Czech researchers studying global climate change on James Ross Island
Czech scientists from Brno’s Masaryk University have been involved in polar research since the 1980s and since 2006 they have their own polar station in Antarctica –the Johann Gregor Mendel station. For the duration of the polar summer a team of scientists from Masaryk University works at the station doing glacier research and collecting data relating to the impact of global warming on micro-organisms. The sixteen-member- team is just back from its 2014 expedition and this week I talked to the head of the team Pavel Kapler about its work.
If I understand correctly, you are studying micro-organisms able to adapt to climate change. What are your findings and how can they be put to use? In other words what are you hoping to find there?
“Well, microbiology is another of our very promising areas of study and right now we are at the primary stage of microbiology research. Right now we are trying to collect as many samples as possible and trying to find some new species that could be used for some unique protein analysis and new enzyme discoveries. “
You yourself have been to the station four times now – do you actually see any signs of climate change on the glaciers for instance?
“Absolutely, absolutely. I have to say the seasons are quite different on James Ross Island which means that the landscape on this and nearby islands changes quite a lot throughout the year, but even so we can see a very clear impact of climate change and global warming there. The mass of the glaciers is decreasing and we can see it very clearly.”
The base accommodates 16 people – what are the different areas of study they cover and do you chose those areas yourselves or is this down within the framework of international cooperation, because global warming is a hot topic right now?
In what way are you hoping to contribute to the problem of climate change?
“Our aim is to get as much data, as much accurate data as possible in order to contribute to the present knowledge of the problem, because only the joint effort of many Polar stations can clarify what is wrong with the climate now and what can be expected in the future.”
So you are hoping to contribute to a prediction of how fast the changes will proceed?
“Absolutely, that’s right. Part of our research focusses on the past. By drilling in the lake sediments of very old lakes we try to determine the paleo-climatological ranges or limits that occurred in the past, so it might be easier for us to forecast what could be expected.”
And are the changes more radical in recent years than they were in the past?
“That is the assumption and we need to confirm it definitely.”
As a climatologist are you concerned by what you see there?
You are always there in the months of the Polar summer –from January to March – but does monitoring take place when you are not there?
“Of course. Most of the meteorological and some of the plant physiology instruments are fully automated, they collect data without assistance from the base personnel. The Czech station is only a summer station so it is only manned though the three months of the polar summer and after the long “winter” break when there is no human presence researchers collect the data from the automated loggers and can start analyzing it.”
How is it that Czech researchers have a polar station of their won there?
“That is an interesting story - a story of courage and big dreams of one brave scientist – prof. Pavel Prošek. He was so dedicated to the idea that he persuaded a lot of state bodies and a lot of scientists to make it possible and it is thanks to him that the Czech Republic has its own scientific station down there –in Antarctica.”
You have been there four times now –do you find yourself looking forward to going back again?
“Well, this place is absolutely amazing and there are a lot of reasons to go back. Every summer season when I am there the prevailing feeling is “why can’t I stay longer” and then “when will the time come for me to go back there” – so there are many things drawing me back there. “
What made the biggest impression on you when you went first?