New: Polar research on MU (Czech only)
The Antarctic Peninsula is part of a continent which fundamentally differs from the rest of Antarctica. While Eastern and Western Antarctica are both geologically very old and formed by one, or more precisely, several continental platforms, the peninsula is a relatively young area.
The mountain system with alpine morphology, which in fact is a continuation of the South American Andes into the Antarctic area and is connected by an undersea ridge – the so-called Scottish Arch – is the backbone of this area. The nature of the region´s greatly irregular coastline is at the same time conditioned by this young mountain range. A specific nature of the glaciation is qualified by the alpine relief. Unlike in the rest of Antarctica there are no large-area continental glaciers (jokul) but it is the valley glaciers of the mountain type and cliff glaciers that dominate the land. Both types of glaciation are sustained by piedmont glaciers where icebergs of smaller size break off.
Concerning the climate, the Antarctic Peninsula represents the so-called Maritime Antarctica, thus an area which is under the prevailing influence of the Southern Ocean. Technically it means that maritime and continental air masses meet here and this results in fast-moving cyclones and strong frontal systems. The consequences are that in comparison with continental Antarctica the overall temperature is higher (in winter the temperature drops to almost -40oC, in summer it rises above 10oC and the yearly precipitation is relatively high – around 500mm), the wind speed is comparatively fast and climatic variability, with respect to globalization, is typical. Exposure to west-east air circulation prevailing in the Subantarctic region makes the peninsula quite heavily subjected to global atmospheric circulation of our planet and therefore to global climate change. Thus the Antarctic Peninsula is part of Antarctica where the process of global warming becomes most evident (average yearly temperature has increased 2.5 or 3°C over the past 50 years). In regard to variability of the climate, short-term oscillation frequencies are typical for this area and these are in contrast with a relatively stable climate of continental Antarctica.
The outlined character of abiotic elements in the environment is sensitively reflected by biotic elements. In summer liquid water is at disposal and existence of abundant plankton creating food basis for a number of marine and land animals is possible due to the border seas full of nutrients. Many of these animals (especially marine mammals and birds) function as carriers of nutrients to the mainland and therefore create – together with abundance of moisture and high enough summer temperatures – conditions for development of terrestrial vegetation.
Concerning the evolution of biotic elements the Antarctic Peninsula has the highest concentration of life within the whole of the Antarctic. This, relatively good accessibility and favourable climatic conditions have all led to the foundation of scientific stations in the area. Most of them are therefore found on the west and north coast or around the South Shetlands. The east coast, which is oriented towards the Weddell Sea, had been difficultly accessible owing to the expanse of shelf glaciers or to permanent sea freezing which had practically excluded any landing operations. Due to the opening of the eastern part of the sea on the Antarctic Peninsula (Trinity Peninsula) we were able to initiate the exploration activities which, having been approved by the Committee for Environmental Protection in Antarctica (CEP), have led to the construction of the Czech Antarctic Base in an area where the realization of such project will not excessively densify the network of existing stations and which, from the scientific point of view, is sufficiently attractive.
A decision has been made to build the station in the northern part of James Ross Island. About 80% of this island (whose area occupies about 2 500 km2) is covered by glaciers and only the northern part (Ulu Peninsula) is deglaciated. The process of deglaciation is geologically relatively young – it has taken some 6000 years. The gradually deglaciated area (deglaciated oasis) is sufficiently attractive from the scientific point of view and it will become the study of a scientific programme comprehensively drawn up by the Czech station (see below).
The project of the station has always been drawn up as environmentally friendly – whether from the technical point of constructing the building sites and the station´s infrastructure or from the point of securing the station with electricity. The realization of the project has been funded by the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, the project has been continuously supported by Masaryk University and the entire complex has been built by PSG International, a.s. Zlín, a company selected in a tender process. Both the building elements of the station and a part of the infrastructure were manufactured in the Czech Republic in the years 2001 – 2002 and prepared for transfer to Antarctica.
The actual transfer began only after the project had been defended in front of CEP whose meetings take place concurrently with the so-called Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings. These negotiations took place in the years 2002 – 2004 and so the end of the year 2004 finally saw the launch of the construction material and assembly units transfer from Europe to southern Chile (Punta Arenas) and then in 2005 to Joss Ross Island. The Antarctic part of the transfer took place in two stages – the main transfer was carried out at the beginning of the year, the rest of the material was transported at the end of 2005. The first transfer was preceded by a landing of a small group of scientists and technicians who were called on to take accurate measurements of the construction site and prepare the grounds for laying the foundations of the main building and the technical containers. Every transfer stage was followed by a construction-technical phase. The landing of the material was very quick thanks to the help of a tank for lifting boats (Chilean army ice-breaker Amirante Viel) and partly two helicopters. The construction work followed straightaway after the completion of the landing.
The station is drawn up as a complex composed of the main building (accommodation, meals, laboratory, hygienic facilities, relaxation area – designed for 15-20 staff) and a series of 9 technical containers. It further consists of a landing ramp for zodiacs, pipes that lead source water from the brook to the main building and those that lead reclaimed wastewater to the sea. It is a summer station. Without bigger changes it is possible to use it for an all-year-round operation. When the station and all its systems were being designed, all the ecological requirements and regulations included in the main appendix of the Antarctic Treaty – The Protocol of Environmental Protection in Antarctica – were respected.
The foundation of the main building and the containers was carried out in an appropriately ecological way, i.e. without concrete work, but instead using wooden railway ties, which are more resistant to corrosion and very easily dismantleable. The main building is built from panels (layers of OSB – hardened polystyrene – OSB) manufactured in the Czech Republic under Canadian licence and used for constructing buildings in the Canadian Arctic. They are light and thus easily manipulable, they have excellent insulating properties and they enable a very fast progress of the construction itself. They are provided with special covering resin-bonded plywood used against sand blasting when the wind blows.
Most of the containers were transported to Antarctica with existing technical equipment. The containers serve the following:
- housing of dieselaggregates
- garaging of zodiacs and wheel cum tracks
- allocation of waste treatment
- housing of wind power units
- storage of spare parts
- storage of liquid fuels
- storage of food
- housing of electric control panel
- water management of the station
All of them are interconnected by a cable system and 8 of them carry foldable masts with wind power units. These are electrical power units with individual output of 1 400 W, they are capable of fully covering the energetic needs of the station if the wind speed exceeds 5 m.s-1. The produced electrical energy is accumulated in Ni-Cd accumulators, transformed into alternating current of standard voltage and distributed.
Additional source of energy are the solar collectors. These solar hot-air collectors sized 36 m2 serve the heating of the main building, the solar hot-water collectors sized 16 m2 supply the station with hot water.
When testing the operation of the station at the end of the second construction stage the function of the solar and electric system was carefully examined and it can be assumed that during four months of south pole summer they are capable of covering approximately 60% of the station´s needs.
One service and two reserve dieselaggregates serve, together with portable aggregator units, as alternative energetic source in case of a cloudy sky or dead air.
Due to safety reasons (fire safety, emergency) single station objects are distributed throughout an area of about 120 x 40 m, selected containers serve in case of fire in the main building as emergency accommodation.
The station is owned by Masaryk University and it has been named after the founder of modern genetics and the meteorologist Johann Gregor Mendel. The university has been preparing a foundation of a Czech center for Antarctic studies which will cover the running of the station from both the scientific and the technical/logistic side.
The anticipated scientific programme of the station results from the experience of previous Czech scientific activities in Antarctica, implemented mainly in the South Shetlands area (island King George, Polish base H. Arctowski and Peruvian base Machu Pichu) and the west coast of the peninsula (island Galindéz, Ukrainian base Vernadsky). The increase of complexity in research is typical for these activities. It has been diverted from the original climatic and ecophysiological topics towards gelogical, gemorphological, geochemical and organically chemical, towards taxonomy, biodiversity and stress plant physiology. The topics all had a common denominator – study of antarctic oases, or vegetation oases and their structure. During the analysis of these topics content and methodical experience has been gained for further scientific activities where involvement of a wider spectrum of scientific disciplines and a larger area are being expected. These topics also motivated the choice of location for the Czech station – on the northern coast of James Ross Island, the scientific programme has therefore been clear from the very start.
The northern part of James Ross Island (Ulu Peninsula) is the largest deglaciated region in Antarctica. It is a relatively young oasis with a deglaciation process which has lasted some 6000 years. Because of typical ridges with the morphology of table rocks, residual glaciers on their tops, rock glaciers on periglacially modelled slopes and relatively vast topographic lows, it is possible to study the following:
1. geological structure, its morphostructural effects and influence of a number of factors to which the earth´s surface has been exposed and its base during gradual deglaciation (influence of atmosphere from the thermally-hygric weathering regime point of view; influence of running water on erosion; transport and sedimentation of eroded material; periglacial modelling of the terrain; processes of chemical weathering and the beginings of a pedogenetic process –the gradual colonization influence on the deglaciated area by biota has its consequences), their mutual conditionality and combined effects;
2. process of deglaciation in space and time and reconstruction of paleoclimate;
3. succession of living organisms into weathered substrate and on its surface, its biodiversity, production of biomass and adaptability to the environment;
4. dependence of existing living organisms on the environment (radiation conditions, temperature and humidity of the surface atmosphere and the weathering substrate, presence of liquid water, nutrients source and their efficiency);
5. inner structure of plant and animal communities and their functions under the influence of other factors;
6. physiological adaptation to the environment of the weathering area and a relatively arid eastern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula;
7. influence of mainland processes on marine benthic coastal ecosystems (sedimentation through water streams transported weathering material into the coastal area of the sea and its influence on the benthic ecosystems) including the study of bottom erosis influence by ice floes.
The analysis of these briefly presented topics will be handled by several scientific disciplines: geology, glaciology, hydrology, climatology, organic chemistry and geochemistry. From the biological disciplines taxonomy, soil biology, biodiversity, ecophysiology and stress physiology.
While exercising the reciprocal confrontation, the results of all the scientific disciplines will enable a complex view of the inner structure in the ecosystem of a deglaciated oasis and its function, including the climax of this project – the modelling of the ecosystem´s function. This step will also give space for a prognosis of the ecosystem´s reaction to potential changes of the environment (e.g. global warming process) to which the simple polar ecosystems are very sensitive.