Day one on the Solheimajoekull glacier

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Today we drove from Reykjavik to the Solheimajoekull glacier on the south coast of Iceland to take soil samples and try-out flying our remote piloted aircraft (AKA drone). Groups of Earlham students & faculty have been working here for a couple of years measuring the shrinking extent of the glacier and taking soil samples on which we do 16S rRNA sequencing to characterize the development of soil microbes as the soil develops after being exposed by the receding glacier.

The red circle on the image is the area we work in, for a sense of scale the circle is about 2km in diameter.

Solheimajokull glacier, we work in the red circle (roughly).

This picture was taken from the ridge on the East side where we were sampling. We are almost always wet and cold when we are working here, but all a person needs to do is look around and take in the amazing view to feel pretty good about being there.

Panorama from the East side.

After finishing we piled back into our vehicles and drove to Vik where we will be staying for the next two days. Emi made a great dinner for us and now we are organizing the samples and data we collected today. Tomorrow we go to Heimaey, an island off the South coast to hike the two volcanoes located there and test our new elevation platform.


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In some sense the amount of activity going on is inversely proportional to the posts we’re making here to document it… Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been working on since my last post:

o LiDAR – We have new unit which is much more capable. We built a test-rig in Hopper to simulate having it on Kia, we’re just starting to collect data. Nic and Kellan are working on the algorithms/workflow to analyze it. Charlie is working on mounting it on Kia.
o Image processing – Kellan and Nic are working on a workflow for extracting features from the images. Charlie built a map (headed to QGIS) with marked known POIs on the Skalanes peninsula to use as part of the training data.
o Glacier forefield sampling – Tara and Charlie are developing a sampling plan and 16S RRNA workflow for processing the soil samples.
o Benchmarks for registering multi-modal data collected by sensors on the RPA.
o Discovered Siggi’s yoghurt.
o Kristin and Charlie are working on Field Day, mostly on the BLE plumbing.
o Checklist App – More news to follow.
o Gail and Charlie have done lots of logistics and planning.
o Emi is working on the avian surveys and the MinION workflow for processing glacier forefield soil samples
o New ambiance platform (single chip) is designed, construction to follow.

More regular updates to follow, we’re all psyched.

The low point of my day…

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As near as I can tell from a quick look at the data collected by Field Day and Grace (our prototype ambiance platform) and the Yocto altimeter (based on the same MPL3115A2 chip that we use) this was the low point of my day yesterday at about 201m:


I started Field Day and the Yocto around Portland, Indiana and then drove home and walked down to the creek where this picture was taken. The highest point in Indiana is about half-way between Portland and where we live in Boston. The creek bed is the limestone floor of the ocean that covered this part of the US about 350mya. Neither device was calibrated, and we won’t know for sure how the track looks until Craig maps the data, but things are looking good.


In other news Nic has collected data from the LiDAR in the lab as it moved slowly over an object on the floor. We’re collecting theta, distance tuples at set intervals (1cm) along the track, I think we can visualize these as stacked wind roses as a first-order approach to “seeing” what it found. Matplotlib to the rescue!

Ambiance and a Feather

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So, it’s been a little while since my last post. Here’s a quick update. I assembled our ambiance platform using the Adafruit feather and two sensors: Altimeter and Temperature, Humidity and Pressure. The Adafruit feather is a tiny BLE capable micro controller (like a Light Blue Bean). We decided to go with the feather because the BLE chip it uses is Nordic, like the Red Bear Labs BLE Shield. With the Nordic chip we can make our own services with UUIDs. The Bean has a built-in set of UUIDs and communicates differently than the Nordic chip.

The platform sensors currently use two different communication protocols: I2C and SPI, but we decided that probably wasn’t going to be a problem. I was able to solder on the sensors to a prototyping board and upload a sketch. I tested without the BLE first time to make sure it was working. It was, thanks to sample code from Adafruit! Adafruit has a different BLE library but it’s all the same principal. I tested the BLE code with Field Day and all works well. A picture of the ambiance platform is below.