXL, and SuperCam to use non-contact spectroscopic methods to assess the distribution of organics, minerals, key elements, and potential biosignatures. WATSON advances this capability to analyze layered subsurface ice deposits and is directly aligned with the recommendations of the 2013 Planetary Decadal Survey that stated, “the next step for in situ high-latitude ice studies is to explore the exposed [martian] polar layered deposits”. WATSON’s detection method is a (TRL 5) deep-UV native fluorescence instrument, a repackaged version of the recent SHERLOC instrument selected for Mars 2020 originally developed under NASA/ASTID and DoD programs. WATSON fits within the instrument bay of a wireline autonomous ice drilling system (TRL 5), developed initially by ASTID and recently refined and demonstrated under private funding. The WATSON project: •Enables a means to understand the patterns of organics, microbes, and potential biosignatures transferred through aeolian processes and preserved as layered deposits in ice sheets •Demonstrates that an analysis of a single geographical site provides this information over geological time scales and increases the probability of finding habitable environments and potential preserved biosignatures •Integrates high TRL hardware leveraging previous NASA/ASTID and NSF development funds •Reduces risk and demonstrates feasibility of instrument deployment to the layered deposits of the Mars polar ice caps The WATSON instrument will perform in-situ analysis of layered subsurface ice deposits in Greenland (GISP2). These have been selected as planetary analog sites because they are well-characterized, contain clear terrestrial paleoenvironmental records, are at high altitudes with high UV flux that could simulate higher radiation planetary surfaces, and have existing data on microbial density and diversity from current cores. By using these sites we will be able to map the in-situ derived distribution of microbial and organics, with limatological/environmental processes (volcanic, desertification, ocean chemistry, anthropogenic influences).

Logistics Summary

Via this NASA PSTAR (Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research) program, researchers will develop an ice drill integrated with a deep-UV fluorescence analytical instrument combination. The ultimate goal of the project is to deploy the drill/instrument to Mars. The project will conduct tests of the drill at planetary analog sites in Greenland. In spring 2017 researchers will deploy via commercial air to Kangerlussuaq and then on to a location on the ice sheet near point 660 to test the drill and take some shallow cores. The team will base in Kanger and make day trips to the ice sheet. In 2018 and 2019 the project intends to deploy to Kangerlussuaq and Summit respectively to further test the drill’s capabilities, ultimately to a depth of 100m. These deployments are dependent on findings from the previous tests and funding.

In 2017 and 2018 CPS will provide ANG coordination for retro cargo, available equipment from Kanger CPS inventory, and planning, project management, cargo handling, and field equipment support. NSF will recoup these funds via an interagency transfer with NASA. The project will make all other arrangements, including passenger travel, commercial freight, KISS lodging, and truck rental themselves.

Season Field Site Date In Date Out #People
Greenland - Summit