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SPRI Review 2010: Director’s Introduction

Director’s Introduction

2010 begins the centenary period of Captain Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica (1910-13). Our aim was to reopen the redesigned and refurbished museum of the Scott Polar Research Institute to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the start of the expedition in June 1910. Beginning in January, an entirely new suite of display cases and associated text panels was installed, allowing us to exhibit around 30% of our holdings, as compared with only about 5% in the old museum. The overall theme of the new museum is ‘exploration into science’. Specific displays include the indigenous peoples of the circum-Arctic, the exploration of the Canadian Northwest Passage and the ‘Heroic Age’ of Antarctic exploration; in addition, there is a new focus on the contemporary significance of the polar regions and their wider influence on the global climate system. The latter allows us to project much of our own scientific work in the Arctic and Antarctic to the wider public. Importantly, during 2010 we have succeeded in raising the £800,000 required to match the Heritage Lottery Fund award of almost £1 million towards the renovation of the Polar Museum. The generosity of a number of individual donors, together with private trusts and foundations, has made this possible; we thank all of them for their support.

Their Royal Highnesses the Earl and Countess of Wessex, along with almost one hundred guests, were at the Institute for the formal opening of the new Polar Museum in June. Also among the first to visit the museum were over one hundred descendants of those who took part in the Terra Nova expedition, who visited the Institute for a day of talks about the history of the expedition and its scientific legacy.

Since the reopening, visitor numbers have more than tripled, reaching over 25,000 in the initial six months. The refurbished galleries include both permanent displays and space in the foyer for special exhibitions. The latter have included an exhibition of Inuit Art, supported in part by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures scheme and by generous loans of Inuit sculptures from the collections of Ken Mantel, Bill Johnstone and several other British collectors. A companion exhibition of Inuit sculptures and prints took place in Canada House, London, in collaboration with the Canadian High Commission. The exhibition of a selection of Antarctic landscape paintings and portraits by the well-known Australian artist Sidney Nolan completed a very successful year.

TRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex meet SPRI Staff at the opening of the Polar Museum

TRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex meet SPRI Staff at the opening of the Polar Museum

In research, too, the Institute has hosted several international meetings. These included the 11th Circumpolar Remote Sensing Symposium, organised by Dr Gareth Rees, and a NATO Advanced Workshop on environmental security in the Arctic Ocean coordinated by Dr Paul Berkman. Abroad, a number of our academic staff and research students presented papers and posters at scientific gatherings, including the annual European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna and the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco. Such meetings give our students in particular important opportunities to present their work to an international audience.

Field research projects have also taken place in several parts of the Arctic during 2010. In the spring Prof. Liz Morris led a campaign on the Greenland Ice Sheet to measure snow density profiles as a calibration of satellite radar returns from CryoSat-2. This work was funded by a grant from the UK Natural Environment Research Council, who has also awarded almost £1 million to support airborne radar investigations of the bed of the Greenland Ice Sheet to be led by the Director in 2011 and 2012. Glaciological research teams from the Institute also worked in Iceland and Spitsbergen during the summer, and several students were in Siberia undertaking social science research. Among our research students, Evelyn Landerer was the first recipient of the newly instituted Frederick Soddy Award from the Royal Geographical Society, which funded her fieldwork with reindeer herders in eastern Siberia. An extensive list of publications, given later in the Review, is evidence that this field research activity is followed up by the continuing analysis, interpretation and publication of our findings, making them accessible to the wider community of scholars and beyond.

An important gift to the Institute, generously donated in the will of the late Lady Philippa Scott, who sadly died in January, was the silver model of Captain Scott’s Terra Nova given to Sir Peter Scott shortly after the expedition in recognition of his father’s achievements. The ship is presently undergoing conservation before going on display in the Polar Museum. The family of Orpheus Jacovides donated in his memory a number of important works by Henry Evaluardjuk, including an outstanding self-portrait. Bill Johnstone also placed several beautiful Iniut sculptures on long-term loan. Our collections of artefacts, art works and documents continue to grow, and I thank all those who have made donations during the year.

Further afield, the Institute loaned a number of artefacts, documents and paintings to a major exhibition on Scott and Amundsen which opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York during May. Another important initiative, a joint venture with the Belgian fine-art publisher Salto Ulbeek, is a limited-edition portfolio of 48 photographic prints from the Terra Nova expedition, produced using the platinum process from scans of Herbert Ponting’s original glass-plate negatives. The prints and portfolio have been exhibited in several locations, including the Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai, where the Director spoke at the launch in December. The scientific work of the Institute has also been projected at home and abroad through newspapers, radio and television, with the Director taking part in a programme about Antarctica in Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ series.

It is, once again, a pleasure to record my thanks to the staff of the Scott Polar Research Institute for the time and commitment that they have shown in making possible the breadth of work that we undertake. In particular, great efforts have been made this year by all those who have contributed to the Polar Museum project. In addition, our group of over 40 trained museum volunteers has provided an informed welcome to visitors since the museum reopened. Congratulations also go to Dr Peter Clarkson for the award of an MBE by HM The Queen in the New Year Honours List for services to Antarctic science.

Julian Dowdeswell

The Director and HRH The Earl of Wessex at the opening of the new Polar Museum in June 2010

The Director and HRH The Earl of Wessex at the opening of the new Polar Museum in June 2010