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Polar Bytes - No. 33, September 2004

Polar Bytes - No. 33, September 2004

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson

The lemonade has been drunk, the elderberry jam stands cooling in its jars and my thoughts are turning towards picking sloes for the winter gin; it must be autumn. I am not quite sure where the summer went! September sees a busy month of conferences and workshops at the Institute. BOREAS: a Workshop to Consider Future Directions for Research in the Humanities for the Arctic organised by Piers Vitebsky and sponsored by the European Science Foundation, was, I believe, a great success.

The Conference on Antarctic Peninsula Climate Variability: History, Causes and Impacts, organised with BAS will shortly be underway and will quickly be followed by a workshop for Arctic Marine Transport Experts organised by Lawson Brigham. If anyone has any energy left it will then be time to launch into the Michaelmas Term.

Not all of the staff are yet returned to the Institute. Those that managed to head to the Arctic for this season's field work are still making their way home, some with more success than others. Our Director, Julian Dowdeswell, his notepads full of fresh scientific data, no doubt, is currently being tossed around on a small ship in the middle of a great storm and going no-where very fast. Meanwhile, our archivist, Bob Headland, is somewhere in the Northwest Passage.

We hope that they will be back in time for the Michaelmas Term Friends Lectures and our autumn buffet and AGM in November! I am also very much looking forward to seeing many of you at these events. The lecture series starts very soon, with a special (Friday!) lecture on 24 September, by sub-Antarctic expert Paul Dingwall from the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

The Friends will be pleased to hear, I am sure, that the Institute has recently received 2 legacies from the estates of Sandy Glenn and Edith Wild. Such memorial gifts are of critical importance to the ongoing work of the Institute and are deeply appreciated. The Friends have also received a generous donation from the Courtauld Trust.

You will also be pleased to hear that we have received further donations towards the Mills Appeal and we have now reached the half-way mark in our efforts to endow a William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund. This is truly splendid news and has been achieved with less than 100 donations! It seems to me that if those of you who have not yet contributed were to remember the appeal with your cheque books, for your New Year resolution, we would soon reach our target. When this is achieved it will be a huge relief to the Committee and no doubt, when appointed, to the new Librarian; interviews for the Librarian's position are to be conducted soon and I hope that we will have news of an appointment for the next Polar Bytes.

Our fund-raising sub-committee has also been getting to work and we can expect a raft of exciting fund-raising initiatives to be launched at the AGM in November. The Committee is also busy discussing all sorts of ideas to develop the future direction of the Friends.

Judging by the plethora of polar books being published this autumn even a small income from the Mills Fund will be very useful for library purchases. If you have any anxieties about how to pass your time once the Boreal darkness sets in then rest assured that you won't be short of books to curl up with in front of the fire this winter - don't forget that many of the new titles are available through the Institute shop. Not that I should mutter about the current rush of books, since I have contributed to it! If reading doesn't tempt you for a winter pass-time then you can always try heading to the Institute Museum. The Shackleton exhibition is such a success that it has been extended until the New Year and from the middle of October we will also be showing an exhibition of Mollie Sheridan's paintings to mark the centenary of the founding of Grytviken.

The AGM will be an ideal occasion for Friends to view these special exhibitions.

Of course, Boreal darkness means Austral light and as soon as we have caught our breath from the Arctic summer it will be time to head South again for the Antarctic season. It is enough to make a man dizzy. How do those Arctic Terns do it?

The Friends Autumn Buffet and AGM

The Friends autumn buffet and AGM will be held on Saturday 13th November. The lecture "Another Little Job for the Tinker" will be given by Judy Skelton at 5pm. The Annual General Meeting will be held thereafter, at approximately 6pm in the Institute and will be followed by the Friends Autumn Buffet once proceedings are finished. Only members of the Friends should attend the AGM but all are welcome to the lecture and to purchase tickets for the buffet (application form enclosed). We look forward to seeing you all!

Appeal Update

The Library and Archives Appeal currently stands at £47,869.96 (exclusive of the Mills Fund) towards the total endowment requirement of £5 million. Much of this has been raised by the Friends. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. The search for major benefactors continues.

The Friends are currently concentrating our fund-raising efforts towards The William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund. The Mills Fund will meet a part of the endowment objectives of the main appeal through setting up an endowment fund for the purchase of library books and periodicals and gives the Friends a realistic fundraising objective within the context of the main appeal. The Fund currently stands at £25, 530.33 from 96 donations ranging from £5 to £5000. Very many thanks indeed to those of you who have responded, as your response has been very generous. We have already reached 50% of our target. We look forward to receiving your contribution (payable to the University of Cambridge) which you should send to: The William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund Appeal, c/o the Friends Secretary, Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1ER

A Few Words from Rossie Ogilvie, Fund-Raising Co-ordinator

Firstly, I must thank you all for the marvellous gifts towards the Mills Fund we have received to date. Creating a Fund to permanently ensure that the (world's best) Polar Library will be able to purchase new books and references is something I'm sure you'll agree is hugely worthwhile. Thank you.

Of course, given that the overall target for the Appeal is £5 million, it might be easy to feel discouraged - please don't be! Getting more and more people interested in the Institute is always the first step, and the Friends have led the way admirably on this point. Out and about amongst Polar people, or on a cruise is always a good opportunity to get people involved. Talking to friends about SPRI, and what we are trying to achieve is a vital first step - especially when talking to those who are new in their interest of the Polar regions. Offering any thoughts you have to either myself or David is the second step! In doing so you will help ensure that anyone genuinely interested in what SPRI does for the past, present and future of the Polar regions can be involved.

One of the things which is vital for an effective Appeal is a clear description of why SPRI needs help, and what it needs help for. We have recently updated our original document to answer these questions clearly for you. We hope soon to publish this document on SPRI's website, so that it is freely available to you all.

Once again, thank you so much for your support of the Institute. The Friends have always, and continue to be, the core support group of the Institute. Your support truly does make a difference.

If you haven't yet made a gift, or you would like to consider making an additional gift, please do contact either David, or myself for further information.

Newsflash: Lead Givers

We are currently looking for 3 'lead givers' for the Mills Fund. We would anticipate that each Lead Giver would donate a minimum £10,000 to the Fund, perhaps split into increments over the course of three years. If you know of someone who might be interested in acting as a Lead Giver, or might be interested yourself, please do let us know.

Passing Friend

We are very sorry to note the death of Colonel John Agar - a Friend since 1953.

New friends

A very warm welcome is extended to all of our new Friends

The Institute Shop

The Institute Shop - full of Polar ideas for a Friend's Christmas!

2004 Christmas Card

The Institute Christmas card for 2004 depicts an Iceberg photographed by Julian Dowdeswell. A sample card is enclosed with this issue of Polar Bytes. Please do support this important part of our fund-raising.


The shop is currently stocking the following new titles written by Friends and Institute staff:

The Silent Sound: The Story of Two Years in Antarctica and the First Winter Occupation of Alexander Island by Cliff Pearce.

Nimrod by Beau Riffenburgh (due October 2004)

The Antarctic Journals of Reginald Skelton: "Another Little Job for the Tinker" by Judy Skelton (due November 2004)

Edward Wilson's Nature Notebooks by D.M.Wilson and C.J.Wilson (due November 2004)

Polar Crusader: Sir James Wordie - Exploring the Arctic and Antarctic by Michael Smith.

Quest for a Phantom Strait: The Saga of the Pioneer Antarctic Expeditions 1897-1905 by David Yelverton.

Other new titles of interest:

With Scott to the Pole: The Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913. The photographs of Herbert Ponting, from the archives of the Royal Geographic Society and the Scott Polar Research Institute. Due October 2004.

Grytviken - seen through a camera lens. Photographs from the Whaling Museum in Sandefjord, Norway. Proceeds from this book are donated to the South Georgia Heritage Trust Fund.

A few words from the Secretary, Ann Bean:

There are occasions when it would be helpful to have a few extra pairs of hands at the Institute - such as the recent stock taking in the library or when preparing Polar Bytes for mailing. To this end I am trying to set up a list of Friends who would be willing to come into the Institute to help for a couple of hours, as and when necessary.

If you would be willing to help in this way please let me have your name and contact details - either email address or telephone number. (Ann Bean - or 01895 271141)

Some dates for the diary:

At the Institute:

  1. Shackleton: the Hidden Collections - extended until the end of 2004.
  2. From 22 October 2004. An exhibition of paintings of South Georgia by Mollie Sheridan, in honour of the centenary of the founding of Grytviken.
  3. Saturday 13th November Friends AGM and Buffet Supper
  4. The Friends Summer Lunch will be on Saturday 4 June 2005 at the Institute.

In Cheltenham:

  1. From 15 November for several weeks, a small selection of original images from Edward Wilson's Nature Notebooks will be displayed in the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, to coincide with the launch of the book of the same name by David and Christopher Wilson
  2. 22 January - 5 March 2005. Due South: Art and the Antarctic. An exhibition of Antarctic work by John Kelly (of the BAS artists and writers programme) and Edward Wilson (of Captain Scott's two Expeditions) at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum.

In Oxford:

  • Until 3rd October the Museum of Oxford is displaying items relating to Frank Bickerton, Mechanical Engineer in charge of the air-tractor on Mawson's AAE of 1911-14.
  • A larger scale exhibition "Born Adventurer" is planned for September 2005, when a considerable number of AAE artefacts will be displayed.
  • A plaque commemorating Bickerton was recently unveiled at the Hawkwell House Hotel, Church Way, Iffley.

In Ireland:

  • 4th Ernest Shackleton Autumn School 22nd-24th October 2004, Athy Heritage Centre. A series of lectures, exhibitions, dramas and field trips relating to Ernest Shackleton and Exploration in general.
  • For more information or telephone Margaret Walsh on 00- 353-(0)59 - 8633075
  • The Tom Crean Society will be holding a 'Discovery' centenary weekend from 10th -12th December 2004 further details from

Polar News

News from the Arctic

News from the Arctic includes the claim that the world's first climate change refugees have been created - in Alaska. Villagers from Shishmaref have given up the fight against the rising sea levels and melting permafrost that is destroying their ancestral island home and moved to firmer ground on the mainland. Meanwhile, on the other side of the climate-change roundabout, the depth-coring activities of scientists continue to produce evidence that the Arctic once had a much warmer climate.

One team has recovered what appears to be plant material in ice cores from two miles (3 km) below the arctic ice surface and another team has recovered fossilised algae in cores sampled to 1300 feet (400m) below the Arctic Ocean sea bed, suggesting that the region once had a sub-tropical climate. Elsewhere, the United Nations Environment Programme have issued a report stating that over fishing coupled with pollution by the energy industry threaten the future of the Barents Sea. Along with these contemporary threats the cold-war legacy of radioactive waste storage is of particular concern. Evidence that these pollution issues are adversely affecting the health of polar bears has been re-confirmed by recent research. The findings seem to suggest that biological changes in the hormone and immune systems of the bears are related to the levels of toxic contaminants in their bodies with direct impacts on the bears breeding success, behaviour and immunity to infection.

In the midst of all this, the Canadian army has been carrying out major Arctic manoeuvres in a gesture intended to signal Canadian Sovereignty over its Arctic territories. Not all of Canada's vast claims to the Arctic are recognised internationally. The United States, the European Union and Denmark either contend that the region's waterways are open to all or have placed their own claims on parts where climate change is expected to increase access to the region's bountiful mineral resources in coming years.

Also in Canada, The Inuit Heritage Trust has wrapped up its archaeology and oral history project near Taloyoak in Nunavut. People in Taloyoak say the area is known for a slaughter where Tunnit killed Inuit men and made off with the women. Tunnit are the people who lived in the North before the Inuit. Archaeologists say that there are human bones in the area - but can't tie the bones to the legend of the slaughter. And finally, a team of British explorers led by Dom Mee, has successfully retraced the steps of 19th Century explorer Sir John Ross and found the remains of his Expedition ship, Victory. The Royal Navy team found parts of the ship's engine and anchor in Felix Harbour, deep in Canada's Arctic.

News from the Antarctic

News from the Antarctic includes a paper given at the recent International Geographical Union reporting the successful mapping of enormous impact craters under the Antarctic ice sheet. Professor Frans van der Hoeven, from Delft University in the Netherlands reported that the biggest single strike occurred approximately 780,000 years ago and seared a hole in the ice sheet roughly 200 miles (322km) in diameter.

Meanwhile, it would appear that the computing systems of the South Pole station have become a sexy target for computer crackers. Romanian cyber extortionists cracked the computer network at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station last year and the resulting enquiry has uncovered further breaches of the computer systems, with someone successfully cracking the data acquisition system for the Degree Angular Scale Interferometer (DASI), a radiotelescope that measures properties of the cosmic microwave background. It seems astonishing to think that one of the world's most remote scientific stations is now facing security issues!

Elsewhere, Lake Vostok in central Antarctica is becoming a source of fierce contention between Russian, French and U.S. scientists. Russian and French scientists are claiming that the lake is sterile (which would make it the first body of water found on earth without life in it) and want to drill completely through the ice into the lake to be the first to study it in depth. U.S. scientists are worried about contamination and are keen to test sterile entry techniques which may be of use in later space exploration. With a complete lack of consensus on whether organisms are likely to exist, on how to obtain them or even how to distinguish between authentic microbes and contaminant organisms, the dispute has serious implications for the recognition of life outside Earth orbit and for the conduct of Antarctic research; the Russians plan to start drilling again in December.

Finally, the Australian Research Ship, Aurora Australis, has been fitted with machine guns to deal with poachers of Patagonian Toothfish in the "Australian Antarctic Economic Zone". Scientists will be accompanied by especially trained customs officers until they can obtain their own ship.