Monitoring of the ozone layer and UV radiation in Antarctica with Ladislav Sieger

Last year, at the occasion of the International Ozone Day (16. 9.), the Czech Republic received a plaque awarded for essential contribution to the protection of ozone layer for future generations from Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of UN Environment Programme, and Marco Gonzáles, the Executive Secretary of Ozone secretariat. How is this award connected to Czech Technical University?

The awarded plaque, received by our minister of environment, is the highest possible award the Czech Republic could have got after 25 years of work in this field. More than 25 years ago, an international agreement regarding specific measures for stopping ozone layer damaging was signed. The Montreal Protocol, a document listing all substances that are damaging to the environment, was created in 1987. Thanks to fulfilling the obligations stated in the Protocol, we have managed to decrease the consumption and production of damaging substances (freon, halon, bromomethane, carbon tetrachloride) by 98% since 1987. The Czech Republic has contributed substantially in this matter and has been successfully fulfilling the obligations of the Protocol.

The Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the CTU has been closely working with the Ozone Observatory of the Czech Hydrometheorologic Institute in Hradec Kralove on the Monitoring of the ozone layer and UV radiation in Antarctica Project since 2005. I participate on the project on behalf of FEE, CTU; CHMI is represented by RNDr. Michal Janouch, CSc. and ing. Martin Staněk. We are a small but quite an essential team. We work with Directión Nacional del Antártico, the Argentinian Ministry for Antarctica. The Czech Republic has signed an agreement regarding research in Antarctica in 2010.

So you have been travelling to Antarctica for research since 2005?

Well, it was not so easy. The Project on monitoring ozone and ozone layer was being prepared the night before the International Polar Year 2007/2008. This is an event of global character since the International Polar Year is held once in 50 years only. The last one was in 1957/58. We had an idea to prepare everything necessary in 2006 and install it in Antarctica in 2007. However, in reality, we installed it in 2010 due to financial, technical and diplomatic issues.

I can imagine financial and technical problems but why diplomatic?

According to the Antarctic Treaty, Antarctica is "nobody's land". That means that no country or continent can claim the land .de jure. and it cannot be used for military or industrial purposes, including mineral mining and other related activities. In other words, Antarctica is basically a giant nature reservation. Any activity (such as building a research base) must be approved by all signers of the Antarctic Treaty. The actual research (entering the land of Antarctica, importing materials and machines, extracting samples etc.) means a lot of approvals, agreements that have to be obtained. Since we conducted the monitoring on Argentinian polar base, the Czech and Argentinian Ministries of Foreign Affairs had to enter negotiations.

What does the "Monitoring of the ozone layer and UV radiation in Antarctica" mean?

There is a wide spectrum of electromagnetic radiation coming from the Sun to Earth. One of the components is UV radiation that is harmful to all living organisms. In the summer, when its intensity increases, we use sun creams to protect ourselves. The best protection is to be careful. But the best natural protection is ozone which is in the atmosphere and functions as a sort of an effective filter. In 1984, a Japanese scientist called Dr. Shigeru Chubachi from Metheorological Research Institute in Antarctica warned about the problem with ozone layer for the first time. This was later confirmed by other scientists from British Antarctic Survey. The reason for disappearing of ozone layer was a massive use of freons, halons, bromomethane, carbon tetrachloride which are in many products on Earth. Since the situation was quite serious, the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987. The biggest decrease of ozone layer was spotted in Antarctica. Therefore, it is a good place for monitoring how human activity influences the environment. Without ozone in the atmosphere, there would be no life on Earth.

Could you describe the measuring from a technical point of view?

The measuring of ozone layer in Antarctica is conducted by Brewer spectrophotometer. It is a very sophisticated device that is able to operate in extreme conditions of big temperature differences and strong wind. Its task is to measure the amount of ozone in the atmosphere. The Sun is the generator of the radiation and ozone represents a spectrum filter while Brewer spectrophotometer analyses what fell to Earth from Sun and what was apprehended by ozone and did not get to the spectrophotometer. The Spectrophotometer contains two optical UV lattices, UV photomultiplier, filters, mirrors, stepping motors, micrometers and calibration lamps. It measures UV radiation with the resolution of 0.5 nm. All this is attached to a construction that observes the Sun as a telescope. It is also heated and since we measure in the area of UV, we have to keep zero humidity. The device measures every half hour and once a day sends the data via geostationary satellite to the Ozone Observatory in Hradec Kralove where the data is controlled and then put into the international database of ozone measurement. Thus, the data are available online and in real time.

The spectrophotometer is only one part of the monitoring chain in Antarctica. For the right focusing on the Sun and trajectory calculation it is necessary to have an exact time measuring device, back up sources for the case of a black out event, remotely controlled camera for monitoring the device and the sky and last but not least connection with the satellite without which it would not be possible to send the data and realize a remote access.

Where exactly in Antarctica is the device installed?

The device is installed in an Argentinian base Marambio on the Seymor Island. The closest civilization is in the Land of Fire, Southern American archipelago, 1200 km away. There are three main reasons why the device has been installed here. The first one is a clear view of the horizon; the second one is continuous accessibility to 230V power supply and the third reason is a relative geographic accessibility. Marambio base is operating on daily basis and it is one of the entering points to Antarctica since there is an airport connecting Argentina (Rio Gallegos, 1800 km away) and Antarctica. The Czech Mendel Polar Station on the James Ross Island is 72 km away. However, it is only a seasonal base, operating from January till March and does not have a clear view of the horizon.

I am sure everyone who hears about Antarctica asks you about this but what is the weather like, what was the lowest temperature you have experienced and how do you travel there?

Yes, you are right! Today's exploration in Antarctica is nothing like discoveries from the beginning of last century when the explorers were not sure if they would ever return. That is the biggest difference, I guess. We know we will come back we just do not know when. In 2010, when we installed the device, we spent there 5 weeks and we had to wait for another 3 weeks for the right weather and an airplane. When it had finally arrived, we had to take off with three engines and an empty airplane in order to take off at all. In 2011, we were on board with air petroleum barrels, in 2011 it was impossible to land on Mrambio due to weather conditions and we had to detour through a Chilean base Frey. This year, we had to wait, again, for 3 weeks for the plane and we took off during a storm when the wind reached 100 km/hour. The pilots of Hercules (a military cargo plane) kept the plane relatively calm but we had to board with engines on and in front of operating propellers. We travel to Marambio in January and February - that is when is summer in Antarctica; the temperature is slightly below zero and usually does not go below -20°C.

How would you describe your work on the polar base?

We have been there for the fourth time this year. We installed the device in 2010 and we make calibrations, tests, revisions and repairs of the things that did not survive the Arctic winter every year. There are always some problems and it is necessary to be able to improvise, although everything is prepared in advance. The installation took one week. Then we started the calibrations and the device went off the roof seven times in total. Last year, we brought a special calibration standard device (similar to a spectrophotometer) borrowed from Canada but the device did not survive the vibrations on Hercules. The small screws were missing (they went off during the flight because of vibrations) and the electronic desks were short-circuited etc. It took us one week to repair it all. Two years before that, the communication was not functional because of the interference. We had to make a communication filter. We made it at last from notebook parts. We repaired also a remote controlled camera.

Other scientific teams tried to install similar measuring devices on their bases several years ago. They gave up after three years of trying. We have it operating successfully for more than 36 months. The work of a technician is different from that of a biologist. A biologist or a geologist does not collect samples if the weather is not right but he has always something to work on or he can finish it later. However, if the technician does not repair the damage, the device does not work as a whole and thus the mission is not completed. You cannot simply write into a report that the device was operating but there was a problem with a contact in one of the connectors and therefore you were not able to collect the data for a whole year.

Does your work have some impact on an international level?

Yes, it does. First of all, our data appear every day in the international database for ozone monitoring and we present our conclusions on international conferences where are not only representatives from UNEP or NASA but also representatives of individual governments.

In the last two years, we participated in these events:
1. World Meteorological Organization, 2011, Genova, Switzerland
2. United Nations Environment Programme, 2011, Bali , Indonesia
3. Quadrennial Ozone Symposium 2012, Toronto, Canada

In recognition of our work, the discoverer of ozone hole, Japanese professor Dr. Shigeru Chubachi, will visit FEE, CTU in April. He is going to end is professional scientific career and as a form of a goodbye will visit Europe for 5 days. He will spend two days in Poland and three days in the Czech Republic.

Ladislav Sieger was born in 1959. He studied at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the Czech Technical University in Prague. He is a lecturer and pedagogue and teaches physics at FEE and Faculty of Biomedicine Engineering at CTU. He participates in courses for the Faculty of Science and Faculty of Physical Education and Sport at the Charles University in Prague. He published several academic books and articles in academic and popular magazines. He invented several devices for industrial and research facilities (nuclear power plant Dukovany, Mochovce,ÚJV Řež, Mexiko, Jablotron, Sennheiser....). Since 2010, he participates in ozone monitoring and UV radiation measuring in Antarctica's base Marambio. He explores questions regarding safety and survival in extreme situations and studies impact of extreme conditions on human organism. As an explorer, he visited Antarctica, desserts of North America, Alaska and Russian tajga. He cooperates with several medicinal facilities.

He is a member of a medical committee of the Czech Climbing Association and Company for mountain medicine and a member of specialized magazines.

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