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Polar Bytes - No. 34, January 2005

Polar Bytes - No. 34, January 2005

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson

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The mince pies have been eaten, the mulled wine drunk and enough corny jokes have been pulled from crackers to last for a year! I hope that you have all spent a wonderful Christmas, too. Not that Christmas is the only thing we have been celebrating at the Institute...

Photograph from the archives

The scientific work of the Institute has blossomed in the last year, ably led by the Director, Prof. Julian Dowdeswell; a cause for celebration in itself. Nevertheless, as the membership is aware, 2004 was a challenging year for the Library and Archives and as a result, to the Friends. However, recent news suggests that the proverbial 'corner' is being turned: the Appeal figures are rather encouraging; and since November, we have been pleased to welcome Heather Lane as the new Librarian of the Institute; additionally, the process of Museum Registration is approaching a successful conclusion, which will open new funding possibilities. The latter part of 2004 has also seen some important additions to the collections: a series of letters by Frank Wild was generously donated to the archive; and the Institute has recently announced the purchase of the original glass plates of Herbert Ponting's Antarctic photographs. This is tremendously exciting news! Towards this significant purchase the Friends have contributed £15,000.

This adds to the considerable support which you have given to the Institute over the last few years. Over the ten years to July 2004 the Friends gave £130,000 to the Institute, not including legacies nor spending in the shop! £12,729 was donated in the year ending July 2004 alone; this paid for the restoration of the Shackleton clock, of Scott expedition photograph albums, the purchase of library books and helped support a key staff post. Our financial commitment to the Institute this year (2004-05) already runs to something over £20,000. As a result, the Friends deposit account is heading rapidly downwards and I expect it to be approximately £20,000 by the next AGM. Whilst there is no real need for us to hold large reserves, it does damage our ability to respond quickly in times of Institute need. 2004 has been one of those times of need - thus the fall in our reserves - but it must soon be a matter of priority to replenish these. The alternative is to cut our support for the Institute, as our current donations are unsustainable on the subscription income generated by our current membership of 503. However, this is a tricky balancing act when our current focus is on raising a total of £50,000 to endow the Mills Fund in honour of the late librarian. I am delighted to report that the total raised for this appeal is now £29,380.22, which leaves us £21,000 to find in order to reach our target! If you haven't yet contributed, now is the hour! I would like to thank the membership warmly for your generous support in this endeavour - and in particular those of you who have now donated twice to this appeal, on the basis that the second half is likely to be harder to raise!

In rising to the needs of the times, the Committee is launching a series of fund-raising initiatives. The first is a sponsored dog-sledge in Arctic Norway in March 2006 - details are enclosed with this newsletter. If you don't feel up to such a challenge yourself, then we feel sure that you know someone who is - so sign (them) up! Details are also enclosed for a fund-raising evening of entertainment with Peter Hillary, son of the famous Sir Edmund, and an explorer in his own right. We have arranged for Peter to visit us from New Zealand - whilst it is a mid-week event and more expensive than our usual (the price tag for a fantastic speaker is a challenge in itself!), I hope that you and yours will support a very special evening. We have other plans in the pipeline, too, including a fund-raising concert to follow on from the Summer Lunch and more star speakers and performances - presuming your active support for this first 'series' of events. Never flagging, the Committee is also working on a 'new look' Polar Bytes for 2005 and is putting the finishing touches to a new membership structure - more on that later. Not to mention the Friends Lent Term Lectures (list enclosed).

I would like to thank the Committee, Institute staff, and the Friends Volunteers for all of their hard work in 2004 - and also to thank each and every one of you for your continued support of the Friends and of the Institute, it is deeply appreciated. On behalf of the entire Friends Committee, may I wish you and yours a very happy and prosperous 2005.

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

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The Institute heard in December that it has been successful in applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund for over half a million pounds. This grant enables the purchase of the original glass photographic plates produced by Herbert Ponting on Captain Robert Falcon Scott's 1910-1913 expedition to the Antarctic aboard Terra Nova. The Heritage Lottery Fund is granting £533,000 towards the purchase, but the Institute has to provide a further 10% of the total in matching funds in order for the application to proceed. The generosity of the Friends in giving £15,000 in support of the application was, therefore, vital to the success of the bid, and once again we are very grateful for your support. The remainder of the matching funds came from Institute sources.

As many of you will know, Herbert Ponting took some of the most well-known and evocative images of the Southern continent ever produced. The photographs capture not only the Antarctic environment and the hardships of early exploration, but also the day-to-day life of the expedition and its members and the innovative scientific work that they undertook. The Ponting archive comprises a unique collection of over 1,100 original glass-plate negatives of these photographs, stored in the original wooden boxes that Ponting used to carry them back from the expedition. Most of the plates are 7" by 5", allowing them to be used to produce large format positives of very high quality. An exhibition of the spectacular images printed from them is planned for the Institute in 2005.

Grant applications such as this take a great deal of time to prepare and several of our staff worked very hard to produce the best possible application; in particular, Lucy Martin, Judy Heath and Rossie Ogilvie. Some of you may also have seen one or more of the national newspaper, radio and television pieces on the purchase of the Ponting photographs and the Heritage Lottery Fund's support. This has provided very welcome publicity for the Institute.

A Few Words from Heather Lane, the new Librarian

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Heather Lane

It is a great privilege to have been appointed as Librarian of the Scott Polar Research Institute. I am really excited at the prospect of working with such an outstanding collection and I have already been impressed by the enthusiasm of staff and library users alike. I can claim no prior subject expertise, other than having been curator of the Wilson watercolours in the collection at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. I would therefore ask readers to bear with me, as it will take some time to build up a detailed working knowledge of the polar regions. Every day seems to bring a new area to explore - within my first two weeks in the Institute there have been enquiries on topics as diverse as Operation Tabarin, motorised sledges and the crew of the Nimrod. Making contact with other polar institutes around the world is also a priority and I am looking forward to representing the Institute at an international level at the Polar Libraries Colloquy.

I began my career as a trainee at the British Library and qualified as a Chartered Librarian in 1987. I have worked in Cambridge college libraries and in consultancy and research for almost twenty years, my most recent post having been Librarian of Sidney Sussex College. I have a particular professional interest in information technology, which I hope to be able to put to good use as we begin a process of review within the Library. My main area of research has been in classification theory. I am currently involved, as Principal Editor, in the preparation of the Bliss Bibliographic Classification for Physical Geography and Geology, and I have done much of the schedule-building in this subject, which I hope will help to inform the continuing revision of the Universal Decimal Classification for use in Polar Libraries.

It is essential that the SPRI Library should maintain and enhance its reputation as a world-class resource for study and research both within and beyond the University. I am very grateful to know of all the moral, practical and financial support provided by the Friends. I am keen to make the collections more accessible, both to visitors and to remote users, by improving our bibliographic services, but enhancements to security and collection care will also be priorities in the coming months. We are also planning to undertake a reader survey to give you a chance to tell us what you like and dislike about the service that the SPRI Library provides. Do contact me if you have any comments or questions - and I look forward to meeting you all at Friends events.

Polar News

Those of you interested in Expedition Medicine will be interested to hear of the launch of a comprehensive winter medical skills/survival course. The training takes place in the north of Norway. For more details visit

News from the Arctic

News from the Arctic has once again been dominated by issues related to climate change. The thawing of the permafrost across vast swathes of the Arctic is causing enormous structural problems to Arctic towns such as Fairbanks, Alaska, as the buildings start to sink into wet bogs, instead of standing on ice. The town of Kiruna in northern Sweden, has a slightly different sinking feeling, however. The Town was founded to mine iron ore and is now having to be moved as the Town's buildings are collapsing into the old mining shafts. The melting of the Arctic is having unexpected consequences for native peoples across the region: "We can't even describe what we're seeing," said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Inuit and other Arctic languages simply do not possess words for the invasion of new animals, insects and plants advancing north as warming expands the ranges of what were once more southerly species. Not all of the invaders are friendly. Thousands of Eider Duck died recently of Avian Cholera, a disease usually restricted to warmer climes. To add to the pressures on traditional Arctic wildlife, the melting tundra is opening up all sorts of possibilities for mineral exploitation across the region. One consequence is that Canada is starting to establish military bases in its Arctic Territories. Some scientists are suggesting that if the melting of Arctic ice continues unabated, the object of much British Arctic exploration could be realised. On current trends, the Northwest passage is likely to become a viable and valuable commercial seaway within 15 to 40 years. Canada has always claimed sovereignty over the waters of the passage, but this is a claim never recognised by several other nations, including the United States. These countries could decide to challenge Ottawa's claims before the World Court, claiming the Northwest Passage should be recognised as an international waterway, similar to the Bosphorous Strait. Meanwhile, there are reports from traditional hunters that the Canadian Arctic winter night is not as dark as it used to be. They report a permanent coloured band of light along the horizon, whilst it used to be almost totally dark. Has light pollution arrived in the Arctic?

News from the Antarctic


Climate change has also dominated news stories from the Antarctic. US researchers say that the collapse of the Larsen B ice shelf two years ago has accelerated the flow of glaciers into the nearby Weddell Sea by between two and six times. Meanwhile, evidence of a collapse in krill stocks around the Antarctic Peninsula seems to be emerging. It was recently claimed in a paper in Nature, that since the 1970s, numbers of the shrimp-like creatures have fallen by 80% in Peninsula waters, a fact thought to be linked to the decline in sea ice cover, which in turn is linked to warmer winters on the Peninsula. Since krill is the staple food for much of the Antarctic food chain, such a continued collapse would have catastrophic consequences for Antarctic wildlife. The danger of a catastrophic collapse in the Southern Ocean eco-system is a theme that will be taken up by Professor Lloyd Peck as he delivers an Antarctic theme to this year's Royal Institution Christmas lectures. Meanwhile, continued human development of the continent is increasing concern in many quarters. Sir Edmund Hillary recently criticised the Americans for building a road from McMurdo Station to the South Pole, along Scott and Shackleton's historic Polar trail. Work on the road continues into its third season, with the road expected to become operational in 2006. More scientific bases are also being built by various countries this year. Meanwhile one of the world's largest icebergs, B15, is on the move from Ross Island. Much of the press reported that it threatened Adélie Penguin rookeries but this appears to have been erroneous, although it has blocked ice from flowing out of McMurdo Sound. Penguins were more threatened, apparently, by one of the world's largest earthquakes in recent years at 8.1 on the

Richter scale. The undersea quake hit 400km

(250 miles) off Macquarie Island on Christmas Eve and there were fears for the huge colonies of King and other penguin species on the island. However, because the seabed moved horizontally rather than

vertically there were no tsunamis and the penguins were unscathed. An ironic end to this quarter's Polar news round-up given the tragedy that hit the Indian Ocean only two days later.

A few words from the Secretary, Ann Bean

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Membership is currently 503 with losses continuing to be balanced by new members. Friends, please find a Friend, so that we can increase our numbers and our support for the Institute!

New Committee Members for 2005 - Paul Davies and Pauline Young were approved by the Committee and will serve for 4 years from 1st January 2005. They replace Philippa Smith and Keith Holmes who step down after serving their four year terms. Our thanks to them for all their support.

Appeal Update - The Friends have greatly assisted with the current appeals and your generosity and fund-raising ideas are deeply appreciated.

The Library and Archives Appeal currently stands at £104,710.03 (exclusive of the Mills Fund) towards the total endowment requirement of £5 million. The appeal is making good progress with some substantial donations being received. Our Fund-Raising Co-ordinator is Rossie Ogilvie (

The Friends are currently concentrating our fund-raising efforts towards The William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund in honour of the late librarian. This will meet part of the objectives of the Library and Archives appeal through establishing an endowment fund for the purchase of library books. The Fund currently stands at £29,380.22 with donations ranging from £5 to £5000. Many thanks to those of you that have responded. £21,000 remains to reach our target of £50,000! 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

The Friends Summer Lunch is on Saturday 4 June 2005 at the Institute. We will also hold the Polar Book Den during the lunch, so please save your unwanted Polar Books to sell to other members in support of the Friends.

Following the lunch, at 7.30 p.m. on 4 June there will be a Polar Concert, with Lieut. Doorly's grandson, the New Zealand baritone, Roger Wilson, providing a rare chance to hear a live performance of the famous "Songs of the Morning", composed by his grandfather during the relief expedition for Captain Scott's Discovery. This will be in aid of the Mills Fund. If there are any useful male voices who wish to volunteer to sing in the chorus of 'Morning Glories' then please contact the chairman. Details of the venue etc. will follow in the next newsletter.

Passing Friends

We are very sorry to note the deaths of the following Friends: Gordon Robin, who devoted much of his life to the Institute - Gordon was the longest serving Director of the Institute, a pioneer of modern Polar Ice Science and a long standing Friend; we will also greatly miss the Polar Historian, David Yelverton, whose support of the Friends was always generous. We are also sorry to note the death of Charles Swithinbank's daughter, Anne.

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

Some dates for the diary:

At the Institute:

  1. Until February 2005. Shackleton: the Hidden Collections.
  2. Until February 2005. Paintings of South Georgia by Mollie Sheridan.
  3. Museum Exhibitions for 2005 will include the photographs of Herbert Ponting and the Antarctic paintings of Edward Seago - details to be announced.
  4. Wednesday 20 April at 7.30 p.m., Peter Hillary, son of Sir Edmund, will talk at the Institute in aid of the Mills Fund. Tickets (£25) from the Friends Secretary.
  5. The Friends Summer Lunch will be on Saturday 4 June 2005 at the Institute.
  6. Following the Friends Lunch on 4 June there will be a concert performance of the "Songs of the Morning" at 7.30 p.m. in aid of the Mills Fund. Details to follow.
  7. The Friends AGM will be on Saturday 12 November 2005

In Cheltenham: 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 Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum.