IceBite: An auger and sampling system for ground ice on Mars

Grant #: NNX09AE77A
Senior Scientist: Dale Andersen

We propose to develop an ice auger and sampling bit that can sample subsurface ice-cemented ground on a mission to Mars that would follow up on the Phoenix lander. Ice on Mars is an important target for Astrobiology because ice-rich locations could have been sites of liquid water activity during periods of high obliquity and because ice may preserve organics. Phoenix will reach the ground ice but is not capable of sampling below the surface to any significant degree. A follow on mission would drill several meters into the ground ice to collect deeper, older ice and search for signs of organics and life. We propose to test the ice auger and sampling bit ("IceBite") in under Mars-like conditions (pressure and temperatures) in the laboratory and field test it in University Valley, Antarctica. In University Valley the level of the ground ice (ice table) drops from the surface to a depth of more than 35 cm as a function of distance away from the small, unnamed glacier at the head of the valley. We propose to demonstrate a septic sampling with IceBite, and conduct a qualitative and quantitative analysis study of the microbiology microorganisms that occur upon the surface of the ice table as a function of depth. Deeper ice tables see lower maximum summer temperatures.  When the ice table is at the surface the summer temperature reaches 0ºC but when the ice table is 35 cm below the surface the maximum summer temperature is -10ºC. Previous work has demonstrated that microorganisms in ice-sediment mixtures can metabolize and reproduce a t -10ºC. We will test t he hypothesis that the number and diversity of microorganisms a t the ice table reflects adaptation to the maximum summer temperature.