skip to primary navigation skip to content

SPRI Review 2002: Director's Introduction

Director's Introduction

It is a pleasure to write the introduction to this report as the new Director of the Institute. Taking up the post represents a return to the Institute for me, for as a doctoral student, and subsequently a member of staff, it is here that I gained much of my academic background in glaciology and, more broadly, of the Arctic and Antarctic. It is a privilege to be a part once more of one of the World's primary foci for polar research.

First, I should like to acknowledge the work of Professor Keith Richards during his time as Director. Among his achievements were significant improvements to the infrastructure of the Institute, the redesign of our MPhil course and the forging of closer links with the Department of Geography, where he held his Chair. In this context, the Institute has during the year undergone a change of status within the University of Cambridge, from a separate department to a sub-department of Geography. My view, like that of my predecessor, is that this positions us much more soundly within the University's organisational structure and also brings the benefits of closer intellectual and infrastructural collaboration.

We are now in a strong position to take forward the research strengths of the Institute. One of my principal aims as Director is to make sure that our staff are given every opportunity to carry out high-quality research on aspects of both the natural and social sciences in the polar regions, emphasising how these studies link to global problems such as environmental change and cross-cultural interaction. This means that we must be clear about our specific research aims and objectives and have the resources of time and funding with which to undertake the work. Over the year we have continued to enhance the computing and audio-visual display facilities of the Institute - important underpinnings of our research and teaching.

In this context, as a group of senior academic staff, we have discussed in depth a research strategy for the next five years, which includes the definition of key intellectual problems and the suite of skills and resources we need to tackle them. These problems, for example the role of ice sheets in climate and sea-level change, have guided the reshaping of our research-group structure and will, in turn, inform changes in the use of Institute space. We have redesigned and relaunched the Institute web site, reflecting these changes in our research structure.

The strength of research in the Institute is exemplified in this report by the very strong performance of staff in terms of scholarly publications in peer-reviewed international journals, and in the breadth and depth of our research grant funding, won competitively through the UK research councils and the European Union science budget. Our senior staff have also made many contributions to national and international organisations and committees concerning polar research. This is a mark of the esteem in which the Institute and its staff are held. We are also pleased to continue to host the secretariats of the International Glaciological Society and the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

The research of the Institute has also been strengthened in both breadth and depth by several staff appointments. University-funded staff represent the intellectual core of our research activity. My own post as Professor of Physical Geography is a new one, with my research focused on the interactions between modern glaciers and climate and the record of past ice-sheet changes in ocean sediments. Dr Andrew Shepherd has also been appointed to a University Assistant Lectureship, bringing with him quantitative skills in the application of satellite radar altimetry and interferometry to the understanding of ice-sheet change through time. In addition, Dr Ian Willis, Lecturer in Geography, has also moved into the Institute in order to concentrate expertise in glaciology under one roof. Each of us will be contributing to the teaching programmes of the Department of Geography, and to college teaching in physical geography. I also acknowledge the many contributions to the intellectual life of the Institute made by Professor Peter Wadhams, especially for his sustained research into the understanding of sea ice over many years. Peter is spending three years at the Scottish Association for Marine Science's Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory in Oban, Scotland, before returning to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics in Cambridge.

The Institute remains committed to teaching and learning, both within the University and in the context of the wider public. Excellence in teaching is demonstrated through the award to Dr Neil Arnold of a distinguished Pilkington Prize by the University. During the year, members of staff have also published several books relating to the public understanding of both science and social-science issues in the polar regions and continue to offer their time to give public lectures to adults and children. Our museum represents a further contribution in this regard. Over the year, through support from the Friends of the Institute, both the staffing and the stocking of the Museum shop have been enhanced. I should also like to acknowledge the work of Philippa Foster Back, who has just retired after a very important period as Chair of the Friends.

We are also in the first stages of planning for a major redesign of the Museum so that we can use our very extensive collections of artifacts, manuscripts, photographs and works of art with increasing effectiveness to project both the past achievements of British explorers and the continuing relevance of the polar regions in the wider context of global environmental and societal change. The Institute's Library and Archives also form a part of our developing strategy for information provision involving, for example, web-based catalogues of our very fine photographic, artifactual and documentary collections. The Institute Appeal, established last year, is aimed at enhancing the Archives, Museum and Library both by securing long-term funding for key staff, and through providing a capital sum for Museum refurbishment. I would like to thank those who have already contributed to the Appeal - our overall target is 5 million pounds. We have also benefited from the generosity of those who have donated items to our polar collections over the past year.

Looking forward to the coming year, several Arctic and Antarctic data-gathering programmes will be taking place across the breadth of our academic interests, often involving international collaboration. This polar field work is linked strongly to both satellite-acquired observations and to computer modelling of, for example, the response of ice caps and glaciers to climate warming. In Cambridge, the infrastructure of the Institute will continue to be enhanced, and working spaces will be reorganised according to our newly defined research strategy. My colleagues and I are looking forward to the academic challenges and opportunities of the coming year.

Professor Julian Dowdeswell, Director