During the past 15 years a solid staff of polar researchers has been built up at several universities in the Czech Republic. Every summer a group of students and teachers stay in Svalbard, and the research has been very targeted.
The grand opening of the new research station in Longyearbyen took place last week, along with a comprehensive research trip to Billefjorden. The Czech Centre for Polar Ecology is behind what is their northernmost research station. Consequently, there are now 14 nations represented by their own establishments in Svalbard.
Where it happens
The main station is next door to Svalbard Research Park in Longyearbyen, while the field station is at Petuniabukta. In town they have made an agreement with Trust Arkikugol to use the company's former residential cabin, which the Czechs are very satisfied with.
"We have many current projects at this time," said Josef Elster, who heads the Centre for Polar Ecology at the University of South Bohemia. "Among other things, we are studying bacteria, and we are seeing how the terrain and vegetation changes when the ice retreats."
The university has about 13,000 students, with the Arctic disciplines emerging naturally.
"We are proud of our researchers and among the students we are noticing a rapidly growing interest in what is happening in the Arctic," said Libor Grubhoffer, the university's president, who was among those attending the opening and the eventful outing.
The cabin at Petuniabukta doesn't have running water or electricity, nor is there a quay. Nearby are the Russian derricks that were a central point when the Soviet Union was drilling for oil in the '70s.
"It is important for us to be close to where things happen," Elster said. "Petuniabukta is a great starting point for what we do."
Eight new Czech students and eight researchers are coming to Svalbard this week. They will work on specific projects for a month before returning home to process their data or collected materials. All will present their results this fall and, without something of substance to show, their grants can also end up hanging by a thin thread.
"We make demands and get results," Elster said. "Interest in coming to Svalbard is great and we had eight times as many qualified applicants as we can accommodate."
Scientist Oleg Ditrich will stay at Petuniabukta the entire summer and he has already spent many past summers in Svalbard. He is, among other things, a diver who had great knowledge of the seabed and fish in the Arctic.
"Also in the Czech Republic we are beginning to notice climate change," he said. "By researching in Svalbard we learn more about what is happening."
Milan Dufek, the Czech Ambassador to Norway, made the trip north and emphasized his country's establishment in Svalbard is a big event.
"We have good cooperation with Norway in a number of areas, including research," he said. "This can be passed on for our common good."
Research Council of Norway Special Advisor Kirsten Broch Mathisen is also the leader of the Svalbard Science Forum, which works to bring all research on the archipelago in closer cooperation. She said she strongly believes the establishment of the new research station in Longyearbyen will strengthen cooperation between Czech and other countries' scientists, not least with the Norwegians.
"Researchers from approximately 30 different nations work each year in the field here, especially in the summer," she said. "Until now we have more than 2,500 projects in the database 'Research in Svalbard,' which is freely accessible to all."
"We are now hoping that the Czech researchers will record all of their projects into the database. What they come with is a plus for all researchers in Svalbard and we look forward to sharing research data with them."
Mathisen notes the database in Svalbard is unique and that many look to the north to learn.
"Svalbard is the researchers' United Nations," said Kim Holmén, international director of the Norwegian Polar Institute. "A number of nations and almost all types of science are represented here."
Holmén attended the opening and was also part of the Czechs' "get acquainted tour" to Skansebukta, Nordenskiöldbreen, Pyramiden and Petuniabukta. Along the way he offered guidance about all the dramatic things occurring.
"Ocean and air currents are causing warmer temperatures and toxins in the north," he said. "The Svalbard area is key to gaining knowledge about what is happening."