Daniel Frank’s Diary


Friday, February 1, 2008 Thursday, March 6, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008 Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008 Friday, May 30, 2008
Saturday, May 31, 2008 Sunday, June 1, 2008
Monday, June 2, 2008 Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Wednesday, June 4, 2008 Thursday, June 5, 2008
Friday, June 6, 2008 Saturday, June 7, 2008
Sunday, June 8, 2008 Monday, June 9, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Thursday, June 12, 2008 Friday, June 13, 2008
Saturday, June 14, 2008  

Friday, February 1, 2008 I just got the notice that I am going to the Czech Republic. I couldn’t possibly be more excited! 
 
I phoned my wife and gave her the news immediately. Two weeks in the Czech Republic studying mountain waters! I need to get a passport, and I need to get in shape. I can’t help but think studying mountain waters will involve a lot of hiking up and down mountains. 
 
I am an electrician in the hot mill here at Warrick Operations in Indiana, USA. This was only the second time I applied for the Earthwatch Fellowship, and I really did not expect to get one.
 
I have been studying environmental science at the University of Evansville part time for the past five years, and this will blend right in with my studies. I can’t wait to go.

Thursday, March 6, 2008 My passport arrived today. I have been reading up on the project and the scientists involved. I am very fortunate to be working with Dr. Josef Krecek. He is a noted hydrologist who began studying the effects of acid rain before the fall of communism. 
His early work in the Jizera Mountains was censored by the government prior to the “velvet revolution,” which ended communist rule in the Czech Republic. 
 
I checked with my professor, and this expedition will count as my required internship for graduation. If all goes well, I will be able to graduate next year thanks to this fellowship and Alcoa’s tuition aid program.
 
School runs until the second week in May, so I am trying to read up on the expedition while keeping up with my schoolwork and exercising four to six times per week. I leave in less than three months, and I’m getting more excited every week.

Friday, May 23, 2008 I leave in just five days. We are starting a three-day weekend (Memorial Day) here in the United States, and then I leave on Wednesday.

It has been a busy spring. The spring semester at school just ended two weeks ago, and I have been getting things ready for the expedition ever since. I’ve got the packing started, and I continue to study for the expedition. I didn’t manage to lose any weight, but I have been exercising, so I am in much better shape than I was in February.

I will be arriving in Prague two days early, so I will have time for a quick look around this fascinating city. I am looking forward especially to seeing the astronomical clock and the Charles Bridge (more than 650 years old). Then it’s off to Bedrichov and the Jizera Mountains to study the effects of acid rain and work on the recovery of this important watershed. What is learned here may be applied all over the world as we work to preserve and restore other ecosystems.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 I flew from Evansville to Atlanta this afternoon and, after a 4½-hour layover, caught the overnight flight to Prague.

Thursday, May 29, 2008 I landed in Prague at 11 a.m. After a very quick passport check, I grabbed my luggage and took a cab to the hotel. I got to the hotel at noon, but check-in time was 1 p.m. I left my bags at the front desk and went for a walk. 

The little square in front of the hotel had a café and narrow cobblestone streets, and the buildings reminded me of Disneyland. I wandered around for an hour through the narrow, winding streets. There was another little square about three blocks away with a beautiful fountain featuring children and a goose. There was also a street market with souvenirs and fresh produce. 

The buildings are painted in a variety of colors, and many of them have architectural details. I wish I knew the proper terminology to describe them—little balconies and statues on the roofs, decorative bits over and around the windows, and rooftop things that aren’t weather vanes but are very decorative. 

I passed a very ornate church with statues on the outside walls and onion-shaped roof domes. The city is beautiful.

After checking into the hotel, I went for another walk in the afternoon. I visited the astronomical clock and the old town square; both were very impressive. I walked along the Vltava River to the Charles Bridge before calling it a day.

The bridge is made of stone and dates from the 14th century, with towers at each end and 30 baroque statues along its length. I would have spent more time at the bridge, but it was very crowded.

Friday, May 30, 2008 After breakfast, I headed straight for the Charles Bridge to beat the crowds. I crossed the bridge, stopping to admire the statues, and continued up the hill on the other side. Atop the hill, I visited Prague Castle and St. Vitus’s Cathedral. I re-crossed the river on the Legions Bridge and, after watching the astronomical clock strike noon, I spent the afternoon in St. Wenceslas Square and the New Town area that was developed by King Charles in the 14th century.

Saturday, May 31, 2008 The expedition begins today, so I checked out of my hotel in Bethlehem Square and walked to the Charles University hostel to check in. I did more sightseeing in the afternoon and met the rest of the expedition in the hostel lobby at 5:30 p.m. We all introduced ourselves and walked down the hill for a traditional Czech dinner at a nice restaurant. 

After dinner, we attended a concert of baroque music at St. Francis of Assisi Church on the old town side of the Charles Bridge. The curator of the church was a friend of Dr. Krecek’s (Josef) and gave us a personal tour after the concert. 

Mozart wrote the opera “Don Giovanni” on the organ in this church. The story is that Mozart was having too much fun in Prague, so he was locked in the church until the opera was completed.

Sunday, June 1, 2008 After breakfast at the hostel, we had the morning to ourselves. I walked down to the Royal Gardens with Helen and Carrie.

We left the hostel at noon and drove for about an hour before stopping for lunch and a brief visit to the church where St. Wenceslas was killed. We continued into the mountains and stopped to visit some castle ruins near Frystajn. The view from the top of the tower was breathtaking. 

We arrived at the pension (accommodation) in Bedrichov late in the afternoon. I am sharing a room with Charlie, my fellow Alcoan from Australia. The rooms in our part of the pension have just been done over. They are very nice on the inside, and the outer walls of the building are granite block almost one meter (three feet) thick. 

The pension is a ski lodge in the winter and also one of the oldest buildings in Bedrichov, dating from the 13th century. The restaurant where we will have our dinners in Bedrichov is about a 10-minute walk through meadows and ski slopes.

Monday, June 2, 2008 The sun was up early, and so was I. I couldn’t sleep past 5 a.m., so I got up and went for a walk. I started to think that someone had a broken cuckoo clock when I realized I was hearing actual cuckoo birds. The meadow flowers were also different than back home, with lots of lupines and poppies. Very lovely.

After breakfast, we had a brief training session. We will be helping Dr. Krecek gather data related to the health of the Jizera Mountain watershed and the associated forests. This area was severely damaged by acid rain during the communist era due to the large-scale burning of soft coal (lignite) in power plants. The prevailing winds blew the sulfur oxides and other pollutants into this area from plants in Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Our data will be used to measure the recovery of the ecosystem and aid in determining which abatement strategies are effective and which should be abandoned.

We stopped in the nearby city of Liberec on our way to our first day of field work, which was at the Oldrichov site. This is a beech forest, and most of our group spent the day measuring trees. We measured height using a protractor device and some trigonometry. Crown spread and circumference at breast height were determined using a tape measure.   A special probe with two nail-like prongs was pushed through the bark of the tree to measure conductivity and temperature. 

Conductivity is used to determine the amount of moisture in the wood, which is indicative of the overall health of the tree. Tracking the variations in annual growth rates will indicate how well the watershed is recovering.

Charlie, Margaret (an English teacher from Albuquerque who received a summer travel fellowship for this trip), and I worked on a sediment trap in the small stream nearby. We measured the amount of sediment and organic material in the large concrete box the stream flowed through to see if upstream activities were causing an increase in these deposits.

The measuring was done by redirecting the stream flow around the box and measuring from the top of the box down to the level of the organic material (mostly leaves). We measured every 20 centimeters (7.8 inches) in a grid pattern, taking about 100 measurements in all. We then carefully removed the organic material and repeated the measurements with just the sediment in the box. Then we had to clean out the box so it could begin collecting another year’s worth of sediment and organic material.

We got back to the pension just in time to go to dinner. We had a delicious meal, and then we went back to the pension where we began our nightly meeting to organize the data we collected, discuss today’s activities, and plan for tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008 This morning, we visited a mountaintop overlooking the Czech, German, and Polish borders. We could see the coal-fired power plant still operating in Poland. The plant now has scrubbers to reduce the pollution emitted. We also saw several wind generators, which help make up for the loss of power generation when the Czech and German coal-fired plants were shut down.

We visited a peat bog and a recovering forest area near the top of the mountain. The original forests were mostly beech and mountain ash, but Norway spruce was introduced in large quantities in the 19th century to provide a larger sustainable timber harvest. We also saw some Colorado blue spruce, which was introduced in the 1980s due to its natural tolerance for acidic conditions. The foresters are now trying to get rid of the Colorado blue spruce, mostly by selling them as Christmas trees.

Our work site today was on Jizera Mountain near a large catchment built by Josef during the communist era. One group stayed near the catchment, measuring and identifying trees. The rest of us accompanied Josef up the mountain to collect vegetation samples that would be used to determine the leaf-to-root ratio of the ground cover, which is an indication of the vitality of the soil. A large leaf-to-root ratio indicates healthy soil, where a small amount of root material can collect enough minerals to support a relatively large plant.

The ground was covered in a thick layer of moss in most places, and you had to watch your step to avoid having a log crumble under your foot. There were also many small rivulets flowing under the moss that one could easily step into accidentally. 

We stopped every 100 meters (328 feet) on the way up and collected all the ground cover in a 25-by-25-centimeter (10-by-10-inches) metal square we tossed on the ground. Then we measured the soil pH and moisture content before extracting a soil core about 25 centimeters (10 inches) deep. We collected 12 sets of samples before heading back to the van.

On the way back to the pension, we stopped in Desna, a small village with a glass-making factory that was destroyed by flooding in 1915 when a nearby dam collapsed.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008 We woke to rain this morning, so we spent today at the pension. The morning and the first part of the afternoon were spent sorting the vegetation samples we collected yesterday. 

Each individual bit of material in the sample had to be sorted into one of six groups: dry biomass (dead, dry grass and vegetation), moss, one of three types of grass (Calamograph, Avenella, or Dicot) or other (anything else, including small flowers, weeds, etc.). This was a long and tedious process that had to be done.

We also measured the leaf area of each group in each sample. Leaf in this case refers to the above-ground portion of the grass, moss, or other plants. This was done using a special instrument with a light table.

In the afternoon, we washed the soil samples and collected the roots so the leaf-to-root ratio could be calculated. All the sorted material was placed in a drying oven overnight.

Thursday, June 5, 2008 Today, we worked near the Bedrichov Reservoir. The dam is a beautiful piece of engineering from a Viennese designer in the early 20th century. 

I worked with a group measuring light levels, amount of canopy cover, vegetation type, sun/shade ratio on the forest floor, and soil conductivity and pH in a 30-meter-by-30-meter (98-foot-by-98-foot) area of the forest. Another group traveled around the lake collecting water samples from the feeder streams to determine the pH, conductivity, and dissolved minerals.

Josef’s wife, Zuzanna, was with us today, and two people helped her collect water samples from a boat on the reservoir. A hydrobiologist, she was sampling to determine the chemical composition of the water as well as the amount and type of organisms living in the water. These microscopic organisms (zooplankton and phytoplankton) form the base of the aquatic food chain.

After lunch, we moved to the largest reservoir we will work on, Josefuv Dul. I worked with Helen and Sheila collecting water samples from rain gauges. The gauges were cut at the top to form a series of spikes. Josef said this was not just to resemble the Czech crown but also to keep birds from sitting on the gauges. Early in his work, he often found rain gauges with unusually high pH readings. This was caused by the birds sitting on the edge of the gauge and going to the bathroom in the water sample.

During our evening meeting, Zuzanna discussed some of her work. The environmental damage done by the acid rain has killed off all the fish and other aquatic life in many of the local streams. She explained that most of the fish kill is not directly from decreased pH but from the more acidic rainwater causing the leeching of minerals from the soil. Levels of aluminum, iron, lead, zinc, and strontium in the surface waters can be 10 to 100 times hygienic levels. Most of the surface waters are naturally brown due to high levels of humic acids, phosphates, and organic acids caused by the large amount of peat moss on the ground.

Friday, June 6, 2008 Today we worked at the Sous Reservoir. This is the smallest of the reservoirs we are working around.

It was Margaret’s and my turn to help Zuzanna in the boat. We used a special probe to measure pH, temperature, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen at two-meter (6.6-foot) increments down to the bottom of the reservoir. We used a device called a Secchi disk to measure water clarity. The disk is 20 centimeters (eight inches) in diameter and divided into fourths. The fourths are alternately painted black and white. The disk is lowered into the water on a measured rope, and the depth where the disk can no longer be clearly seen is recorded.

We also collected water samples at three-meter (9.8-foot) intervals for chemical analysis and measurement of plankton concentrations. This required using a collection tube with spring-loaded ends called a Van Dorn sampler. The tube is lowered to the desired depth using a measured rope and the ends are sprung shut by sliding a brass weight down the rope. 

Saturday, June 7, 2008 We returned to the Oldrichov site and the beech forest today. We measured trees farther up the slope and collected samples from rainwater gauges on the upper slopes.

We finished early and did our usual evening data correlation in the afternoon instead. We then enjoyed a cookout with traditional Czech sausages for dinner.

Sunday, June 8, 2008 This was our day off, and we visited Frydlant Castle and Chateau. The castle dates from the Middle Ages, but much of the chateau was added during the Renaissance period and shows the different architecture from that time. The oldest part of the castle is constructed directly atop a huge piece of basalt, which has a series of vertical furrows cut into it and is called the Devil’s Organ because it resembles the pipes of an organ. The tale goes that the devil lost a game of dice here and had to cut the furrows in the rock as a consequence of losing the wager.

In the afternoon, we stopped in Liberec for a couple hours. Most people went to the botanical gardens. Some visited the museum. I went to the zoo.

The Liberec Zoo was very nice but somewhat different from American zoos. The animals were much easier to see, as their cages had no place to hide from public view. In fact, the white tigers were separated from the crowd by a thin sheet of Plexiglas. Unlike in an American zoo, there was no railing to keep people away from the glass. We were literally inches from the tigers, with just the Plexiglas wall protecting us.

Monday, June 9, 2008 We returned to the Jizera site, which is mostly recovering spruce forest, and I worked with Sheila and Jodie cataloging trees in a 20-meter-by-20-meter (66-foot-by-66-foot) area. We first measured the area and marked it with rope to determine which trees were in the area to be counted and which were outside. We then counted the trees, noting the species of each (Norway spruce, dwarf pine and a couple of Colorado blue spruce), its apparent health, the area it covered (measuring branch tip to branch tip through the center in two directions 90 degrees apart), and its height. 

Since these trees were all less than 10 meters (33 feet) tall, we were able to measure them directly with no trigonometry. This was done using an extendable measuring stick. The stick is in sections, and as each section is raised up, a meter tells how long/tall the stick is. The person with the stick stands next to the tree being measured and raises sections until the stick looks to be as tall as the tree. A second person stands several yards away from the tree, where he or she can easily judge the relative height of the tree and the stick. 

We stopped work in mid-afternoon, as a thunderstorm was approaching and we did not want to be caught on the mountain in the rain. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 We returned to Josefuv Dul and collected water samples from several small streams feeding the reservoir. We had to collect three samples from each location—one for pH and conductivity, one for ions (sulfates, nitrates, etc.), and one for metals. We finished up early and returned to the pension.

We had time to get cleaned up and take a brief nap before dinner, which was fairly light because dessert consisted of huge blueberry dumplings. They were delicious!

After dinner, we had a special treat. We hopped in the minibus and went to Liberec to see the opera. The opera house is a beautiful old Baroque building, which added to the experience of my first opera. We saw a magnificent performance of Verdi’s opera, “Simon Bocanegra.” 

Margaret looked up the plot on the Internet this afternoon and explained it to everyone over dinner. I was able to follow along with most of the action, despite the singing being all in Italian. A translation was projected above the stage, but that was in Czech, so I just enjoyed the performances, the action on stage, and the beautiful voices. The cast members were very talented, and the venue could not have been better. It was a tremendous experience I would recommend to anyone.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 We returned to the Jizera site and finished measuring and cataloging the last trees remaining in our marked-off areas. We tied small bits of string to each tree we measured to prevent measuring the same tree twice.

We had a few hours work to do. The forest is recovering and re-growing, so each tree is smaller, meaning our measured plots contained a large number of trees. 

When we finished, we took a short side trip and climbed to the top of mount Jizera. The view was fantastic, with the Giant Mountains in the distance. We could see the Sous Reservoir and also how extensive the forest damage was near the top of the mountain.

The timberline is the altitude on a mountain above which there are no trees. The natural timberline for Mount Jizera is 1,200 meters (3,937 feet), slightly above the top of the mountain, which is only 1,133 meters (3,717 feet) high. In the 1980s, when the acid rain was at its worst, the foresters predicted the timberline would be reduced to 900 meters (2,953 feet).

Dieback of the forests started at the top. The spruces were affected much more severely than the beech forests, because the sulfur oxides collected on the leaves and needles of the trees and were trapped beneath the canopies. This meant that in winter, the beech trees, with their leaves gone, did not collect as much of the sulfur, which caused the acidification of the soils.

The corrective actions taken since the fall of communism are working, and we observed trees growing all the way to the top of Jizera.

Thursday, June 12, 2008 We spent the morning visiting a factory in the town of Jablonec that produces handmade glass Christmas ornaments. It was interesting to see the process and the skills involved in first blowing the glass, silvering the inside, and finally painting the ornaments. 

We then returned to the pension for lunch and to load up the minibus for our return to Prague. We stopped for a little more than an hour in the city of Turnov on our way back to Prague and arrived at the hostel late in the afternoon.

Charlie and I found the restaurant where we ate the first night and stopped there for dinner. We ran into Sheila, and the three of us explored the lower town and the Charles Bridge before calling it a night.

Friday, June 13, 2008 The high in Prague today was 13° Celsius (56° Fahrenheit). It was much cooler than back home. 

I explored more of the old town area in the morning and saw the theater where Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” was first performed. Like much of old Prague, the theater is still being used for its original purpose. It remains a theater. 

I walked through the Royal Gardens, starting from the bottom and working my way up past the Prague Castle. In the evening, we all gathered at the Prague Scientists Club for a lovely dinner overlooking the Charles Bridge.

Saturday, June 14, 2008 Today I return home. It was good to be going home, but part of me wishes I were staying in Prague. 

On the first night of the expedition, after the concert, the curator at the church of St Francis welcomed us to Prague and warned us to watch our money and our hearts. I spent all the money I brought with me, and I fell in love with this beautiful city. If you ever get the chance to visit Prague, do not hesitate. You will not regret going. Just make sure to watch your money and your heart.

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Mountain Waters of the Czech Republic


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