Ryan Tonk’s Diary
Mountain Waters of the Czech Republic

June 13, 2009: Back to Indiana
June 11, 2009: Back to Prague
June 9, 2009: Dam failure
June 7, 2009: Free day
June 5, 2009: Repairing a collection site
June 3, 2009: Stream sampling
June 1, 2009: First day of field work -- stream sampling
May 30, 2009: Travel to Prague
June 12: Prague good-byes
June 10, 2009: Sampling from the reservoir
June 8, 2009: The dead forest
June 6, 2009: Forest sampling and the Book of Kells
June 4, 2009: Data analyzing
June 2, 2009: Forest sampling
May 31, 2009: En route to Bedrichov field site
Friday, May 8, 2009

June 13, 2009: Back to Indiana

June 3 mountain stream The long travel back to Indiana has allowed me time to reflect on my experiences of the last two weeks. The fact that the damage of acid rain was not detected until vast areas of natural forest had died off was very overwhelming. Although the dead areas have been mostly re-grown, and the current death rate of trees is very low, witnessing “tree-graveyards” was numbing at times. These troublesome thoughts are relieved by the actions that I have shared with my group and knowing that there are many people out in the world who consider themselves stewards of the earth. Josef has promised to send us a results report in the fall of the data that we have gathered. I am very much looking forward to reading this as it will help to give me a sense of satisfaction to the work that we did. The Earthwatch Program has been very beneficial to me by allowing me to experience a hands-on environmental impact study. This new experience has shown me how environmental studies can have a true impact for change, and I hope to use this new enthusiasm that I have gained towards local projects in my community.
Content currently unavailable. Please check back later.
0 comments



June 12: Prague good-byes

May 30 castle and cathedral 2 I spent most of the day walking around the Old Town area of Prague and enjoying many of the small cafes in the square. We met Josef near a statue by the Charles Bridge for dinner and he took us to a nice restaurant where we had a private side room. The conversation for the evening was of course about all of the work that we have been doing. Josef has been studying this area for roughly 19 years. He has witnessed the die-off of many forest stands in the area. He has taken his studies of the trees, soil and streams to the Czech government and they have used this to help them form their environmental standards. He says now that the source of the acid rain from lignite (coal) fired electric power plants has reduced, but there are still other sources of pollution that plague the area. His data gathering will hopefully allow the Czech government to realize the affect that industrial pollution has on the environment and help to form future controls.
0 comments



June 11, 2009: Back to Prague

Our last day in Bedrichov. We did not have much work to do, so Dobra took us to a couple of glass factories and shops in the morning. We saw Christmas ornaments being produced which was interesting. We then went to the Josef Dul site again to collect rain gage data and soil pH and temperature. Josef stayed behind to pack the instruments. We came back home to pack and then Josef gave us sort of a “quiz” on the work that we have been doing and the history of Czech. It was a good way to wrap up. We went for our last dinner, and we had garlic soup, which a lot of us requested, and then traditional Czech food of pork, sauerkraut, and dumplings. We all thanked the owner/cook and were on our way back to Prague. When we arrived, Josef got us checked in to the hostel, and then we went out to experience a little night life.
0 comments



June 10, 2009: Sampling from the reservoir

June 10 surveying trees 2 me anastasia russel josef Today we went to the Josef Dul reservoir for water samples from the boat. We were supposed to do this a week ago, but high winds kept us off of the lake. Cathy, Misae, Josef and I went out on the boat onto the reservoir and checked temperature and percent oxygen and took samples from several different depths. We had lunch and then dropped Petr off at the bus station so that he could head back to Prague. We will see him again on Friday for the good-bye dinner. We then went back to the collection site to check on our masonry repairs, and everything looked good. Dinner for the evening was a tomato and June 12 stream sampling petr me pasta soup and fish with potatoes. She also made the fruit dumplings again, but this time for desert. We had no presentation tonight. Instead we played some card games, and Anastasia taught us a Russian card game that was fun
0 comments



June 9, 2009: Dam failure

June 9 failed dam 7 Josef told us the weather forecast for the day was poor at best. We went out to the Sous Resevoir. One team was in a boat checking water samples, the other team set up a forest stand inspection, and Petr, Anastasia and I hiked all the way around the reservoir collecting stream samples as we went. We had some very good discussions along the way, and Anastasia found some mushrooms that we brought back with us. I hope that we can cook them and eat them. We then had a little free time, so Josef took us to the site of a failed dam from the early 1900s. It was one of the first major dam failures in Europe and was studied to build better dams in the future. 
The weather turned out to be the best so far. I actually got to walk around in shorts and a T shirt. It did storm for about 30 minutes in the afternoon, but we were done working and by dinner the sun was out again. I am hoping for a bad forecast tomorrow as well now! The dinner for the evening started off with tripe soup, which I was told is cow stomach. It was spicy and quite good. Then we had potato pancakes and a chicken/bean/salsa mix. It was Anastasia’s turn to present, and she showed us photos and explained to us about her home town of Samara, Russia. Of course, she also brought along some of Russia’s finest and some chocolates to share.

0 comments



June 8, 2009: The dead forest

June 8 tree graveyard Back into the field we go! We picked up Petr, who is back from Prague, and went back to the Jizera Mountain site. This time we went to some marked areas for tree sampling. We marked off the areas and measured each tree that we found. We recorded species type, height, canopy diameter and trunk diameter. The area was previously one of the spots devastated by the acid rain die-off in the 1980’s. When the trees died, the foresters came through and took the timber before it rotted. There are still some dead trees standing and several on the ground rotting, along with a lot of stumps. The new growth is very promising, however, as some Norway spruce trees were over 5 meters tall. Dinner for the evening was cauliflower soup followed by Hungarian Goulash with rice. I gave the presentation for the evening, and I talked about the southern edge of Lake Michigan and the Indiana Dunes. My discussion revolved around land use by industry and housing and invasive species, and why I love the area so much.
0 comments



June 7, 2009: Free day

Today was an off day from the field for us to explore more cultural activites. We started with an old castle near the Polish border. It has been renovated many times over the centuries, and our tourguide showed us how it has changed, including the furnishings in each room. From there we went to Liberec and went to the Natural History Museum and the Botanical Gardens. It was a pleasant way to spend the day. For dinner we had fried cheese and potatoes, which I have learned is becoming a popular dish in The Czech Republic. I missed Cathy’s presentation of a previous Earthwatch expedition that she did because of a toothache that I am suffering.
0 comments



June 6, 2009: Forest sampling and the Book of Kells

June 6 collection site fixed bill dobra me rachel russell We spent today going out to a small reservoir for three separate activites. One team walked around the lake collecting stream samples, another group got into a boat and collected lake samples, and we went to a patch of forest to study tree vitality and density. Martha, Rachel and Misae were the group that went for stream samples, and they got slightly lost, for about a half an hour, but it all worked out in the end. There was a mountain bike race in town today, and we were driving on the same roads that they were racing on. I never got to see them, but others said that they were moving really fast. After this we had lunch at our normal dinner spot. They served spaghetti, which was good. Then we came home and did homework, including weighing the dry grass samples that we sorted a few days ago. The house we are staying at prepared a Saturday barbecue dinner for us. They planned it for outside around a firepit, but it was raining, so we ate indoors. They made us Kielbasa sausage. The presentation of the evening was by far the most interesting so far. Misae showed us a book that she has written. She went to Ireland and saw the Book Of Kells. It was written sometime around 600 A.D. by four monks. They rewrote the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and within that book, they included 22 pages of hand-drawn artwork. She has reproduced all of that art work herself. The even more amazing part is that she used the same materials as they did to produce the pigments and dyes. It took her 14 years and 6,000 hours. It was truly amazing.
0 comments



June 5, 2009: Repairing a collection site

June 5 collection site repair bill russell I was planning on a run this morning, but rain against the window woke me up, so I slept in longer. Today we picked up a new student of Josef to replace Petr. His name is George (pronounced "Yuri") and he is studying for his bachelor’s degree. We went to the same site as Monday to repair the damaged collection site. The other half of the team went with George to do another tree study. Just prior to lunch, Josef took us to meet the forester of the area. He is responsible for a great deal of the publicly owned land, and discussions with him were interesting. We then went to a small isolated patch of a very rare and native fir tree growth. Half of the team stayed there to do a tree study. We went back to repair the collection site. 
For dinner this evening we had a traditional Slovakian meal. It consisted of pork, potato dumplings, and fat. The fat was very interesting. It was cut up into small pieces and was cooked to make it crunchy. It was served in some type of oil. After dinner, we came back home and were treated to a nice surprise. Today is Dobra’s Name Day. In the Czech Republic, you celebrate two different days for yourself, your birthday and your name day. When we got back home, the table was full of potato chips, prunes and olives and a bottle of Czech’s finest. After that, Rachel, Martha and Russ presented us with some of the research that they have been doing at school for the evening presentation.

0 comments



June 4, 2009: Data analyzing

June 5 grass sorting 2 bill me anastasia Josef decided to keep us home today and not go into the field as the weather report called for bad weather. We sorted the grass samples that the other team collected on Tuesday. We sorted them by grass type, moss, or dead material. Josef is going to dry them and then we will perform a volume test on them. The work was rather tedious and lasted most of the day. Prior to dinner, Bill, Cathy and I took a walk around the town here of Bedrichov. We looked for a couple of shops, but couldn’t find anything interesting. We walked up the hill to the local church and graveyard. Josef told us earlier that the church is now closed to due a lack of parishioners. I was disappointed to hear that as I was hoping to attend Sunday morning Mass. Dinner tonight was a standard meal of lentil bean soup and baked chicken and mashed potatoes. It almost felt like America. They gave us donuts for desert, but we brought them back home to eat over our nightly discussion. Bill gave the nightly discussion and he talked about his home land of Australia. After that he organized a game where everyone told two truths about themselves and then one lie. Whoever guessed the most correct lies was declared the winner. Dobra even joined in on the game. We learned a lot about each other.
0 comments



June 3, 2009: Stream sampling

June 3 josef dul dam top bill me rachel martha Well, we got lucky with no rain yesterday, but this morning, 6 degrees Celsius. I did go for another run on the cross-country ski trails, and managed to get lost this time, but just a little. The plan for today was to go to a large reservoir and take some water samples by boat. It was way too windy and cold for that. We skipped that plan and took water samples in the many streams feeding the reservoir. We also stopped at a natural spring for a sample, and I filled my drinking water bottle. Petr said it was safe, and it tasted good. The other team did a forest evaluation like I did yesterday. 
I have figured out that the work that we will be doing is basically three types. We either work on streams and reservoirs, which involves taking samples, measuring flow rates, and checking water temperature and percent oxygen levels. The second type of work is in forests, where we clean rain gages, measure circumference, height (via an angle finder) and health of trees, and measuring canopy coverage. The third type of work is collecting grass samples and studying the type of growth. It is all fun work, but I prefer the stream sampling as it involves hiking from site to site. 
June 3 fruit dumpling 2 We came home for a quick shower and then to dinner. Tonight was a surprise, Goulash soup followed by fruit dumplings, and they were HUGE, and then cheese and pickled sausage to finish. We all left with over-stuffed stomachs. 
There is no nightly conversation topic tonight, instead we went to the city of Liberic for the opera performance of “The Elixir of Love”. The building and the performance were both very wonderful. It is a strange switch to go from field work to an opera house, but at the same time, it also felt very natural. Petr left us before the Opera to head back to Prague. He thinks that he will come back to work with us on Monday.

0 comments



June 2, 2009: Forest sampling

June 8 dead area group Today I was fearing for the worst in regards to the weather. The first two days in The Czech Republic it rained, and I was told that that was typical weather. The third day, our first in the field, was sunny and nice. Josef told us today to expect to get rained on. However, as the morning was mostly cloudy, it never rained, and by the afternoon, it was sunny. We spent the day hiking to the top of a mountain (1,100 meters). We measured marked trees for circumference, temperature, and height by using an angle finder and distance from the tree. We had a device to measure the health of the tree through electrical resistance, but it was not working. We also roped off an area and measured the amount of canpoy coverage through the use of a periscope type instrument. When we were done, we witnessed a “tree-graveyard”. It was a forest of dead trees, killed by acid rain. Every year the dead area grows as the forward section to the wind is dying off and not protecting the inward trees. 
June 12 tree hght rachel george The other half of the group went off in a different direction and cut grass samples and dirt samples, which we are supposed to measure tonight. The evening meal was a broccoli soup followed by pork steak and potatoes, and of course pivo. It was Petr’s turn to give a presentation to the group, and he used his laptop computer to show us how he uses global positioning to help him with his mountain water research as part of his Doctoral Studies with Charles University.

0 comments



June 1, 2009: First day of field work -- stream sampling

Home inside I have found out that the village that we are staying in, Bedrichov, is a destination for cross-country skiing in the winter, and the pension that we are staying in is like a ski-chalet. This is great, because I am an avid runner, and I got out for a run this morning on the cross-country ski trails through the forest. And happily I didn’t get lost!!! The countryside is beautiful, rolling hills and full forests. Today was our first day in the field. We started with a quick breakfast, served by the owners of our pension (house), and then Josef briefed us on what we would be doing. 
June 1 liberec - russ martha rachel me On the way to the site, we stopped in the town of Liberec and Josef bought us opera tickets for Wednesday night. We are all looking forward to that. Josef seems to go out of his way to show off the culture of his country to us. When we got to the field site, it was noon, so we ate sandwiches that we brought with us from home. 
Then we began water stream sampling. This included taking samples, measuring pH and percent oxygen, and determining flow rates. We broke up into two groups, and the other half went to clean out rain gages from the winter. There is a concrete collection site that was built in a stream. It is used to measure sediment buildup from erosion. We had to measure the depth, then shovel it out to the concrete floor, and then measure the depth again. This was hard work. The collection site is slightly damaged, so Josef said that we would have to repair it later in the week. While we were doing that, other members of the team measured the vitality of trees with some sort of electrical resistance mechanism. 
June 1 bunker from 1930 Within the forest were some concrete bunkers. We were told that they were built in the 1930s as defense from the German Army. They were built in a linear style, with a sight line between each. They were never used, however. When we finished, we went straight for dinner, which tonight was chicken and rice and a nice salad of only tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers with olive oil. We had strawberry shortcake for desert also. When we got back home, Bill, who is originally from Ireland, and now lives in Australia, brought us some Australian cookies and Baileys Irish Crème. Josef told us that he would like us to present to the group something about ourselves each evening. He went first tonight and told us about the history of The Czech Republic. We spent most of the rest of the night talking to Misae about the Japanese language and she wrote all of our names out. It was a very enjoyable evening.

Content currently unavailable. Please check back later.
0 comments



May 31, 2009: En route to Bedrichov field site

Home base I meet our last team member this morning. Anastasia is another Alcoan, from Samara, Russia. She works in the IT department and is also fairly young. We have traveled to where we will be staying for the next two weeks. The accommodations are very nice, a newly remodeled farm house. It is much nicer than the hostel last night. Along the way we stopped for lunch and at the ruins of a 14th century castle. Josef is very eager to share the heritage of the Czech Republic with us, which makes the trip more enjoyable. After we get settled into our new rooms, we head out to a local restaurant for dinner. We will be eating at this location every night, and we have no menu. The lady who owns the place simply brings us dinner. It will be interesting to see and taste all of the different meals that she prepares for us. Tonight, we had what we were told was a typical Sunday meal. We started with garlic soup and then had beef and dumplings. We then came home for some general discussion and enjoyment of a traditional Czech liquor, Becherovka, which we were told was once sold as medicine.
0 comments



May 30, 2009: Travel to Prague

May 30 me and prague I have arrived safely in Prague!!! The flight was very nice, and enjoyably un-eventful. I was a little apprehensive about finding the hostel when I got here, but a kind taxi driver brought me right to my destination, and for less money than I had expected. As soon as I got settled in my room, I grabbed a quick shower and headed out to the streets. The receptionist at the hostel pointed me in the right direction. It is a Saturday, so I am able to follow most of the other tourists around. I saw a monastery, the Prague Castle, and several other very old sites. It is cold and damp today, so I found a café to have some boiled ham and a pint of Czech’s finest, Pilsner Urquell, very satisfying. I walked around a little more, and now I am back in my room resting and have only two hours before I meet up with the Earthwatch team. I am very excited to meet the people that I will be spending the next two weeks with. 

1st dinner in prague It is now the evening, and I have met all but one of my team members. Three people are from Fairfield University in Connecticut: Russ, Rachel and Martha. They are all young students, very idealistic personalities. Bill Roche is a fellow Alcoan originally from Ireland, but now living in Australia. Cathy works for Ford and lives in Detroit and there is Misae Tanaka from Yokohama, Japan. They are all very interesting people. Josef Krecek, our Principal Investigator (PI), met us and he seems to be very hospitable and easily shares information with us. He teaches at Charles University in Prague and has two colleagues that he brought along with us. Petr is a graduate student and Dobra is an older gentleman who is a technician and will be our driver. He does not speak English, which is a shame, because he seems to have the most open and joking personality. He tries to kid around with us, but needs help translating from Petr quite often. Josef took us out to dinner tonight to a local restaurant for a typical Czech meal of beef, potato dumplings and cabbage and of course some Pivo (beer). After that we attended a baroque concert in a church. There was an organ player along with a tenor and soprano singer. It was very nice. We were told that Mozart once played on the same organ in the same church. After that Josef left us and we found a local gathering point to sit and get to get to know each other more. The other team members who are not Alcoans told us that they are on this trip at their own expense. The students are doing it as part of their studies, and the others are doing it just for their personal satisfaction. I am realizing now what a great opportunity that Alcoa has presented.

0 comments



Friday, May 8, 2009

It has been seven weeks since I received the notice that I was selected as an Earthwatch fellow. I was very excited about this opportunity and immediately began researching the project and the Czech Republic. Reviewing the diaries of past fellows was very informative, too.

When I got the notification, I began the process of getting the airfare purchased, renewing my passport, and completing the required forms. During this hectic time, I lost track in my mind of my departure date. I looked at the calendar today and saw that I leave in exactly three weeks. This has brought the excitement right back to the high level that I felt when I was notified.

I am definitely going to spend the next three weeks obtaining as much information as I can about the project and the history of the Czech Republic and the local area that I will be visiting. From the information that I have gathered so far, I will be studying the effects of acid rain on the Jizera Mountain waters. The Earthwatch team has been attempting to clean the area and remove the acid rain pollution. We will be studying the success rate of those efforts.

I have been with Alcoa for roughly eight years as a product engineer. My division of Alcoa is within the Power and Propulsion unit, and we produce castings for turbine engines, including vanes and structural components.

I live in Michigan City, Indiana, on the southern tip of Lake Michigan. The lake and dune area contain a vast variety of plants and animals, and the area was studied by Henry Cowles, who is considered to be the father of ecology. The area’s fragile balance between natural land, industry, and residential housing is what has created an environmental awareness and stewardship within me.

0 comments




Click image to enlarge.


Ryan Tonk