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Ukrainian scientist to join expedition to MU Antarctic station

This year’s Masaryk University expedition to Antarctica will have 23 members divided into two teams. Part of the expedition will head to Johann Gregor Mendel Czech Antarctic Station, where they will spend about two months, while a smaller team of nine people will work on Nelson Island for over two weeks.

On 27 January, both parts of the expedition will leave the Czech Republic together for Chile, from where they will continue by air to King George Island in South Shetlands. There they will split up and continue to their respective destinations. This year’s expedition also includes Ukrainian scientist Anton Puhovkin, who is now employed at the Faculty of Science as part of the MU programme to support Ukrainian teachers and scientists affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Last spring, Anton Puhovkin, who specialises in the research of lichens, was unable to return to Ukraine because of the outbreak of war. “After a year spent at the Ukrainian station on Galindez Island in Antarctica, he managed to get to Poland and then went to Brno based on his previous acquaintances there,” explained Pavel Kapler, manager of the Czech Antarctic Research Programme at the MU Faculty of Science. Puhovkin will now return to Antarctica as an MU employee. However, he will also visit his home station when he completes his work on Nelson Island. “Thanks to Anton and the collaboration with the Ukrainian national Antarctic programme, our researchers will gain access to new samples, and our instruments will also be used on the Ukrainian station, which, unlike ours, operates year-round,” Kapler added.

The objective of this year’s expedition to all three destinations is long-term climate monitoring and comprehensive observation of the condition of the polar geological and ecological systems. This includes the local glaciers, permafrost and areas from which ice has retreated, allowing smaller plants to grow, as well as river and lake systems and other geomorphological formations. “We will continue in the five-year JUNIOR STAR project launched last year, which is focused on the study of changes affecting the permafrost in the Antarctic Peninsula. In cooperation with the University Hospital Ostrava, we will also conduct medical research into the impact of stress on the physical health of workers in polar regions,” explained Filip Hrbáček, who is a member of the MU Faculty of Science and leader of this year’s expedition.

The expedition will also launch a new geophysical project in collaboration with another international participant, Mohammad Farzamian from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, who will install instruments for permafrost monitoring at the station. In future, the system should allow quantitative analysis of the recent evolution of ground ice and the influence of climate change on permanently frozen areas. Other international researchers participating in the expedition will traditionally be Slovak MU graduates and staff members, as well as two scientists from Turkey and one from the United Kingdom.

As part of the Czech Antarctic Research Programme’s collaboration with industry and the private sector, the testing of devices developed by COMET SYSTEM for an automatic weather station will begin during this year’s expedition. If successful, the company will get the licence to use the Tested in Antarctica trademark.

Mendel Polar Station has served as a base for scientists for over 15 years and is scheduled to undergo extensive repairs this year, mainly involving the roof of the main accommodation building. The MU Faculty of Science had to find an experienced roofer capable of working in the extreme conditions of Antarctica. MU received over 300 applications and eventually selected Dimitris Georgiadis, a skilled climber and roofer who has extensive experience working in the cold and rough environment of Hrubý Jeseník mountains in northern Moravia.