Ukrainian life in Antarc­tica

What Ukrainian re­searchers do at the Fara­day Sta­tion

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Volodymyr Moroz

Ex­plo­ration and dis­cov­er­ies of Ukrainian re­searchers at the Fara­day Sta­tion

In late April, ex­pe­di­tion teams ro­tated at the Ukrainian Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion in the Ar­gen­tine Is­lands. The 22nd ex­pe­di­tion re­turned home af­ter a year of ex­plor­ing Antarc­tica while the 23rd one ar­rived to re­place it. A sep­a­rate sea­sonal ex­pe­di­tion of Ukrainian ex­plor­ers man­aged to squeeze in be­tween the ro­ta­tions. Ukrainian Antarc­tic ex­plo­ration is ex­pand­ing.

This is not new. Ukrainian sci­en­tists were part of Soviet ex­pe­di­tions. Af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, Rus­sia did not a sin­gle Antarc­tic sta­tion build jointly in the Soviet pe­riod with any of the post-Soviet coun­tries. In 1996, Ukraine bought the Fara­day Sta­tion from the UK for a sym­bolic 1 pound. Re­named into Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion, it has since been a base for ex­plo­ration of Antarc­tica by Ukrainian re­searchers.

Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion works all year round fo­cus­ing on ocenog­ra­phy, ex­plo­ration of biore­sources and hy­drom­e­te­o­rol­ogy, the physics of Antarc­tic geospace and Sun-Earth con­nec­tion, as well as on re­search­ing nu­clear physics of the Earth and the at­mos­phere, ge­ol­ogy, geo­physics, bi­ol­ogy and phys­i­ol­ogy for med­i­cal pur­poses. Ukrainian ex­plo­ration in Antarc­tica en­com­passes re­search of the at­mos­phere, as well as hy­dro­sphere and glaciers. It is linked to many in­ter­na­tional pro­grams.

“Our me­te­o­rol­o­gists spend a year at the sta­tion do­ing mea­sure­ments that are trans­ferred to in­ter­na­tional cen­ters for data col­lec­tion and pro­cess­ing,” says Denys Pish­nyak, Head of the At­mo­spheric Physics Depart­ment at the Ed­u­ca­tion and Sci­ence Min­istry’s Na­tional Antarc­tic Sci­ence Cen­ter.

A me­te­o­rol­o­gist him­self, Denys spent a year in Antarc­tica as part of the 16th Ukrainian ex­pe­di­tion. In April 2018, he worked there as part of a sea­sonal ex­pe­di­tion from Ukraine. He has the ex­per­tise to talk about cli­mate change, weather con­di­tions in the Antarc­tic and the no­to­ri­ous “ozone hole”. “We do mea­sure the den­sity of the ozone layer at the sta­tion.

I can say that ozone de­ple­tion has sta­bi­lized in the last five years,” Denys shares. “The ozone layer is re­cov­er­ing its den­sity and moves to­wards restora­tion.” When asked about the trig­ger of this restora­tion, Denys sug­gests re­stric­tion of freon use.

Ukrainian geo­physi­cists at Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion fo­cus on re­search­ing the up­per lay­ers of the at­mos­phere. An­driy Zal­i­zovskiy, a Kharkiv-based Deputy Head of the Ra­dio Astron­omy In­sti­tute at the Na­tional Academy of Sci­ences, says that this has been a tra­di­tional field of the sta­tion’s re­search since the time when it was still the Bri­tish Sta­tion F. An­driy has worked in three ex­pe­di­tions to Antarc­tica. Ac­cord­ing to him, the pro­gram of geo­phys­i­cal re­search at Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion “is ex­pand­ing. There are some projects fo­cus­ing on at­mo­spheric grav­ity waves and physics of plas­mas, and Ukrainian sci­en­tists with ac­cu­mu­lated ex­pe­ri­ence in these ar­eas work jointly with their US col­leagues from Bos­ton, Alaska and the Arecibo Ob­ser­va­tory in Puerto Rico.” Ac­cord­ing to An­driy, Ukrainian re­searchers are in the process of es­tab­lish­ing di­rect on­line trans­fer of mea­sure­ments from the sta­tion equip­ment to Ukraine.

Antarc­tica is prob­a­bly one of the best places on Earth to see the ef­fect of global cli­mate change. “The Antarc­tic icesheet de­pends on many fac­tors, its size and thick­ness varies by years. If you look at the data for most pe­ri­ods, you can see that the ice is melt­ing. That’s for sure,” Denys Pish­nyak says. There­fore, claims that the global sea lev­els are ris­ing are not phan­tasies. This will af­fect the en­tire planet.

Over­all, Antarc­tica is a lab­o­ra­tory for sci­en­tific re­search thanks to in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion agree­ments. Ukrainian sci­en­tists con­trib­ute to its de­vel­op­ment. The 22nd ex­pe­di­tion launched re­search of the struc­ture and com­po­nents of Antarc­tic glaciers with sen­si­tive geo­radars pro­duced in Ukraine. As part of that ex­pe­di­tion, they in­stalled su­per­sen­si­tive mag­ne­tome­ters at the Ukrainian sta­tion, also made in Ukraine.

These al­low the sci­en­tists to study the Earth’s mag­netic field and mag­netic fea­tures of rocks. The Ukrainian Antarc­tic pro­gram thus mo­ti­vates both sci­ence and tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment through the pro­duc­tion of in­no­va­tive equip­ment. Po­lar re­searchers met with Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Lilia Hrynevych af­ter they re­turned from Antarc­tica to dis­cuss this. Quite re­cently, the Ukrainian sta­tion has in­stalled more new equip­ment pro­vid­ing the po­lar re­searchers with bet­ter in­ter­net con­nec­tion with Ukraine.

Four mem­bers of a sea­sonal Antarc­tic ex­pe­di­tion from Ukraine vis­ited the neigh­bor­ing US Palmer Sta­tion lo­cated 50km away in April. “Tech­no­log­i­cally, they have it all highly au­to­mated. Their spe­cial­ists ar­rive at the sta­tion for sev­eral months to in­stall and set up the equip­ment. Their ex­pe­di­tions don’t spend the en­tire year in Antarc­tica un­like ours,” Denys shares.

Ukrainian po­lar re­searchers plan to ex­pand into oceanog­ra­phy. 12 sci­en­tists from Zhy­to­myr, Kyiv, Lviv, Ma­lyn, Odesa and Kharkiv have started the 23rd ex­pe­di­tion at the Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion. They will work in Antarc­tica un­til the spring of 2019, which will be fall in the South­ern Hemi­sphere. Mean­while, sci­en­tists are al­ready be­ing se­lected and pre­pared for the 24th ex­pe­di­tion.

Ihor Dykiy, a lec­turer at the zo­ol­ogy depart­ment of Lviv Na­tional Ivan Franko Univer­sity and se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Antarc­tic Sci­ence Cen­ter, worked in the 11th and 14th ex­pe­di­tions to the South Pole. He is now plan­ning to join the 24th trip. “The key field for bi­ol­o­gists and zo­ol­o­gists at Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion is bio­di­ver­sity. Antarc­tica is home to many species un­known to sci­ence. Our zo­ol­o­gists, in­clud­ing An­driy Utievsky, are thus de­vel­op­ing re­search of the ocean. They have al­ready dis­cov­ered nearly ten species and are de­scrib­ing them, study­ing their DNA,” Ihor com­ments. “In some places along the con­ti­nent shore­line glaciers slide into the ocean and bull­doze ev­ery­thing with them. Some places, how­ever, are more shel­tered — that’s where many an­i­mals and plants set­tle. Sci­en­tists are ex­plor­ing and de­scrib­ing them in or­der to es­tab­lish ma­rine re­servers. These are Antarc­tic oases.”

Yet, these spots are ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble both to pos­si­ble hu­man in­ter­ven­tions and to cli­mate change. For in­stance, the an­i­mals that live in the wa­ter at -1,5°С will not sur­vive tem­per­a­ture rise to +1°С. It’s like putting them in boil­ing wa­ter, Ihor ex­plains. While the large mass of the wa­ter slows down the change of its tem­per­a­ture, hikes on the sur­face are more no­tice­able. The av­er­age Antarc­tic tem­per­a­ture has gone up 3°С over the past 50 years.

Cli­mate change in Antarc­tica is get­ting too ob­vi­ous — Ukrainian sci­en­tists have no­ticed a new land­scape zone, the Antarc­tic tundra, emerg­ing there. “Plants like Antarc­tic hair grass or pearl­wort end up in the spots va­cated by glaciers. Birds carry or­ganic pieces there. Soils are form­ing,” Ihor says. “Cli­mate change is chang­ing the land­scape. That’s an­other field of our re­search in Antarc­tica.”

Bi­ol­o­gists in this year’s sea­sonal ex­pe­di­tion from Ukraine stud­ied land ecosys­tems of the re­gion, in­clud­ing vas­cu­lar plants and soils. “The pop­u­la­tions of Antarc­tic hair grass and pearl­wort are mark­ers for cli­mate change. Ac­cord­ing to data by Bri­tish sci­en­tists, their habi­tats ex­panded with the warmer years and shrunk with the more snowy pe­ri­ods. Also, we have re­ceived mea­sure­ments for light and tem­per­a­ture from our equip­ment in­stalled last year. We pro­cessed them at Palmer Sta­tion where we ex­plored soils to com­pare this data with the data from Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion and see the pace of change in na­ture.” Also, Ukrainian bi­ol­o­gists col­lected sam­ples for vi­rol­o­gists, mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gists, re­searchers of in­ver­te­brates and moss, in­clud­ing for Pol­ish and Amer­i­can col­leagues.

Antarc­tic ex­plo­ration has a prac­ti­cal di­men­sion to it. Back in 1991, a mora­to­rium was signed to ban the ex­trac­tion of min­er­als for 50 years there. Some coun­tries have been ques­tion­ing its ex­ten­sion. The Antarc­tic Treaty is in place with the Sec­re­tar­iat lo­cated in Buenos Aires since 2004. Now, in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tists, in­clud­ing Ukraini­ans, are ex­plor­ing re­sources in Antarc­tica. “We are study­ing the pop­u­la­tions of pen­guins, seals and whales — the key eaters of krill which is the ma­jor source of pro­tein for them. The weight of krill pop­u­la­tion in the world is more im­por­tant than that of hu­man pop­u­la­tion,” Ihor com­pares. “Hu­mans fish the krill, too. Our goal is to study the ef­fect of cli­mate change on the krill whose pop­u­la­tion is shrink­ing. Ukraine is in­volved in an in­ter­na­tional project to keep track of pen­guins which act as mark­ers for krill habi­tats as they hunt for it. Our work is aimed at pre­vent­ing dis­tor­tions caused by hu­man fish­ing for krill in places where whales, seals and pen­guins feed on it. This would lead to dis­as­trous con­se­quences.”

Ok­sana Savenko, a Ukrainian re­searcher, has es­tab­lished a sim­i­lar data­base for whales. That one is, too, con­nected to the in­ter­na­tional data­base. Ukrainian sci­en­tists are plan­ning many more im­por­tant projects. Whether they are im­ple­mented de­pends on how well Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties re­al­ize the im­por­tance of Antarc­tic re­search. Be­tween Ukraine’s neigh­bors, only Poland and Bul­garia have their Antarc­tic sta­tions, in ad­di­tion to Rus­sia which had taken over all Soviet sta­tions there.

Ukrainian ex­pe­ri­ence. Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion has been op­er­at­ing in Antarc­tica since 1996

Above and be­yond. Ukrainian geo­physi­cists at Ver­nad­sky Sta­tion fo­cus on re­search­ing the up­per lay­ers of the at­mos­phere

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