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MU Polar Station in Antarctica celebrates 15 years since opening

The Czech polar station, built between 2004 and 2006 on the remote James Ross Island in Antarctica by its operator, Masaryk University, will mark the 15th anniversary of its official inauguration.

MU Polar Station in Antarctica celebrates 15 years since opening.

The station was completed on 4 March 2006 and it was commissioned during the following research season on 22 February 2007. It was given the name Mendel Polar Station after Johann Gregor Mendel, whose 200th anniversary of birth is commemorated worldwide this year.

“The station was christened with champagne 15 years ago and its operations were officially launched with a ribbon-cutting ceremony,” recalled Daniel Nývlt, head of the Czech Antarctic Research Programme at the Department of Geography of the Faculty of Science MU, where the project to build the research station was conceived in 1999. “The station’s 15th birthday this year will also be commemorated by the scientists directly on site. And there are two reasons to celebrate because on that day they will hopefully also complete their primary scientific objectives and will be able to move on to secondary projects,” explained Nývlt.

Despite the unusually heavy snowfall and unstable weather complicating the current expedition’s mission, the scientists took advantage of literally every moment when the weather showed some clemency to take samples from both living and non-living nature, collect data from instruments, and conduct primary measurements and surveys. “They certainly won’t be bored now, though, because each of the researchers and technicians goes to Antarctica with a much larger set of objectives than can realistically be achieved – that’s partly in case some of the plans don’t work out because of the weather, but also to avoid cabin fever. They just don’t have the time,” Nývlt said.

Interesting results are expected from research into the effects of stress on the physical health of workers in polar regions. While conducting research in Antarctica, expedition participants are exposed to extreme conditions and, moreover, they are also almost completely cut off from their families and virtually the rest of the world. However, this does not necessarily cause stress for everyone. On the contrary, it is possible that some people will calm down in these conditions and the return to civilisation will be more stressful for them. In order to check and compare the body’s reaction to this extreme change, the expedition participants complete questionnaires and attention tests and are also regularly monitored using Entrant, a special device developed for this purpose. It measures stress on the basis of physiological parameters related to thermodynamic processes in the body.

Participants in this year’s expedition continue in long-term climate monitoring and comprehensive observation of the condition of the polar geo- and ecosystems, including the local glaciers, permafrost and areas from which ice has retreated, allowing for the growth of smaller plants, as well as river and lake systems and other geomorphological formations. Zoologists study fish and birds such as the Antarctic tern, south polar skua, Antarctic petrel and penguins, as well as mammals such as common, fur and elephant seals.

As part of the Czech Antarctic Research Programme’s collaboration with industry and the private sector, commercial products are tested throughout the expedition. Those that pass are licensed to use the Tested in Antarctica trademark.