Darlene Lim

Nanaimo robotics company teams up with NASA

NANAIMO – Seamor Marine equipment helps study earliest-known life forms in B.C. lake.

Scientists and engineers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have teamed up with Nanaimo-based underwater robotics firm Seamor Marine on an exploration project that could one day play a role in future space exploration missions.

To study the potential for life on other planets, you need to learn from examples close at hand. Pavilion Lake, located about halfway between Lillooet and Cache Creek, is likely the only place in the world that is home to several types of microbialites – stone structures created in water by micro-organisms that represent some of our planet’s earliest known life forms dating back 2.5 billion years.

The NASA team was in Nanaimo last week preparing for work at Pavilion Lake.

“We’re here for what’s called an operational readiness test,” said Darlene Lim, an aquatics scientist based at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Palo Alto, Calif., and Pavilion Lake project leader. “It’s a chance for us to test our equipment prior to our formal deployment that we have in June.”

To search for life on other planets, NASA relies on the organization’s Earth sciences community and programs, such as the Pavilion Lake Project, which started in 2004 as a small-scale science project to gather information about why the lake supports microbialites. The program expanded to a mapping expedition to determine the extent and variety of the structures, followed by a third phase when scientists focus on the lifeforms that create the structures.

Life’s earliest remnants on Earth are found as stromatolites – ancient rock formations of layered microbialites. Finding similar structures on other planets means they once supported life, or possibly still do.

“We can’t go back in time to figure out how those bacteria built those structures, but we can look at modern analogues or comparison points to understand the physical, chemical and biological means by which these structures are built,” Lim said.

This year scientists will study how modern microbialites develop, their relationship to light and depth, plus other physical properties mapped out during previous project phases.

Seamor Marine’s remotely operated vehicles will support divers as robotic assistants and, in what NASA calls a robotic precursor mission, fly with divers over the research work sites to help the divers and land based operators maintain a physical perspective of the size of the project.

Communications and tracking systems the NASA team has plugged onto the Seamor ROVs is what is being tested in Nanaimo harbour this week, with help from the Nanaimo Port Authority, which is lending a boat and crew trained on the Port Authority’s own Seamor Marine ROV.

Seamor Marine produces a variety of ROV models and accessories, which are sold around the world for industrial, research and exploratory applications.

Terry Knight, co-founder and former CEO of Inuktun services, who now works for Seamor Marine as a consultant and marketing associate, said people in the technology world know each other from years of collaborating on projects, which is how Seamor got involved in Pavilion Lake.

“Last year a couple friends of ours came up and on their way by they stopped here to have a visit and said, ‘Oh, can we borrow one of those?’ and so they carted Seamor up there with them and used it up there last year on the project,” Knight said.

Lim said it’s fortunate for Canadians and for science that the B.C. government has protected Pavilion lake. One of the things the scientists will be studying is why microbialites don’t grow in lakes in the area other than Pavilion and nearby Kelly Lake.

“Everything we do underwater, from the science, the actual act of doing the science to the precursor robotic mission, to the robotic assistant role of the Seamor ROV, has a very direct line of sight to human exploration in the future, whether that’s on the moon or if it’s on an asteroid or the moons of Mars or Mars itself,” Lim said.

To learn more, please visit www.pavilionlake.com.

Just Posted

Genealogy exploration can uncover unexpected connections

Kathy Jones will present Beginning with Genealogy as first ElderCollege talk Feb. 23 in Nanoose

Kidney Foundation trying to keep patients warm this winter

Kidney Foundation of Canada’s Warm the Sole campaign takes chill off dialysis treatments

Nanaimo RCMP to host summer youth camp

Youths can discover if they have the mettle to be a Mountie at five-day camp in July

GUEST COMMENT: Temporary emergency shelter just part of solution

Setting up temporary emergency shelters was and is a reasonable response

Nanaimo Theatre Group will start its season by staging a farce

Self Help follows married second-rate actors who become famous self-help coaches

B.C. students win Great Waters Challenge video contest

Video, mural and song about saving the salmon claims the top prize

Ammonia leak shuts down curling club in Nelson

It’s not yet clear when the leak was detected

Pavelski’s 31st goal helps Sharks top Canucks 3-2

Vancouver one point out of second NHL wild-card spot

Eight cases of measles confirmed in Vancouver outbreak

Coastal Health official say the cases stem from the French-language Ecole Jules Verne Secondary

Ontario police field complaints over Amber Alert for missing girl, 11, found dead

Some said the Amber Alert issued late Thursday for Riya Rajkumar disrupted their sleep

Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell accused of sexual touching

Accuser went to police, interviewed by Britian’s Daily Telegraph

B.C. couple attacked with acid, slashed with knife in Vietnam

Warning, graphic images: Man has burns on 80 per cent of his body, slashed with knife

Northern B.C. First Nation clan says ancient tools found at pipeline work site

Archeologists from the Smithsonian Institute estimate one of the stones found dates back up to 3500 years

New museum exhibit presents Nanaimo mysteries

Nanaimo Mysteries exhibit unveils city’s fiction and even stranger facts

Most Read