Ocean World Analog Field Site Assessment Workshop

Ocean World Analog Field Site Assessment Workshop

The Ocean World Analog Field Site Assessment Workshop was held in Denver, Colorado, on October 13–15, 2022. This in-person workshop was sponsored by the Network for Ocean Worlds (NOW) and Network for Life Detection (NFoLD) Research Coordination Groups (RCNs). The motivation for the workshop was to address the need for a community-developed set of standards for evaluating ocean worlds analog sites.The goal of this workshop was to develop this set of standards into an assessment framework, validate these standards using worked examples, and develop tools for the community for use in planning efforts and proposals.

Field analog research at terrestrial analogs to study wide-scale planetary processes on ocean and icy worlds provides critical input to our fundamental knowledge of these planetary bodies. However, there are many obstacles to obtaining funding to perform analog field research, particularly for ocean and icy worlds, for which many analog field sites are remote and costly to access. The nature of these field sites often restricts their use as analogs to those researchers with the resources and/or professional networks to enable access. Furthermore, because there is no widely accepted set of standards for evaluating the fidelity of ocean worlds analog sites, more easily accessed sites are often overlooked as inappropriate analogs, even when they may claim a high level of fidelity to individual aspects of the target body. The intention of this workshop was to develop a set of criteria and a framework to assess the fidelity and operational parameters of ocean worlds analogs with respect to a science question (or engineering goal).

The workshop was limited to 60 participants, with 85% attending in person, and 15% participating virtually. Participants consisted of planetary and Earth scientists as well as engineers from a broad range of government, academic, and industry institutions including Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUI). A broad range of expertise within Earth, ocean, and planetary sciences were represented, including geologists, technology developers, oceanographers, biologists, astrobiologists, cryospheric scientists, geochemists, geophysicists, and geomorphologists. Participants were selected based on their prior field experience in terrestrial ocean worlds analogs, history of ocean-worlds-related research, and past participation in community-led efforts such as decadal white papers. Early career researchers made up ~40% of the participants and included graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, agency researchers, and pre-tenured faculty members, with the balance as mid-career (40%) and senior scientists and engineers (~20%).

The core agenda of the workshop consisted of four keynote talks and four breakouts. Keynotes were designed to provide the background and motivation for ocean worlds analog field work (Keynote 1: The Role of Analog Science in Ocean Worlds Exploration), provide specific examples or case studies of science-driven field work at ocean worlds analog sites (Keynote 2: Astrobiology: Studying Metabolism from Analog Perspectives and Keynote 3: Studying Geological Processes from Analog Perspectives), and an overview from Mary Voytek of NASA’s programs that fund field studies (Keynote 4).

Prior to the workshop, participants were asked to submit a top-level science question relevant to their research, and three main criteria by which they evaluate the suitability of an analytical site to address their science question. Breakouts 1 and 2 focused on grouping the participant-submitted criteria and developing a framework for site evaluation. Breakouts 3 and 4 focused on using the framework to address specific participant-submitted science questions. An outline for a manuscript detailing the output of the workshop was generated on the evening of the second day. The final day focused on writing in small groups.

Through the discussions, three methods to assess and present field site fidelity were developed: a narrative questionnaire, a comparative matrix table, and a graphic radar chart. Each of these tools have merits and caveats and can serve to both focus a scientific question and provide a cross-comparison of proposed field sites. While both methods require traceability from the specific science question to the field analog using various specific criteria, the narrative questionnaire approach represents a more open-ended approach, while the matrix represents a more constrained approach. The graphic radar chart can theoretically be used with either approach but is essentially a simplification and graphic form of the matrix approach.

With the variety of tools developed through this workshop, the most important outcome was the recognition that the fidelity of a field site must be considered within the context of the science question. With a broad range of scientific pursuits recognized by our participants — ranging from microbiology to ice rheology — no one field site is likely to accommodate all these parameter needs. The Field Site Assessment Framework Tools are designed to (1) help the researcher identify key features, (2) tabulate those needs, and (3) cross-compare potential sites. A detailed workshop report is forthcoming that will provide access and instructions for all framework tools developed during the workshop. In addition, a manuscript detailing the output of the workshop is in preparation for submission to a peer-reviewed journal, with the intent to provide a primer for those proposing field studies for ocean worlds analog research.

In addition, workshop findings included several programmatic recommendations for funding agencies. The need for improved access to field opportunities and training for early career researchers and other groups was recognized. The addition of an optional “Outreach or Community Development Addendum” to proposal solicitations was suggested to allow funding to be used to bring early career, interdisciplinary members, or teachers into the field, or to spend resources developing collaborations with local communities (e.g., native, rural). A requirement for a supplemental safety and logistics plan outside the proposal page limit was discussed to reduce competitive disadvantage of field proposers who need to allocate this text to a detailed field safety plan. Finally, reviewers should disclose if they have worked or published at the site where the scientific investigation is proposed when reviewing proposals in review panels.

— Text provided by Jennifer Stern