The end has come. The Jizera Mountains has been our home for two wonderful weeks. Although we were all excited to head home to see our family and friends, there was part of us that will truly miss the camaraderie of our new group of friends that came together through Earthwatch. In addition, each of the fellows are leaving northern Bohemia with invaluable experience that we are eager to take home to our communities. After arriving back in Prague on Thursday evening, we were tired and ready to rest. The expedition group did some sightseeing on Friday before meeting with Josef Krecek, our gracious host, for a final dinner party. We all came together again just outside the St. Francis Church where we watched a performance of Ave Maria on our first night together. Josef then led us through the city on a mini tour of several science history sights before arriving
at a beautiful little restaurant on the northwest side of the city. Dinner was excellent and included a fabulous trio of soup, entrée, and dessert. Before finishing dinner, Josef made each of the expedition participants draw paper scraps from a dish. On each slip was a question that we each had to answer. It was a great way for us to recall many of the things that we learned about on our journey. After dinner we took a stroll down by the waterfront looking at other city happenings. The evening concluded with Josef and his daughter, Camilla, putting us on a tram that led back to Charles University where we would all spend our last night. It was tough to say goodbye to our new friends and colleagues. Shawn and Hajni headed off to the airport at 7am to catch their flights while Tatiana skipped off to the train station to catch her ride home to Hungary. As we parted ways, we were all thinking just how grateful we were for the opportunity that the Alcoa Foundation and Earthwatch had given us. Thank you!
Today is our last day in Bedrichov. We have had a great time here. We are very grateful to our project leader Dr Jozsef Krecek, who has made this expedition an unforgettable experience that we’ll remember for our whole life.
During our stay, we had the opportunity to explore the Jizerska Mountain region and visit its villages and cites. After a delicious breakfast, we analyzed the collected data of the forest streams, the forest inventory and the soil. We have
been looking forward to visiting a glass factory that produces Christmas ornaments since Josef mentioned it last week. Today, we went to the town of Jablonec to tour the workshop. The twenty employees work hard from February to October to make beautiful Christmas tree decorations which are sent and sold all over the world. The decorations are hand blown from glass and painstakingly hand-painted. We also had the chance to make a ball by ourselves! We are sad to pack, but we still have a day with the team in Prague!
We completed our research mission and finished the field work in the pine forest and at the streams at Jusefúv Dúl. We hope that our work makes an impact on preserving this beautiful area and helps others to understand the pattern of climate change affecting the ecosystem of the Jizera Mountains. We had the chance to visit the dam at the water reservoir in Jusefúv Dúl. We went down 35m, the depth of the water. The temperature was around 6 degrees C, just corresponding to the water’s temperature. It was really interesting to discover this construction holding up such a huge amount of water to prevent the inhabited areas from flood. In the afternoon we went back to Liberec town for a short walk and said goodbye to the student, Jiri, who returned to Prague with the tree samples for his thesis. After a nice dinner, a fascinating conversation took place. What would your answer be to the following question? Are you a bio-centric, eco-centric or anthro-centric person?
It occurred to us today that there will be only two more days in the field after today! It has gone more quickly than any of us would have imagined. We have been busy learning the ins and outs of field data collection. At the same time, we’ve all attempted to learn about the Czech culture and to speak some of the language. We’ve put a great deal of smiles on the local Czech’s faces while trying to communicate with our pension house mother (Zdna), our driver (Dobroslav), local storekeepers, and
area restaurateurs. In other news, we went back to a mountain that we last visited on Tuesday. This time, we were gathering data on the growth of trees in predetermined spots on the mountain. The information we gathered today will be used to compare the ground cover, tree growth, and the canopy density from years past. Today was the warmest day in the field that we have experienced. It has been unusually dry for this area of Bohemia. Typically, this is the wettest area in all of the Czech Republic. In fact, it hasn’t rained since we arrived here in the Jizera Mountains. The warm, dry weather has certainly brought
out the locals and visitors alike. The work today was made exponentially difficult by the addition of rabid flies and mosquitoes. Okay, maybe they weren’t rabid, but they attacked us relentlessly. We felt like “Pig-pen” from the Peanuts cartoon with our cloud of flying insects following our every move. However, our diligence prevailed!!!! Because of the rough work today, we are postponing our data entry until tomorrow. Whew!
Time flies quickly and one week of our expedition is already gone. Today we returned to Oldrichov, the first area that we studied after arriving. We were divided into two groups. The first team took water samples from the streams and measure pH and moisture of soil. There was no rain during last week (which we did not mind during our work), and it is interesting how the pH value is reflecting the dry environment. The second team did the forest inventory on three different spots which took us all day to complete. The trees were numbered and monitored for several years. We measured 150 beech trees, that we are so proud of. We know now how to measure the height of
tree, diameter, resistance of conductive layer of a tree, green canopy density, and how to take a wood sample for determination of tree age. Jiri, another graduate student of Dr Josef Krecek joined us for work in the field for a few days. He is collecting data for his diploma work which he will accomplish during the next academic year. His diploma work deals with climate change and how it may influence the growing biomass of trees. On our way back we stopped at small town called
Frydlant to have ice-cream. Near Frýdlant, there are two historical attractions – a medieval castle and a Renaissance chateau. The castle was built in the 13th century on a strategic place in order to protect the crossroad of trade routes. We admired the view of the castle from the bus window while passing through. We had a wonderful meal prepared by Milada at Certova Hut, “Devil’s Oven.” Then we listened to Alan Fortescue talk about the Earthwatch environmental research projects around the world. After a long day, there may be enough time to watch football before going to bed.
Sunday is the perfect time to take a day off and explore the surroundings. It was our great chance to become more familiar with the Czech culture and history.
We started with visiting the Lemberk Castle in the region of Liberec town. Half an hour ride to this spectacular place, open to public only on weekends. Many tourists were attracted by the baroque castle. It was founded in the 13th century and used until the 1920s. Now it is a beautiful museum with nicely preserved furniture, paintings and ceramics. We could travel back through time and imagine life in the medieval ages.
On the way back, we stopped at a traditional Czech village established in 1625. This village is called Krystofovo údalí, which means Valley of Krystov. Their unique historical monument is the church that is the only one in the Czech Republic made of wood. It’s a hidden place in the mountains full of original folkloristic houses representing old Czech
village architecture. We were impressed by this peaceful and relaxing environment.
We finished our day with a little bit of work. We weighed the dried grass we had collected previously in the Jizerka Mountains for further analysis.
An interesting discussion was led by Shawn in the evening. We talked about environmental education in his school in the US. Everyone participated by asking questions or adding own country’s experiences.
After breakfast today, the team began analyzing grass samples that were collected earlier in the week. Our task was to separate the (pieces of) grass into species groups. It seems to be a tedious job, but we know this job is invaluable in the field of forest ecosystem management. After 20 bags of various types of grasses, we now have a good understanding of the various levels of growth in different parts of the same forest based on moisture and altitude. The biomass will now be dried for at least 24 hours and measured for leaf area on Sunday or Monday.
Due to team
efficiency, we were given a bit of time to explore the village of Bedrichov after our lunch at the Devil’s Stove restaurant. As we walked through the village, the team was taken in by the beautiful church that overlooks the rest of the community. We were also able to visit the adjoining cemetery that contains burial plots from centuries ago.
Then we visited Karlovka tower above the village for a spectacular view of the entire valley. As we walked through the village, it was apparent that the community was steadily preparing for the upcoming tourist season. Already we were able to observe countless hikers and bicyclists throughout the village.
As a celebration of our hard work this week, Josef Krecek arranged for us to have a barbecue outside of our pension. We
sat around the fire roasting sausage over the open flame while discussing the work that we had already completed as well as what lies ahead for
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Today we collected the water samples from another water reservoir called Sous and streams leading into it. This area is very popular for recreation during summer and winter for locals and folks from around the region. During our work in the field we encountered dozens of bicyclers, hikers, and skaters. Our last working stop was at Protrzena Prehrada dam which is now an historical monument to mark the 1916 dam collapse tragedy. The water rushed through the local village killing 62 people. This
afternoon we met a forest engineer named Peter, who made a presentation about forest degradation during the last several decades. In addition, he spoke about past and current programs of forest preservation of Jizerske mountain region. After his report, we had a long debate about sustainable development and environmental issues in USA, Hungary, and Russia. Dr. Josef Krecek has been very nice to us, and tomorrow he has organized a barbeque party. We are very excited!
We were back to the grind today in the field. One group went out on the Bechrekov reservoir. As a part of the first group, Tania and Shawn took the rowboat out to the middle of the reservoir to take measurements and collect zooplankton for analysis. The other group that included Hajni walked around the reservoir to take water samples from streams that are supplying the town’s water. The two groups converged to have a peaceful sack lunch by the water. After a successful morning at the reservoir, we all headed to a local glass museum that stands on the site of an 18th century glass factory. We had a wonderful tour given by the resident guide. She gave us the history of the factory and community. Some of us even got a chance to make some beaded necklaces and bracelets in the traditional manner. Then, we were dropped off at the base of Ptaci Kupy Mountain.
From there, we set out to hike up to observe some of the areas that we have been working in. We were also able to see the Polish boarder. The views were captivating and seemed to go on for hundreds of kilometers. Each evening, one of the team members is given the opportunity to lead a talk about a topic of his or her choice. Last night, Ed Petrillo spoke about his experiences on several of his 18 Earthwatch expeditions. We were captivated by the descriptions of his favorite and most difficult trips. All of the Alcoa fellows are really excited about the possibility of future experiences with Earthwatch. Tonight, we will get the privilege of hearing all about Tania’s work at the University of Pannonia.
We enjoyed the sunshine today while discovering streams in the forest.
Our group was split in two today for multitasking. One group went to the lake to monitor the zooplankton of a drinking water reservoir of Liberec. Of course we followed our common measurement process, noting pH, temperature, oxygen content at different levels from surface to the bottom at 35 meters.
The other group did their research in
a stand of trees. Our duty was to measure electric resistance in conductive layers of tree stems. Actually we measured 60 trees. Our project leader, Josef, explained that low resistance means better conductivity, more nutrition and better quality of the tree.
Today was the first time we saw fish in the stream. There is only one type of fish in this region, brook chad, that can resist the relative high acidity of the water.
In the afternoon, we went to the nearby city of Liberec. We had a graduate student Vlastik from Czech Technical University who joined us for the last three days to gain data for his research to present at his upcoming state exam.
Still we have work to do, but first we’ll enjoy the sweet dumplings for dinner, than back to the lab for further analysis of today’s data collection.
Our objective today was to investigate the environmental impact of acid rain, taking water, soil, and rain measurements. As we trekked up the mountainside, we stopped at various stations to take samples of soil and water. When we reached the top, we went down the other side and collected data from a total of 20 locations. The locations were differentiated by altitude, and varied greatly in terms of the height of the grasses, plants, and amount of ground water. In some locations our shoes sunk deep into the mud. At one point Shawn took a wrong step and found himself up to
his knees in mud.
Each of the fellows gained valuable field experience by using instruments for collecting soil samples, measuring pH value, measuring moisture content of the soil and measurement of the fog and cloud moisture. After a quick meal we headed to the lab to analyze the samples we collected from the field. After a long day of work, we are ready to hit the sack, get up tomorrow, and start our adventure again.
June 21: A beautiful land, "devastated by acid rain."
Today's blogger: Tatiana Yuzhakova
Today was the first time in the field. We have done a lot of tasks and had a lot of fun. Samples of rain water, spring streams and sediment were collected for analysis. Some data such as temperature, oxygen concentration of spring water, soil moisture and acidity were measured at the field and remaining parameters (e.g. conductivity, ion concentration, sediment particle distribution) will be done at laboratories in Prague. The natural acidity (pH≥5.6) of soil and surface water is modified by acidic rain. Air pollution gases such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide and water generate acidic rain (pH ≤5.6) which created
ecological devastation in the Jizera Mountains in the Czech Republic where our team is carrying out monitoring. Shawn and Alan, our Earthwatch representative, worked very hard to clean up a water catchment and took some sediment samples. The volume of sediment in the water catchment can give information how much soil is lost with runoff water from watershed and also can bring information about erosion level of the area. Today’s work showed that over 0.6 cubic meters of soil had eroded over last three weeks in a stream where we are working. We were also looking for fish species but for today we could not see any of them in monitored streams. Hopefully we will be more lucky in the future to see them. The afternoon program was to upload collected data to database. At the end of the day we again had a wonderful dinner at the local restaurant nicknamed the “Devil’s Stove.”
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June 20: Czech Paradise
Today we left Prague and headed out to Český Ráj. This was written on the map board for location when we stopped and tried to locate ourselves. Do you know the translation for it? "Czech Paradise." And it really feels like we are in paradise. It is an amazing landscape with small country houses that are surrounded with green forest areas. It’s harmony here.
On the way we visited the Castle Státní hrad Frýdštejn. Must have been difficult to attack, it was so high and had such a wide view of the surrounding territory.
In the afternoon we arrived at the sweetest chateau in Bedrichov. The chateau is a 200 year-old former farm house that is now a lovely pension for summer and
winter. Our rooms smell of fresh pinewood from which it is made. The village is small with 300 inhabitants hidden in the mountains. The whole team is happy to stay here for the next two weeks.
We had our first dinner in a tiny local restaurant. It is well worth a mention of the Czech cuisine, because it is very impressive, though it has nothing to do with dieting. Soup is a must and quite fulfilling. Second dish is a huge portion of meat with dumplings. The honey-cake is irresistible. Shawn is taking
pictures of all dishes to show them at home and prepare the same in the US. Or maybe he just wants to make an online cook book?!
First night we started with introductions. Besides our fellows we also got to know Becherovka, the most famous Czech drink. Its supposed to be a medicine… we will see how we feel in the morning.
Tomorrow begins our field research! Dobrou noc!
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June 19: Arrival in Prague
Today's blogger: Shawn Kerr
When the sun came up today (well, it didn’t so much come up as mope around until noon), it signaled the date all of the Fellows have been waiting for over the last couple of months. This was the day that we were going to meet the crew that we would work with for two weeks in the field. But, before we met, each Alcoa Fellow arrived in the amazing city of Prague through different means. Tania arrived by train for her 500km trek from Hungary. Shawn from Tennessee and Hajni from Hungary both arrived by plane, albeit drastically different flight lengths. Nonetheless, we all arrived to a wonderful destination that simply exceeded expectations.
The Fellows all did a little exploring of the winding cobblestone streets to find a never ending supply of architectural exquisiteness! Street after street was lined with ornate shops and restaurants to meet anyone’s tastes. The city of Prague is almost indescribable. It is an experience that must be done first person. There is no description or photograph that will do this incredible city justice.
The actual meeting took place at a Charles University hostel where we were to stay until our departure for the field on Sunday, June 20. Our team was now assembled and ready to tackle the city. First stop – dinner at a wonderful restaurant where we all enjoyed a traditional stewed beef with rice. Second stop – a concert of Ave Maria at St. Francis Church just off the Charles Bridge. We were given the royal treatment with sounds from heaven and a back stage/alter view of the Church and the massive
organ that boasts of once being an instrument that Mozart used for composition.
After a long day of restless travel and city walking, we headed off to our dorm-style rooms to get a little shuteye before our true adventure in the field begins.
June 18: "Czeching" our list and packing it twice!
Today's blogger: Shawn Kerr
The day has finally arrived for the Alcoa Fellows from Hungary and the United States to leave for the Mountain Waters of the Czech Republic. Making it through the application process and being selected as Alcoa Fellows to an Earthwatch Expedition was only the beginning. We’ve made it through teleconferences, a multitude of email clarifications, packing and repacking, and countless reviews of the Expedition Briefing. The excitement and anticipation of this wonderful opportunity has finally come to its pinnacle as we each board our planes, trains, and busses to reach our destination in the Jizera Mountains.
Each of us have our own set of goals and expectations for this adventure. “I am so excited!” says Hajnalka Rusko. She is looking forward to getting her hands dirty doing scientific work in the field for two full weeks. By doing so, she hopes to contribute to Alcoa’s environmental commitment to her home country of Hungary as well as to the rest of the world.
Tatiana Yuzhakova was quite pleased to be awarded the fellowship to the Czech Republic in part because of its proximity and similarities to her home in Hungary. Since both countries are members of the European Union, they both are subject to environmental initiatives
by the European Commission. Tatiana hopes this expedition will give her an excellent idea of how to implement a community action plan back home in Hungary where she teaches environmentalism at the University of Pannonia.
As a science educator in Alcoa, Tennessee, Shawn Kerr is excited about the opportunity to “learn by doing” as he encourages all of his students to do. Thanks to the Alcoa Foundation, students and community members will reap the rewards of this
expedition for years to come. “I’m looking forward to the field work that deals with similar environmental issues that are facing the Appalachian Mountains.”
Although leaving our friends and family for over two weeks will be a challenge, the new friends, colleagues, and experiences that will be gained on the expedition will be well worth the time away from home. Stay tuned.