Wednesday, June 15, 2005
It has been a wonderful experience participating in this project. Walking through the forests was very impressive, with whole mountain slopes fully clear-cut during the Soviet occupation and other slopes covered with dead tree trunks due to acid rain. Despite this, I liked walking there; nature is much different than in the Netherlands.
I also enjoyed myself very much with the other expedition members and team leaders. We got along really well. We shared lots about our ways of life and cultures and had lots of fun together.
At last, I’d like to mention that the CzechRepublic was a very interesting country. Outside the capital, there are many things that the show country is catching up with the western European countries.
I hope to be able to again participate in such a project one day in the future.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
After waking up, I packed my things for the flight back. Around , Andrew and I went into the city center by tram and visited PragueCastle, ParliamentGardens, a cathedral, and the Jewish cemetery. The castle and cathedral were very beautiful. We chatted a lot and had a good time.
Around , Petrov drove me to the airport. Andrew and Ish went with us. After saying goodbye, I went to the check-in counter. The flight back went without any problems. Around , I landed at Amsterdam airport. The train trip back home took one-and-a-half hours, more than usual due to work in progress on the railway. Around , I was finally back at home.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Andrew and I went with Chris and Martin to the airport early in the morning. After saying goodbye to Martin, Chris, Andrew, and I drank a “goodbye” pivo until Chris had to catch his plane. I was a little sad to see them both leave. Around , we took a cab back to our hotel, where I had breakfast with John and Nathallia. After that, I went to sleep.
In the afternoon, the remaining members of the expedition went into the city center and walked around to see some last things and buy presents. Around , we were back at the hostel. Petrov was already waiting to pick us up: we would stay at his place for the remaining period of our stay.
We said goodbye to Nathallia because she would leave later this evening and went to Petrov’s place. It was funny—we had to put our stuff on our seats because there was not enough space. Petrov’s place was fine, similar to a Dutch house. The view from the top balcony was magnificent; you could see across the whole of Prague.
In the evening, Petrov held a birthday barbeque in the garden. We talked with some of his friends, but it was not always easy. Their English is limited, and we were tired from the lack of sleep the days before. We went to bed around .
Friday, June 10, 2005
We had breakfast around 9 a.m. and agreed to buy some presents for Josef, Zuzanna, Kamilla, Petrov, and Pavel. We spent all day in the city center shops. In the evening, we met with Josef and Zuzanna at the agreed upon restaurant where we had our final dinner. They were very pleased with the frame and three photos of our group we gave them as a remembrance of our team.
In the evening, Chris, Andrew, Ish, and I went out and had a good time.
Thursday, June 9, 2005
In the morning, we went to the city of Jablonec, where we toured a glass factory that produces Christmas ornaments. We also went to the local factory shop, where the products were very cheap compared to the regular prices in other shops.
Around 1 p.m., we were back in the restaurant in Bedrichov to have lunch for the last time. Josef and Zuzanna gave a speech, and we had a champagne toast. We were a little sad, because it marked the end of our trip in Bedrichov. We had enjoyed the fieldwork very much, but it was over now.
Around , Dobri drove us back to the hostel in Prague, where we would stay the night. In the evening, we went into the city center and ate at a Chinese restaurant (how original). Chris, Andrew, Ish, and I went out again while the others went back to the hostel. We had a very good time. We found a pub with many small caves in the basement that were connected with each other via pathways.
Wednesday, June 8, 2005
It’s the last day of our fieldwork. In the morning, we went to BedrichovLake again and split into three groups. I went with John, Nathallia, and Zuzanna to take samples of six streams that run into the lake. It was raining when we started, but it stopped and the sun started shining a little bit.
We walked over an unpaved road and through the forest to the lake. The walk through the forest was very nice. It was the boggiest place I have been during the whole expedition.
Zuzanna and Nathallia spoke a lot about the plant life and showed me examples. At one stream, Nathallia pointed out water plants. When opened and rubbed, they ooze natural sap. Zuzanna then told us that the tree branches grow more off-wind. She also talked about the umbrella tree, which is generally a Norway spruce tree that loses its needles in the winter. Because the tree cannot hold the weight of the snow, the trunk splits open and the branches fall to the ground in the shape of an umbrella. The tree, however, keeps on growing.
The view of the lake was magnificent. You could see several streams, green bogs, and swampy vegetation at the sides of the lake. Zuzanna explained that the white stripes on the water are organic material. The distance between the white stripes is equal to the top layer of the water.
We walked over the dam to the other side. There was heavy wind, and you could clearly see the waves in the lake. Water sometimes came over the dam. I had to hold my hat and backpack cover to prevent them from blowing away.
After the lake, we encountered several very brownish streams. Zuzanna explained the brown color shows a high concentration of organic material in the water that is caused by surface water runoff from the slopes and bogs.
Around , the bus picked us up. Josef took us to the Josefuv Dul Dam, where we got a quick tour. The underground tunnel was very long—about 40 meters (130 feet)—and went way down to the bottom of the dam. After lunch, we went back to Jizerka. Josef took Ish and me for water stream sampling. Due to rain, there was so much surface runoff that we changed our sampling plan. We sampled the surface runoff at several places and then went through the forest to the small fish pond I had been the first day. We sampled the last gauging station, and Josef reset the waterflow meter. After that, we walked back to the road and waited for the van to pick us up. Sadly our last day of fieldwork day was now finished.
Josef took us to another place in the mountains near the Polish border to see a slope with dead trees. It was the most damaged slope of all we had seen. On the way back, Josef and Zuzanna explained how our data are going to be used. Zuzanna also told us that this was their first visit this year to this area, and they were delighted to see that the new tree plantations have grown so much this year. This might mean that the ecosystems are starting to find some sort of a balance, which means nature might repair itself more quickly now.
Tuesday, June 7, 2005
We conducted research at Oldrichov, and the weather was cold and rainy. Martin and I went up the hill to the rain gauges, and we took our time since we had all day. We sampled the gauges in about an hour and decided to walk around in the forest searching for mushrooms for Dobri (he eats them, but we found none). We found a huge, overhanging rock and sat there for some time, hiding from the rain. We had a very interesting chat about Buddhism.
On the way back, we met Joseph, Andrew, John, and Chris, who were digging a drain coil. Chris told us where to find gauge number 10 (we couldn’t find it near the others). It turned out this one was at another spot, so we climbed up the mountain in another direction and took the sample. After that, Martin and I walked back to the highway through the forest and waited in the van.
In the evening, we went to the bowling alley and celebrated Petrov’s birthday again. We walked home in absolute darkness: no moon and heavy rain. We arrived at the boardinghouse and sat around the fire to warm up. I taught John how to play chess.
Monday, June 6, 2005
In the morning, Petrov, John, and I were dropped off near Lake Josefuv Dul again to do water sampling. We walked mainly on the asphalt roads and went upstream each time we encountered a stream. The weather was bad—rainy and cold. We were picked up by the van before we had finished our samplings.
After lunch, we drove to Jizerka again. The weather was even worse, with heavy rainfall. I wore four layers of clothes and a raincoat, hat, and gloves. Andrew and I walked up the mountain with Josef to the rain gauge area. It was a very steep climb, and the ground was very wet and slippery. On the way, we saw a young red deer.
After arriving at the rain gauge area, we started sampling the gauges. During the sampling, we discovered we missed three sampling bottles. We improvised by combining three gauge samples.
We had some time left after finishing, so we visited a protected bog area with a view tower. It was a very beautiful view over the bog. Luckily, the rain had stopped then, but it was still cold. After work, we drank warm grog.
Sunday, June 5, 2005
It was a day off today, but we decided to go and do something together. We slept longer than usual due to the bowling night. Dobri drove us to the Bohemian Paradise area, where we visited the twin castle of Trosky, which sits on a huge granite rock. Despite my fear of heights, I climbed the tower: it was a magnificent view. However, I was very glad to have solid ground under my feet again.
After the castle, we walked around in the rock formations on the surrounding hills. It was a beautiful, idyllic area that looked very much like the Ardennen Hills in Luxembourg and Belgium, with walking paths between huge rocks and beech trees.
In the evening, we went to Liberec for a classical music concert. The opera building was very beautiful: golden handrails everywhere, dark red chairs, and ceilings painted with angels. Back home, we celebrated Dobri’s name day. This is a Czech tradition: everyone has a name day.
Saturday, June 4, 2005
It was the first day of very heavy rainfall. Josef told us we were very lucky that we didn’t have much rain last week. It was unusual that it hadn’t rained for almost a week.
Josef decided to stay at home to clean the root samples. We washed the soil off the roots to dry them, and later they were weighed. Root weight is used to estimate the vitality of the plants. John and I also calculated the discharge of several streams with data we gathered a few days ago. For this, we used theoretical mathematic formulas.
We had the afternoon off, so we were taken to Jablonec again and drank some pivos on a terrace. I also went to the McDonald’s there (how surprising it is to see that the food is the same as in all other McDonald’s in Europe). In the evening, we had a sausage barbeque planned that we moved inside due to the rainfall. We also went bowling and talked with the local Czech people there. We celebrated Petrov’s birthday and had a bowling contest with the Czechs against the foreigners.
Friday, June 3, 2005
Today’s assignment was back to Oldrichov. On the way, we stopped at Jablonec to pick up Petrov, a Czech student who is staying with us for the remainder of the expedition. Chris, Martin, Ish, and I hiked with Petrov up the mountain to the rain gauge area. There, we marked a 30-by-30-meter (100-by-100-foot) square with a rope. Chris and I measured the moisture percentage, temperature, and circumference of all the trees. Marin and Ish measured the tree height.
After that, we started drawing the trees in a grid on the paper. About halfway, we found out that the drawing did not match the actual situation. We started again, this time using a 5-by-5-meter (16-by-16-foot) square, marking the corners with sticks. They moved the square while I drew the trees in the grid. In the end, we found out that the 30-by-30-meter square was actually about four meters (13 feet) shorter. Despite the fact that we had to do a lot of work this day, we finished rather quickly. Cheers for good teamwork!
The lab work took about 1.5 hours—much longer than usual due to the large amount of field data we had documented.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
Today’s assignment—sampling on SousLake and the streams surrounding it. John and I volunteered to do the stream sampling around the lake (we didn’t feel exactly that well, so we were glad we didn’t have to row for a few hours on the lake). It was a wonderful day. The weather was warm and sunny, and we mainly had to walk on a new asphalt road recently laid all around the lake. There was almost no traffic there, so no problems with that.
At the designated streams, we took a sample near the road and somewhere up the hill. Of course, we also measured the stream’s temperature, width, and depth (to calculate discharge). Because we had only a few samples to take, we took them slowly. We talked with Pavel about his personal life and future plans. It was a very relaxed time.
After the second stream sampling, Chris, Ish, and Nathallia were walking toward us. They were already finished, and it was not even . The next hours, we went together for the other stream samplings. We had a long break at one of the streams. Pavel showed me small granite rocks with aluminum-containing compounds. This is the aluminum that dissolves in the stream waters that Josef had talked about before. The van picked us up at the last stream around
Josef took us to an old dam in the mountains that had broken around 1918 because of bad construction. About 67 people died. The dam’s remains were impressive.
In the evening, Nathallia presented photos of her own Earthwatch expedition in Belarus. They impressed me. I had no idea Belarus has such great natural beauty. Immense forests contain huge bogs, rivers, lakes, and wet mossy grounds that were a little similar to here. This is the second year of her Belarus expedition. It will start a week after finishing this expedition and will take about three months. Each Earthwatch group will stay two weeks, then one week off, and then the next group. She also told some things about life in Belarus, mainly the cultural and political climate.
We went to bed early. Yesterday evening had made us tired.
Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Today we went to Lake Josefuv Dul, which is a beautiful lake with clear blue water. We divided the tasks into three groups—one for taking samples of lake water using a rowboat, one for river slope measurements, and my group for cleaning water gauges (with John and Nathallia).
Josef took us to the rain gauges site, which was about a 10-minute walk from the van. The ground was less swampy than the day before, and the area was just inside an old part of a spruce forest. About 30 meters (100 feet) away, the old trees had been clear-cut and new spruce seedlings had been planted.
Josef left, and we went to work. It was cold and humid at first, but after some time the sun came out and it became much clearer. We measured the pH and moisture and disassembled and cleaned algae and spruce needles from all the rain gauges. We also had to repair some gauges because they had been broken due to heavy snowfall in the winter. When we were almost finished, Pavel, Andrew, and Martin joined us, and we all hiked about four kilometers (2.5 miles) back to the boardinghouse. On the way back, we saw the footprints of a wild boar.
In the evening, we went bowling. We divided into “east wing” against “west wing” from the boardinghouse rooms. We were in the lead but lost in the last round by 25 points. We drank some pivos (Czech word for beer), and it was very, very cheap. One-half liter of beer cost 16 eurocents. We had a lot of fun there. The fact that the bowling pins got stuck all the time and the barmaids had to loosen them added to the fun.
On the way back, Chris rang his girlfriend in Canada, and we all left a message on the answering machine. Once back at the boardinghouse, we had some more fun before going to sleep.
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Dobri took us to the Jizerka Piramida mountain area. After dividing into three groups, Nathallia, Andrew, and I were assigned to collect vegetation near white-marked poles placed about 100 meters (328 feet) next to each other. To get there, we walked up a tractor trail. On the way up, we saw a deer. We obviously caught him by surprise since he ran away at a high speed.
This forest area looked totally different from yesterday: most trees were newly planted spruce. Only on the top was there still a small piece left of the original forest—beech trees mingled with spruce. The ground we were walking on felt very swampy, and it dampened my footsteps. The area was covered with green-colored grasses, mosses, and many small bogs. The vegetation of the bogs felt very warm (they explained it was due to the rotting process). You could see rotting trees everywhere. Even when you touched them softly, pieces of rotten wood sometimes broke off. The air was very humid.
At every pole, we measured pH and conductivity, sampled one 25-by-25-centimeter (9.8-by-9.8-inch) square of vegetation and drilled a root sample out of the ground with a manual drill. Both were collected in separate bags.
At the top, we met one of the other groups and had lunch together. We found a small area of snow under the trees that was left over from the snowfall last week. Andrew, my fellow Alcoa colleague, and Ishantha were very excited. They had never seen snow before.
After lunch, we went back down another way. When we walked out of the forest, we saw the first signs of the environmental damage. Dead trees were standing at the edge of the forest. Zuzanna later told us these trees are slowly dying now because the environment is too acidic.
We walked through an area totally clear-cut by the Soviets and did the fieldwork every 100 meters. The whole slope was colored green from the grasses and mosses, and sawed trunk roots stuck out of the ground all over the slope. Some new spruce seedlings had been planted, but they were not big yet. The farther we went down, the bigger the spruce and the wetter the ground got. We had to be careful not to slip. Cotton grass grew here in some places, and the sawed trunks were still visible. At , we were back at the rendezvous restaurant. We were the first and waited for the others to arrive.
In the evening, Andrew showed photos about life in Australia: his house, children, and the one I especially liked—kangaroos jumping around on the golf course! He also told us about drinking water issues they have in their region and his work. Although we work for the same company, he works in a totally different kind of process that I have never seen before. His work has to do with the process between the mining of the bauxite and extracting the alumina from it. It was interesting to talk about.
The following is the daily schedule we would follow for the next nine days:
Breakfast, which would consist of cornflakes, sour bread, jam, ham, cheese, eggs, orange juice, milk, and tea. Every day, two people were responsible for packing lunch.
Leave for the research area. The average drive to the research area would take between 30 minutes and an hour.
Around Start fieldwork. We would walk up the mountain to the research areas and do the fieldwork. Most fieldwork consisted of taking samples of the mountain water streams, lake samples, stream measurements, rainfall samples, and tree and canopy measurements. After finishing the measurements, we would head back to the rendezvous point and be picked up by the van.
Between and Back at the boardinghouse to take a shower, change clothes, and walk through the grass fields to the restaurant.
Dinner at the restaurant. Daily menu was a soup, main course, and dessert. Several times we ate traditional Czech food, and most of the food was delicious. I especially liked the dumplings with sauce at the main course and cauliflower and tripe soup.
Start documenting the field data, insert data into the computer, calculate stream flows, and measure pH and conductivity of the water samples.
Small presentation by one of us about our country.
Finished. Most of the time, we would play a card game and drink some beer.
Monday, May 30, 2005
After breakfast, Zuzanna explained how to use the fieldwork equipment (pH meter, conductivity meter, rain gauge, canopy mirror) and how to take water samples. Much of the equipment I was familiar with; I had used them during my environmental study.
Later in the morning, we went to Liberec to pick up Pavel, a student from one of Prague’s universities. He would join us the first week for the field trips. We looked around the city center for about one and a half hours. My impression: a beautiful city center. The town square was surrounded by a cathedral and several terraces. Some friendly locals were hanging around the statue on the square.
In the afternoon, we had our first fieldwork trip above Oldrichov village. The driver parked the van on the side of a mountain road near a creek. After dividing into groups, Pavel, Ishantha, and I walked up to the spring of a creek and then went down along the stream, measuring its width and depth at several places, measuring water temperature, and taking three water samples (in small plastic bottles) at every place.
At the spring, we saw one of the Second World War bunkers up close. They had been built everywhere to protect the Czechs from the Germans but were never used (Czechoslovakia, as it was known then, was annexed by the Germans).
This forest looked very similar to the forests in Luxembourg: deciduous trees (many of them beech) and the ground covered with many dead leaves. After crossing the road and going farther down along the creek toward Oldrichovsky Rybnik Lake, the weather suddenly changed. Loud thunder announced upcoming storms. When arriving at the lake, we quickly did the final measurements and took the samples. The van picked us up there (the others had already finished their work).
The lake had beautiful scenery, being surrounded by a green canopy of forest beech trees. Rain splashed from the gray-blue sky into the lake. Josef told us the lake had been made by Albert Wallenstein (who also had owned the castle) to breed fish as a food supply for his army.
In the evening, Ishantha and I documented the data, and Pavel and I calculated the cross section and water flow of the river (Isantha had fallen asleep on his bed…too tired from the fieldwork). After that, Josef explained the causes of the damaged headwaters and mountain ecosystems. There are two main reasons:
Intensive clear-cutting of forest trees during the Soviet occupation has resulted in a huge increase of soil nutrient erosion.
Regional and worldwide air pollution has made the rain more acidic. The acidification has killed almost all life in the mountain headwaters. The acid rain also dissolves the aluminum from the mountain rocks. The resulting aluminum salts can impact or accumulate in aquatic life.
Our assignment over the next weeks is to collect samples of lake water, rainwater, soil, and vegetation and also take stream and tree measurements. These data will be used to monitor the rehabilitation of forest stands and aquatic headwater life.
After finishing Chris, Andrew, Ishantha, John, and I played cards.
Sunday, May 29, 2005
Time to go to our expedition area, which is known as the Black Triangle. This area is in the north of the CzechRepublic near the border with Poland. We drove there on a university minibus. Our driver was Dobri (which means good), and he would stay with us the whole two weeks.
On the way there, we visited the castle that had been owned by Albert Wallenstein. Later, it was bought by the Rohan family, which has had relationships with French and German kings and nobles. The castle is huge, and on the backside an enormous garden stretches out far away to a summerhouse.
At the end of the afternoon, we checked in at the boardinghouse in Bedrichov, where we would stay for the next nine days. It was a small place. The Czech owner told it was the oldest building in the area. After the Second World War, the Russians occupied the area and took their land. He and his wife were forced to live in a very small apartment in a city for about 40 years until the country freed itself from Russian occupation. They came back, regained their land, and rebuilt their house. It must have been an awful experience for them.
Saturday, May 28, 2005
A friend picked me up at and drove me to the airport. The check-in and flight went well without any problems. After landing around , I took a minivan to my hostel in Prague. The landscape was hilly but otherwise not very different from the Netherlands.
When I arrived at the hostel, I had to wait to check-in, so I talked with an excited foreign student who was also waiting. I was surprised there were so many foreign students in the hostel; most participate in exchange programs with foreign universities (America, Canada, England, Netherlands). There was a very relaxed atmosphere.
At my apartment, I met a fellow Earthwatch mate named John. We dumped our stuff inside our rooms and walked to the CharlesBridge. It was very warm outside, around 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit). We soon got thirsty, so we decided to go to a pub and drink a beer. Afterward, it was time to go back to the hostel to rendezvous with the other Earthwatch fellows.
Back in our room, we met two other Earthwatch participants—Martin (from Mexico) and Andrew (from Alcoa Wagerup in Australia). We got acquainted and went downstairs for the rendezvous with the others: Ishantha from Sri Lanka, Chris from Canada, Nathallia from Belarus, and the investigation team leaders Josef and Zuzanna and their child Kamilla. My first impression was that they all seemed like nice people.
Josef and Zuzanna took us into the city center. We had dinner in a cozy restaurant and got acquainted some more. In the evening, we went to the Cathedral of the Order of the Red Crossto listen to an organ concert. Normally, I don’t like church music very much, but I have to say I was impressed. The inside of the church was overwhelmingly beautiful in its decoration—bible paintings on the roof and sides, golden decorations, and statues of saints all around.
In the evening, Ishantha, Andrew, Chris, and I went out in Prague. We visited several small pubs, and we were very surprised to see so many people walking the streets in the middle of the night.
Friday, May 27, 2005
I finished all my work in the morning and took the afternoon off to pack my bag. In the evening, I met with my friends at the pub. It was good weather; I didn’t want to miss this evening on the café terrace. We talked about my upcoming expedition, and I have to say I began to feel excited.
Friday, May 20, 2005
Only eight days to go till I get on the plane to the CzechRepublic. I've read the expedition report and additional regional information on the Internet that might be helpful during my stay there. The flight is booked. Temporary work backup has been arranged. I think I am well prepared, but I'll know for sure when I get there.
This weekend I'm going to arrange all of the things I have to take with me. A few days ago, one of the expedition team leaders contacted me to warn me that the area is very rainy. Much more rain falls over there than the European average, so I have arranged good rain clothes.
The rain explains the many green colors I saw in photos of the BohemiaMountains. It looks very impressive. The mountains are covered with a green canopy, but you also see mountain areas/slopes where all trees are dead: it looks something like a tree graveyard. I wonder what it’s like to stand there on the slopes, seeing dead trees till the horizon, their trunks rising to the blue sky....
Friday, April 8, 2005
Last year, I read in our Alcoa On Location magazine about a Belgium colleague who participated in an Earthwatch expedition. It interested me as I've always been interested in the environment. Also, I like to do new things and experience new cultures. So when I heard of the program for this year, I didn't hesitate. I filled in the application form and turned it in. After that, I could only wait....
After a few weeks, a Hungarian colleague congratulated me on my participation. I was surprised since I hadn't heard anything yet. The next day, I got the confirmation from Alcoa. I was very glad. I was selected with 14 others out of 150 applications.
And thus my preparation started. First, I searched on the Internet for information, because I never heard of the area I'm going to. I am now studying the expedition briefing Earthwatch has sent to me—I never expected it to be about 40 pages of text. My current impression regarding the expedition is: healthy! We stay in mountain forests and have to walk a lot. No problem for me.