Finding Stuff Underwater - Using Open-source Mapping Tools for NASA Underwater Field Science
Since 2009, we have been developing and testing Exploration Ground Data Systems (xGDS). xGDS is a software suite, built on open-source web technologies, for supporting NASA terrestrial field science analog missions. We will describe our recent work supporting underwater mapping and dive operations at the Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP - www.pavilionlake.com). At PLRP we used open-source mapping technologies to meet an operational need to quickly guide divers and underwater vehicles to locations of interest, and the scientific goal of building a map showing the locations and characteristics of the microbialites at the bottom of the lake. We will discuss some of the benefits and lessons-learned from our recent transition from Google Earth to OpenLayers as the primary mapping engine to support our work. We’ll also explain the challenges we faced and solutions we’ve developed to support mapping and data collection in an underwater environment.
Beyond their immediate value for advancing scientific research on Earth, NASA analogs explore new ideas for supporting scientists working in extreme environments (e.g. underwater) to develop best practices for future human missions to the Moon or Mars. Science at PLRP involved imaging, sampling and characterizing microbialites growing beneath the surface of an alpine lake in British Columbia. To support PLRP operations and science, xGDS helped plan data collection tasks and provided accurate tracking and mapping of the locations of the underwater assets (human-piloted submersibles, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and human divers) collecting imagery and samples from the lake. The data collected during our field work was registered with precursor bathymetry data collected by an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and was globally located on a satellite base layer map of the area surrounding the lake.