Czech scientists set off for annual Antarctic expedition

Scientists from Masaryk University in Brno set out on Wednesday on their 20th expedition to the Johan Gregor Mendel Polar Station on Antarctica’s James Ross Island. The 16-member team includes climatologists, geologists, but also two filmmakers. I discussed the goals of this year’s mission with Daniel Nývlt, head of the Czech Antarctic Research:

Gregor Mendel Polar Station | Photo: Jakub Ondruch,  Masaryk University Brno

“The main aim is still the same: a long-term monitoring of climate and a complex evaluation of marginal Antarctic geo and ecosystems. We carry out long-term monitoring of local glaciers, permafrost and active layer, and also the deglaciated areas where numerous lakes and streams evolved. We also do microbiological research and the research of local biota, which is present in deglaciated areas of James Ross Island.”

I read somewhere that the research will also focus on how the bodies of the participants are affected by the expedition...

“We started with this, let’s say, physiological or medicinal research a few years ago, but because our groups are small, but because we need a much larger group to evaluate something like this, the research must continue.

“Physiologically, there are significant differences between individuals. Some of them are rather stressed in Antarctica, while the others show no signs of distress. These people are usually much more stressed at home due to work and family duties. So the research of stress factors is still a work in progress.”

We should also mention that there will be two filmmakers on your team this year, because you are preparing a documentary on Czech Antarctic research.

“Yes, that's true. There are two documentarists, who are collaborating with Czech Television, taking part in this expedition. We believe that after 20 years of continuous work of the Czech Antarctic research program, we reached the point to present it to wider audience.”

The team sets on the journey today. How long will it take them to reach the James Ross Island and what are the conditions like there at the moment?

Daniel Nývlt | Photo: archive of Daniel Nývlt

“The whole group will travel through Madrid and Santiago de Chile to southern Chile to Punta Arenas, then they will cross the Drake Passage and continue to the Mendel station on a small Chilean boat. They should reach the destination around February 5 or 6.

“Currently, day temperatures in Antarctica are above zero, mostly around 5 degrees Celsius, but at night they can fall below zero. But what is more important is the strong wind which makes you feel much colder than what you know from central Europe.”

I know you yourself are not taking part in this year's expedition. How many times have you visited the continent?

“I spent altogether more than two years in Antarctica. I took part in 11 expeditions, where I was a member or a leader. However, I am now the head of the program, so my duties are slightly different and I'm quite happy that the youngsters are able to do my work in the field.  But I do hope that in few years’ time I will have the chance to return to Antarctica because it's a fabulous continent and I really love the environment.”