Free Anthropocene eBook

Kelly, J., P. Scarpino, H. Berry, J. Syvitski and M. Meybeck, Eds. (2017). Rivers of the Anthropocene, California: University of California Press.

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“I’m an engineer, I talk to machines, not humans!”

Today during her visit to TCD, Ilaria Cinelli took some time out of her busy schedule to chat to us about her experience on the MDRS Crew 185.

Emily: Hello Ilaria, thank you for chatting with us today!

Ilaria: No problem, I am glad to get to meet the students face to face. I am managing 20 teams that are spread all over the world so I don’t get to speak to all those involved in person.

Emily:  Wow! How many countries are involved in this mission?

Ilaria: I am managing teams in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, the US, Brazil, India, Japan. I’m extremely busy making sure I keep up to date with progress for each team across a whole range of time zones! I am also submitting my PhD thesis in the next week so I have a lot on my plate! (Illaria chuckles)

Emily: Gosh, that’s a lot to take on. You have been mission commander before, when did you first get involved in the program?

Ilaria: My first mission was in 2014-2015. The MDRS approached me to ask if I would be interested in getting involved. I had worked in space science before and they said they thought I had potential to be a mission commander and I have been involved ever since.

Emily: What has been the pull to return to the station for multiple missions?

Ilaria: I think this program is fantastic for public outreach and engagement on the topic of Mars exploration. The issue of science communication is something that the science community has been trying to address in recent years. It is international, volunteer led stations such as the MDRS that can break down the barriers to communication and get everyone involved in the conversation.

Emily: How has your approach to organising missions changed in that time?

Ilaria: I have definitely gained more confidence in my managerial skills. Each mission is a completely different experience and the work we do changes with each crew. So every year we are starting from scratch so one can’t become complacent. The missions always keep me on my toes!’

Emily: Is there any moment over your time involved with the MDRS that stands out to you in particular?

Ilaria: Oh, last year we had a particularly challenging episode when all the water onsite was frozen by freezing weather conditions. We were surrounded by ice and snow for a couple of days. We were completely isolated with no water, no toilets and all we could do was wait. When something like that happens, it really tests the group dynamic. It is surprising to see how people will react in situations such as this! It no longer becomes about the work but survival.

Emily: What was the greatest take-home lesson from that experience?

Ilaria (laughing): I am an engineer, I talk to machines not humans! I had to learn how to cope with a lack of cohesion among the crew. As mission commander, it was my duty to bring everyone back together. It was challenging given the circumstances but also gave us huge insight into the raw humanity one would experience during a mission.

Emily: Did the experience inform your preparations for the current mission?

Ilaria: Yes, this year we have a psychologist on remote. I decided that it would be beneficial for the team to have an independent professional psychologist to speak to. This way the crew can separate the psychological struggles we encounter from the scientific work being completed. We also have one crew member present who has a medical qualification and is specialised in trauma which will be useful in the isolated environment.

Emily: The crews that you manage are made up of academics from a variety of disciplines, how does that effect the work?

Ilaria: It is fascinating to observe the variety of approaches taken by different disciplines. As an engineer, I have different goals compared to that of a psychologist or an artist involved in the mission. It is interesting to see the different approaches taken to the same dilemma or question and as mission commander, I must try to get into their mentality. It can be hard but I learn a lot from it.

Emily: It has been said that the Trinity team is unusual in that it is made up of 7 females and 1 male. Are the teams usually male dominated?

Ilaria: Yes, it is great to see that the Trinity team has so many young women eager to get involved in planetary research. As an engineer, I do often find myself being the only woman in the room, however I think it is important not to focus on this. The most important thing is how you view yourself. I am here first and foremost as an engineer. Not a “female’’ engineer.

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It was all hands on deck today as “Gone with the Wind” and MARV finetune their experiments.


With mission launch fast approaching, the students involved in MDRS Crew 185 have been hard at work perfecting their methodology and conducting rigorous testing of equipment. The teams were visited today by Ilaria Cinelli, the mission commander for Crew 185. Ilaria is a biomedical engineer who is conducting Phd research in NUI Galway. Ilaria has been involved in MDRS since 2014.

The teams presented their ongoing research to Ilaria for feedback and to further develop their proposals.

Since the unforeseen difficulties that “Gone with the Wind” encountered in their last experiment, the team was eager to discuss their new experiment with Ilaria. They were asked why they went with this experiment design, to which Sorcha O’Carolan Murphy replied;

“This experiment will be useful for future missions for planning landing sites. If we can design a simplistic method for anticipating sediment transportation it can help crew members decide where to set up base. The experiment can inform scientists on how long it might take for sand to encroach on a station and to better understand aeolian systems in the local environment.”

MARV discussed the paths to be taken by the rover during their mission. The team has been met with some difficulty in their efforts to pinpoint sites that will satisfy the requirement for the experiment. Illaria has experienced the realities of the MDRS environment first hand so her expertise is vital to the successful planning of the experiments.

Both teams made significant advancements in their projects today after meeting Ilaria!



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Meet MARV; one of two teams sending experiments to the MDRS!

MARV is one of two teams who sent a research proposal to the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah. The experiment designed by the team will be performed in the research station by Crew 185 during the next mission scheduled for 13th – 31st December 2017. The inspiration for the experiment came from difficulties encountered in previous missions such as the Mars Exploration Rover and Opportunity Rover in which the rover got stuck in sand or was damaged by terrain. The team have designed an experiment to evaluate the responses of a vehicle with increased sample loads over various terrain types to produce a hazard map for a specific study area. The aim is to create a novel method to help scientists to avoid hazards they might encounter while conducting fieldwork on a Mars mission. The team is led by Lucie Delobel and she is joined by Liza Jabbour, Emily Nolan and Alexander Fitzpatrick. 

Lucie Delobel

Lucie Delobel – MARV Team lead

Course: 3rd Year Earth Sciences

“Space has always fascinated me and I often wonder what life would be like on another planet with a geomorphology very different from that of Earth. My inspiration for the project came from a scene in Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian. In a particularly memorable scene, the rover flips over nearly killing the protagonist driving. This led me to consider an experiment aiming to identify the most secure travel route over hazardous terrain’


Liza Jabbour- MARV team member & graphic designer

Course: Geography & ERASMUS student  from La Sorbonne Paris

“I am curious by nature and have always been fascinated by space. It’s an incredible opportunity to be part of this amazing project!  Not only have I been using my scientific knowledge, I have also been able to enhance my creative skill set as the graphic designer for the project. I am so excited to work with international students! It’s amazing to see how much we have achieved as a team in such a short space of time!”

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Emily Nolan – MARV team member & PRO

Course: Earth Sciences

“Space exploration is one of the most exciting areas of research in geomorphology today. There has been alot of attention given to Mars over the decades but what is fascinating is how much we are still struggling to understand. This project has been fantastic in that it has provided a platform for me to test my knowledge and skills I’ve gained during my degree and take it outside the classroom. I took on the role of PRO because I want to highlight the exciting opportunities that are out there for budding scientists.”


Alexander Fitzpatrick – MARV team member and Logistics Co-ordinator

Course: Geography and Political Science

“This project was an opportunity to gain some research experience in a field that is becoming increasingly topical in both Geography and Politics: that of Mars. Having the ability to put Ireland on the space science map is a fantastic opportunity, as Ireland has so much to offer academically in this field. Perhaps Trinity’s involvement in this area of geography will make people realise that despite Ireland being a little island in a big ocean, we have a lot more to offer that some might think”.

You can follow the progress on this blog or you can head over to the facebook page by following this link

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“Gone with the Wind” on Mars

Meet the members of “Gone with the Wind’, an undergraduate cohort that has volunteered their time and knowledge to advance our understanding of Mars. The members of the team are TCD geography students who submitted an experiment proposal for consideration by the Mars Desert Research Station in Utah.

The initial proposal the team submitted was centered around gully formation on Mars. However the design had to be scrapped after the team encountered difficulties with regards to water availability. The new experiment involves taking samples of sediment of different densities and testing the rate of transport in a desert setting. The purpose of the experiment is to develop our understanding of aeolian transport on Mars and use it to predict sediment transport on the planet, which could affect the location and placement of future Mars based Hab stations. 

Team Leader: Nancy Williams

Course: Earth Sciences



“I have harbored aspirations for a career in space science since childhood. This project has given me the opportunity to delve into those dreams and gain some insight into what a mission entails. The difficulties we encountered with less than two weeks to go before the mission challenged me and the team in ways we hadn’t expected. The experience has been extremely rewarding and I can’t wait to watch the mission unfold!’

Team member and Treasurer: Sorcha O’Carolan Murphy

Course: Earth Sciences


mars bio pic 2

“Ever since I was young I’ve had a fascination with the sky above us and what lies beyond. To me, this project is particularly exciting because it brings the concept of space travel and Martian exploration so much closer to home.  In my course of study I spend a lot of time looking at Earth based processes so I jumped at the chance to work on something focused further afield. So many exciting things are happenings right now in this field of science and I’m delighted to be a part of it!”

Team member: Kiara Mulvey

Course: Geography


“My passion for space exploration was ignited by a visit to the Kennedy Space Center. I am fascinated by where our own Earth fits into the overall operation of our own solar system. The beauty of this project is that it has allowed me to actively engage with my own understanding of earth processes and how they relate to the other terrestrial planets.” 

Team member and Logistics officer: Sarah Fisher

Course: Earth Sciences


“Mars exploration is a constant source of inspiration for scientists, artists and civilians alike. The mystery that surrounds Mars is what initially seized my interest in this project. Hopefully through this investigation I will be able to combine my knowledge of planet Earth and the geomorphic processes which occur here and apply it to the planets and other bodies in our solar system, an area of great interest to me.”

You can keep up to date with the project from this blog or by following the Facebook page



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Congratulations: Undergrad projects to be deployed at Mars Society Desert Research Station

Undergraduates from Geography and Earth Sciences at Trinity College Dublin have had two of their project proposals accepted for deployment during the Mars Desert Research Station Crew 185 deployment.

The Mars Society established the Utah base in 2001 for the purpose of educating students, researchers and the general public about humans living and working on Mars. Each year they select research teams who will travel to Utah to undertake scientific research under Mars analog conditions.

The two student-led research projects will be carried by the team in Utah between December 16th and 31st.

We will live blog the undergraduate experience from this site during the preparations and deployment of the experiments.



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CO2, Pits and Sand Furrows on Mars

Our new open access paper:

Experiments On Sublimating Carbon Dioxide Ice And Implications For Contemporary Surface Processes On Mars
L. E. Mc Keown, M. C. Bourke & J. N. McElwaine, Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 14181 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-14132-2

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