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Antarctica: Masaryk University experts to map icebergs from the air

Four members of the research team arrived at the MU Polar Station on James Ross Island. 

The Masaryk University research expedition takes new equipment to Antarctica this year. At the Johann Gregor Mendel Research Station, built by Masaryk University on James Ross Island, the team of scholars will, for the first time, use remote piloted aircraft systems to map the island’s icebergs, defrosted permafrost and vegetation.

Most of the 17-member polar team which set out to Antarctica on 28 December 2016 are researchers from Masaryk University. “Two colleagues from Charles University, a professor of plant physiology from the University of Košice in Slovakia and a specialist in lichen areas from a university in Turkey have also joined the group,” said head of the expedition Daniel Nývlt. He added that yet more specialists are interested in international cooperation on the polar research project and would like to take part in the expedition.

“In previous research seasons scholars have studied communities of different organisms on the limited area of the island. This year they would like to map how they are located on the defrosted parts of the island,” Daniel Nývlt said. For this purpose, experts will use remote piloted systems with cameras which are able to take high-resolution pictures and videos of a larger area.

These systems will help mainly with mapping icebergs over an area of 10 square kilometres, including monitoring more distant and inaccessible areas. “3D models will be created from photos of the continent’s surface. We will focus mainly on icebergs and permafrost, the layer of soil that remains frozen most of the time, and also the top layer of permafrost which thaws in summer,” said the head of the expedition of the research aims. 

This year, after a longer period of time, experts will bring along GPR systems in order to study the thickness of the icebergs and thawing parts of the soil on the continent. “We will extend the measurements of the active part of permafrost and start to trace processes that influence its thawing. In particular we will focus on the speed at which snow melts and the impact of this speed on changes in the island’s surface,” said Nývlt.

While icebergs thawed significantly until 2008, in subsequent years they have increased slightly in volume. “We are not able to predict how the climate will change in future. All current models say the scenario for James Ross Island in the next century is warming and drying up,” added Nývlt. 

The polar expedition left Prague on 28 December 2016. Four members of the team reached the Polar Station on James Ross Island yesterday. Bad weather conditions kept the rest of the group in Rio Gallegos in Patagonia. They will move on by air from the Argentinian Marambio Base located in Antarctica to the MU Johann Gregor Mendel Polar Station on James Ross Island. The researchers plan to stay in Antarctica until the middle of the March.

The expedition team comprises 17 members. Besides Masaryk University researchers, thanks to the Czech Antarctic Foundation two scientists from Charles University and two foreign scholars from Slovakia and Turkey are taking part. The members of 2017 Polar Research Team are:

Daniel Nývlt – head of the expedition, geographer, Masaryk University
Miloš Barták – scientific coordinator, plant physiologist, Masaryk University
Ivo Sedláček – microbiologist, Masaryk University
Lukáš Mareček – geologist, Masaryk University
Michaela Kňažková – geographer, Masaryk University
Kamil Láska – climatologist, Masaryk University
Jan Kavan – hydrologist, Masaryk University
Zbyněk Engel – glaciologist, Charles University, Prague
Jana Smolíková – glaciologist, Charles University, Prague
Peter Váczi – plant physiologist, deputy manager of the J. G. Mendel Station, Masaryk University
Jakub Ondruch – hydrologist, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
Filip Hrbáček – geomorphologist, Masaryk University
Martin Slezák – doctor, Masaryk University
Martin Bačkor – plant physiologist, Pavol Jozef Šafárik University, Košice, Slovak Republic
Mehmet Gökhan Halici – lichenologist, Erciyes Üniversitesi, Kayseri, Turkey
Jiří Strnad – technician
František Vorel – technician

Masaryk University has operated a polar station on the island since 2006. The main building of the station, which is 21 metres long and 11 metres wide, can accommodate up to twenty scientists. There are also nine containers used as technical support. The polar station was built by Masaryk University in the north of James Ross Island, in a place where the glacier has retreated. The building cost a total of approximately 60 million Czech crowns. Research at the station is performed in the southern summer season only, allowing scientists off-road activities. Much of the energy used for the operation of the station is taken from renewable sources.