Czech researchers depart for new Antarctic station

The Czech station of Johann Gregor Mendel, photo: National Geographic

In early 2006, the Czech Republic completed construction on a state-of-the-art research centre on James Ross Island, Antarctica. The project has taken a full six years to reach fruition but now the polar station is finally set to open, in just a few days' time. On Tuesday a Czech team set out for a two-month stay on the island, where members will study the effects of global warming and more.

Telling someone that you're going to Antarctica has a very special ring to it, but a number of Czech scientists can boast at having said it and done it for years. This time, however, things will be somewhat different, as a new team prepares to lodge and work at the Czech Republic's new permanent research station for the first time. It comes forty-six years after Czechoslovakia first signed the Antarctica research treaty. This week the group, which includes biologists, geologists and geographers, set out on their journey, one that will see them travel to Chile, then to Patagonia at the southern-most tip of South America, followed by Seymour Island, and finally the destination at James Ross.

At the beginning of this year, even before the Czech station was completed, Jiri Komarek of the Botanical Institute spent time working there. He has now been to Antarctica on a number of occasions, but previously he also worked at Poland's base. Talking about Antarctica, he told Radio Prague that the effects of global warming were obvious:

Jiri Komarek, photo: Zdenek Valis
"I stayed and worked twice on Poland's base and right behind it there was a glacier which receded over two years: you can directly see the effects of global warming. Regarding James Ross Island, decades ago it was joined by ice to the rest of Antarctica, with ice covering Prince Gustav Channel. But, it has disappeared. Now there is a regular body of water which you can navigate in the summer months."

Like many, the researcher shares the view that Antarctica would be best be preserved if used solely for scientific study, and says he hopes that the icy continent will continue to benefit from a careful approach:

James Ross island, photo: Nasa
"There is of course pressure for Antarctica to be used for different purposes but I hope that the preservation approach will prevail and that it will be preserved for scientific study. It is an extremely beautiful continent but also very fragile in terms of its eco-systems. So, I hope that Antarctica will continue to be used mostly for research, which could of course have great significance for mankind."

The current team is expected to arrive in the new year for the new spring season. The Czechs of course are confident that the centre, which is named after the great geneticist Gregor Mendel, will contribute to new breakthroughs in polar research.