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Popular Science: Czech polar explorers are ready for the future

Predicting potential future changes in the landscape is based on knowledge of the current state and changes in the past. A group of experts, led by Stephen J. A. Jennings from Masaryk University in Brno, have now finished mapping the inhospitable area of the Ulu Peninsula, which could provide a window into the future development of other areas of the Antarctic Peninsula. Zbyněk Engel from the Department of Physical Geography, Faculty of Science, Charles University, who has been travelling to polar research expeditions since 2009, played a significant part in this research.

Before moving on to consider this remarkable landscape, it is important to note that in the second half of the 20th century, the Antarctic Peninsula was one of the parts of the world that was warming most rapidly. Given the expected trend for further warming, this is an area that will undergo extensive changes in the coming decades. Research on the changes taking place provides valuable knowledge about the Antarctic Peninsula, along with the information necessary to compile forecasting scenarios or implement adaptation measures.

The large-scale mass movement that became separated from the eastern side of the Lachman Crags represents the most morphologically significant part of the relief of the Ulu peninsula. The eastern edge of the Lachman plateau reaches a height of 200 m and its scenery is complemented by the Riscos del Diablo rock formation.

Let’s now head to the northeast coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where we come across James Ross Island. Something will probably spring to mind when you hear this name. Yes, in the northern part of the island, on the Ulu peninsula, lies the Czech polar station of Johann Gregor Mendel. Moreover, this is one of the largest deglaciated parts of Antarctica, where it is possible to study the relationship between glaciation and local volcanism. Several research expeditions to these parts have already been undertaken, but detailed mapping has only now been completed.

A  group of experts from the Czech Republic and Great Britain collected a large amount of field data and archival materials. The most significant undertaking was the detailed geomorphological mapping and the use of aerial photographs, which were digitally processed with the help of ground control points. The coastline, the location of rivers, lakes, glacier extents, snow cover, and important geological features were all mapped in detail. Between 2004 and 2020, the researchers undertook annual expeditions, during which everything in the field was carefully documented. Topographical names followed an established convention and became part of the “SCAR Composite Gazetteer of Antarctica” database.

The mostly deglaciated northern edge of James Ross Island is modelled mainly by periglacial processes and by watercourses during the summer. The Prince Gustav Strait is dominated by Red Island (left) and Egg Island. The northern part of the Antarctic Peninsula can be seen in the background.

The end result of numerous years of effort is a 1:25,000 detailed geomorphological map, which was published this year in the Journal of Maps. The bases of the large 250 km2 mapped area are Cretaceous sediments and Neogene volcanic subsoil, which were modelled by glaciers during the Quaternary glaciation. In accordance with dominant contemporary Earth-surface processes, the researchers divided the entire area into 3 basic geomorphological sectors: 1) glacierised south sector; 2) paraglacial-dominated eastern sector with unstable conditions once glaciation subsided; and 3) periglacial-dominated central/northern sector near the glacier, which is located above the Czech polar station named after Johann Gregor Mendel.

The glacierised south includes the largest relics of the original glaciation (e.g., Whisky Glacier, Davies Dome, Lookalike Glacier, and Alpha Glacier). The second area is heavily affected by the retreat of glaciers and isostatic uplift (the state of approximate hydrostatic balance of large earth blocks). The final defined area is dominated by periglacial processes, which facilitate the development of beautiful polygons, stone stripes, and thermal contraction cracks.

Field mapping of a large area would not have been possible without temporary terrain camps. This camp was located at the southern foot of the summit of Cerro Santa Marta.
Photo: Zbyněk Engel.

If you are interested in Antarctica and want to learn more about possible future changes in the peripheral parts of Antarctica, grab the map – which is available online – and search for the beauty of an inhospitable landscape, whether on paper or in reality. This map provides a basis for further research in the geosciences and biological sciences, and also for predicting potential future changes in other areas of the Antarctic Peninsula region.

Kateřina Fraindová

Stephen J. A. Jennings, Bethan J. Davies, Daniel Nývlt, Neil F. Glasser, Zbyněk Engel, Filip Hrbáček, Jonathan L. Carrivick, Bedřich Mlčoch & Michael J. Hambrey (2021) Geomorphology of Ulu Peninsula, James Ross Island, Antarctica, Journal of Maps, 17:2, 125–139, DOI: 10.1080/17445647.2021.1893232



Published: Sep 29, 2021 06:30 PM

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