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SPRI Review 2003: Director's Introduction

Director's Introduction

After my first year as Director, in which I, together with the senior academic staff of the Institute, spent time identifying our future academic aims and objectives, 2003 has been a year of internal reorganisation to facilitate these new strategic aims. Academic highlights have included the publication in the international journal Science of research-council funded work on the thinning and collapse of an Antarctic ice shelf and successful field data-acquisition programmes in Antarctica and the Russian north. I should like to acknowledge the high quality of assistance that our academic staff and students have received from the support staff of the Institute — in particular our administrative, library, and maintenance teams. This is vital to the smooth running of the Institute.

The achievements of several staff and students of the Institute have been recognised externally. Dr Ian Willis and Dr Andrew Shepherd have been promoted to Senior Lecturer and Lecturer in the University, respectively. Professor Liz Morris was awarded the Polar Medal in recognition of her glaciological research and her considerable work for several learned societies. In addition, Stephanie Irlbacher Fox and Elana Wilson, both social science students at the Institute, won formal recognition for the quality of their presentations at the annual meeting of the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States. Our staff and students project the research of the Institute at many meetings, and members of our senior academic staff play important roles in helping to set the agenda for polar research through their participation on national and international committees and working groups.

Research grants are a vital part of the Institute's research activity, providing funds for field, remote-sensing, and numerical-modelling projects, and for the employment of post-doctoral Research Associates. We have increased both the breadth and depth of our grant income during the year. In addition to several grants from the UK Natural Environment Research Council, we have received support from the Arts and Humanities Research Board and from a number of philanthropic trusts. Some of the research that has been supported provides strong linkage between natural science and the humanities — examples include the interaction of Siberian reindeer herders with tundra vegetation and the use of archival meteorological logs from navy ships searching for Sir John Franklin to quantify the climate of the Canadian high Arctic during the mid-nineteenth century.

The identification of key research aims, undertaken last year by our senior academic staff, has informed a major reorganisation of space within the Institute during 2003. In particular, our top-floor laboratories have been rearranged to make sure that research students and postdoctoral workers studying related academic themes are co-located, and are also close to the academic staff with whom they work. In addition, our basement storage space and several ancillary rooms have been reorganised to make a more efficient use of space. New maps and photographs reproduced from our historic collections have also been hung in a redecorated Seminar Room.

Our long-term strategy to redesign the Museum in order to make increasingly effective use of our fine collections of artifacts, historic manuscripts and photographs, and works of art has continued. We are working towards the formal registration of the Museum with the national body, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. Consultants have undertaken a wide-ranging report on the Museum, supported by a grant from the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, commenting very favourably on our archival facilities and curation. The report also contained ideas for new displays that will project both the history and achievements of British explorers and also the increasing significance of the polar regions in the context of global environmental change. A series of displays outlining aspects of the environmental and social science research of the Institute has been produced and placed in the Museum during the year.

The Institute's Appeal, for £5 million, is aimed in part at underpinning both Museum refurbishment and a new member of staff to act as a full-time Museum and Education Officer. This post would allow us to enhance our projection of, for example, high-latitude environmental change as a problem of global significance by working increasingly with schools and also providing additional educational material for the Museum. The Appeal also includes sums for enhancing staff and infrastructure for our internationally renowned Archives and Library. I thank those who have already contributed to the Appeal. The continuing support of the Friends of the Scott Polar Research Institute, under new chairman Dr David Wilson, is also acknowledged. Once again we have also benefited from the generous donation of items to the Museum and Archives — demonstrating that we are seen as a major international repository for historic polar artifacts, manuscripts, and artwork. The new year will also see the opening of our new exhibition, Shackleton: the Hidden Collections, where much important documentary and artifactual material will be displayed for the first time through the generosity of the Shackleton family.

In the coming year, competitively won research grants are already in place to ensure that several major research programmes will take place in both the Arctic and Antarctic, many involving international collaboration. These field programmes will include the use of ships and aircraft to obtain geophysical data, and also work in the Russian and Canadian north concerning native peoples and their interactions with natural environment — this represents the continuing breadth of Institute activity from natural science to the humanities. The collection, analysis, interpretation, and publication of such material will provide an important contribution to our research activity in 2004 and beyond.

Professor Julian Dowdeswell, Director