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Polar Bytes - No. 37, October 2005

Polar Bytes - No. 37, October 2005

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson

Wishing you well, Bob Headland

As the trees start to turn and we head into the new Michaelmas Term, developments at the Institute are continuing apace. After 22 years as the Archivist and Museum Curator at the Institute, Bob Headland has decided to step down in order to spend more time on his research and lecturing activities. Bob has been a stalwart support to the Friends during his tenure, for which we are deeply grateful. However, Bob will remain at the Institute as an Institute Associate and so I dare say that we will continue to see him at Friends' events, just in a new capacity. As I write, the posts of Archivist and Museum Curator are vacant. Bob Headland, we wish you well and thank you for all your work on our behalf.

Meanwhile, our Picture Librarian, Lucy Martin, has been working hard to produce the forthcoming exhibition of Ponting photographs at the Institute. This is being held to celebrate the acquisition late last year of the original Ponting photographic plates from Scott's final Antarctic expedition. The Friends contributed a generous £15,000 to this purchase, so do come along to view some of the irreplaceable historic images that you have helped to save for the nation.

The recent changes to the membership structure of the Friends appear to have met with general approval. Good numbers of you have upgraded your memberships and we have received our first members to the 80 Degree and 90 Degree Clubs, as well as new Life Members of the Polar Circle. The new Life Membership pins are expected from the jewellers soon and we will get these out to those who have ordered them as soon as possible. Now that we have our new membership structure in place the Committee is considering how to recognise both our Friends' volunteers and those who have supported us over many years with dedicated long-term membership. The Committee is deeply aware of the fact that time both time and financial resource are equally valuable contributions to the Friends. I hope that we will have reached an agreement on how to achieve appropriate recognition of such service in time for an announcement at the AGM.

Posing with Captain Lambert and officers: Friends' visit to HMS Endurance, July 2005

The Friends' July visit to HMS Endurance was considerably appreciated by those fortunate enough to obtain places. Captain Nick Lambert and his officers received us very generously, particularly given that the ship was undergoing a refit. The fact that she was in dry dock led to a rather unusual tour of the ship! The visit has led to a productive friendship between HMS Endurance and the Institute and I am delighted that Nick has agreed to write us a 'newsletter' for inclusion in the next few issues of Polar Bytes. This will enable us to follow the work of the Royal Navy in the polar regions over the next year, as a prelude (we hope) to a repeat visit to Endurance next summer for those members who wished to visit the vessel but were unable to obtain a place this year.

By the time that you receive this issue of Polar Bytes, Aidan Dooley will have performed his play Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer, to launch the autumn series of Friends' events. A list of the forthcoming Michaelmas Term lectures is included in this issue and I will hope to see many of you at these. I especially look forward to welcoming you to our AGM and autumn buffet on November 12th when we will be announcing details of some of our plans for our Diamond Jubilee celebrations next year.

Finally, the appeal to endow the William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund appears to be drawing to a natural end, which is to be expected 18 months on from William's death. The total for the Mills Fund currently stands at £43,063.01 We are just £7,000 short of our target. However, donations have slowed to a trickle. The Committee has therefore decided to close this appeal at the end of the year, whether or not we have reached the target of £50,000, and to present the endowment cheque to the Institute at an event next year. I am still hopeful that we will raise our target figure but this is up to you, the membership. Thank you all for your ongoing support of the Friends.

Institute News

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

Julian Dowdeswell: Filming on the Illulisat Glacier, Greenland

In mid-July, I spent a week in West Greenland with the Natural History Unit of the BBC. Filming took place for a forthcoming programme in the Natural World series, which will be called 'The iceberg that sank the Titanic'.

The documentary is about the 'life cycle' of an ice crystal, from initial snowfall and flow through the Greenland Ice Sheet, through calving as a tabular iceberg and possible hazard to navigation, to final demise on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

Filming took place in Illulisat Icefjord and at the margin of the fast-flowing outlet glacier of the Greenland Ice Sheet now named Illulisat Glacier (formerly Jakobshavns Isbrae). This glacier, which drains about 110,000 km2 of the ice sheet, is the fastest flowing in the world at about 13 km/yr. The programme will be aired on BBC2 early next year.

A few words from the Fundraising Co-ordinator, Rossie Ogilvie

Rossie Ogilvie working hard on the Institute Appeal

The fundraising campaign for SPRI has been proceeding well. As of course you will all know, since the last report the Institute has received around £530,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the purchase of the Herbert Ponting photographic archive. The Institute has also developed a corporate sponsorship program with the help of several key volunteers and is beginning to pursue corporate prospects in earnest. The Campaign Total has now exceeded £140,000, and we continue to work to bring the total much higher!

A huge thank-you to all the friends (and Friends!) who have offered such marvelous help over the last six months, including Mr Paul Davies, Mrs Jude Harris, Mr Keith Holmes, Professor Neil Kent, Mr Charles Leggatt, Mr William Stancer and, of course, the wonderful Sir Humphry Wakefield - to name only a few.

Rossie Ogilvie, Associate Director
Cambridge University Development Office


The Archives are pleased to announce receipt of a recent bequest by Professor G.E. (Tony) Fogg, the noted marine biologist, historian of polar science and Friend of the Institute. Foggy very kindly left us two of his water colours of the freshwater diatoms of Signy Island, painted during his research at Signy during the 1960s, along with a selection of his Antarctic research and administrative papers. We have also received a recent bequest of research papers by David Yelverton, the polar historian and Friend of the Institute.The archive is dependent on such gifts for its continuing excellence and I am very grateful to you all for your ongoing support.

Bob Headland

Appeal Update

The Library and Archives Appeal currently stands at a figure of £141,387.88 (exclusive of the Mills Fund) towards the total endowment requirement of £5 million. The Friends have greatly assisted with the appeal and your continuing generosity and fund-raising ideas are deeply appreciated.

The Friends are currently concentrating our fund-raising efforts towards The William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund in honour of the late librarian, and which contributes to the main appeal. The Fund currently stands at a figure of £43,063.01 towards our target of £50,000, with donations received ranging from £5 to £5000. Please send contributions (payable to the University of Cambridge) to: The William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund Appeal, Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1ER The Mills Fund Appeal will be closed on 31st December 2005.

Polar News

As we go to press, Europe's Cryosat spacecraft is being launched on a 3 year mission to study the Earth's Polar ice caps. The satellite's principle objective is to test and quantify the hypothesis that climate change is causing ice to thin at the poles. Watch this space for results, as they are known.

News from the Arctic

Polar Bears © Kim Crosby

A high profile sovereignty disagreement between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island has dominated news stories for much of the summer. The Canadian Defence Minister's visit to the island sparked the row, a focus of previous disputes between the two countries. The small island just off Greenland, is of strategic importance in controlling access to the Northwest Passage. The visit was part of a series by Canadian officials and naval ships to the Arctic regions, to bolster Canada's territorial claims.

Canada has also recently strengthened its Arctic National Park refuges with the expansion by 1800 sq. km of the Tuktut Nogait National Park in the Northwest Territories. This is in stark contrast to attempts by the United States Government to weaken protection of its National Parks in the Arctic regions in favour of oil exploration. The dispute over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continues to be fought through Congress in an impressive battle between different parts of the American legislature.

Issues connected to climate change have also been dominating the Arctic headlines. News of retreating ice sheets and glaciers along with anecdotal evidence of lifestyle-changes related to climate change amongst indigenous groups have filled pages of newspapers. In an effort to ease pressure on declining Polar Bear populations the Danish Government is introducing hunting controls for Polar Bears in Greenland from January 2006. Meanwhile vast sections of the West Siberian Peat bog are melting for the first time in 11,000 years with concerns that millions of tons of trapped greenhouse gasses will consequently be released into the atmosphere, inducing further climate changes.

In the continuing search for cleaner energy, the Russian Federal Nuclear Energy Agency has announced that it is to build several floating nuclear power stations for use in Russia's Arctic regions, this despite Russia's appalling record of serious nuclear accidents and radio-active pollution of its Arctic territories.

Russia has also been heavily criticised by environmental groups for allowing its fishing fleet to flagrantly flout international cod catch quotas for the Barents Sea. Russia's own figures show an over-fish of around 100,000 tons. Norway has also been exceeding agreed cod catch quotas in the region.

Meanwhile on Spitsbergen, scientists have satellite-tracked a polar bear and recorded it swimming 75 kms in a day, at an average speed of 3 to 4 kms per hour. This is the first time that an accurate measurement of the vast distances that Polar Bears are capable of covering at sea has been accurately recorded.

Technological advances are also enabling scientists to study and identify dozens of previously unknown species in the waters under the Arctic pack ice. The world's most inaccessible ocean is teeming with far more life and new species than thought possible.

News from the Antarctic

Whilst the Emperor Penguins were busy incubating their eggs through the recent Antarctic winter, they also became unlikely movie stars in the United States. The French film, March of the Penguins, a documentary about the life of the Emperor Penguin was a surprisingly popular cinematic hit with American movie goers.

Meanwhile, British art lovers were astonished at the theft of a £42,500 bottle of melted water from the Antarctic, entitled "Weapon of Mass Destruction". The 'art-work' was devised to highlight global warming by artist Wayne Hill. However, the warm British summer is thought to have overwhelmed one art lover in south Devon and the exhibit is presumed to have been drunk.

Environmental issues have also been dominating this quarter's Antarctic news headlines. This season's ozone hole over the Antarctic is set to be one of the largest on record. According to the United Nations Meteorological Agency, it is now unclear whether a full recovery of the ozone will ever be attained. Elsewhere, researchers have developed an improved model suggesting that increases in precipitation due to warmer air temperatures may increase sea ice volume in Antarctica. This is the opposite of current predictions based on what has been happening in the Arctic.

Bio-prospecting has also become a renewed subject of discussion in Antarctic circles after University of South Florida chemists derived a chemical from the Antarctic Sea Squirt, Synoicum adareanum. The chemical appears to be effective against melanoma cells.

Meanwhile, Antarctic real-estate development continues. A modular station on elevated ski legs has won the competition for the new BAS station at Halley Bay. The design solves the long term problem of glacier flow and snow accumulation which have caused the base previous operational challenges. It can be towed further inland when necessary and can be jacked up above accumulated snow.

South Korea has announced plans to build a second research base to be sited in the centre of Antarctica. Construction will begin in 2008 and will cost about $67 million.

Rather sadly, two Argentines have become the latest Antarctic casualties. Augusto Thibaud, a biologist, and Teofilo Gonzalez of the Argentine Navy were presumed killed when their snow-mobile fell into a crevasse on King George Island. Rescuers abseiled 394 feet into the crevasse but failed to find either the bottom of the crevasse or any trace of the missing men.

A few words from the Secretary, Ann Bean

We are very grateful to Noble Caledonia for supporting this issue of Polar Bytes and we are delighted to welcome them as Executive Friends. Noble Caledonia operate delightful adventures all over the world, including specialist cruises to the Polar regions. Further details may be found at Their support of the Friends is greatly appreciated.

The Friends Annual General Meeting and Autumn Buffet Supper will take place on Saturday 12th November 2005, following a lecture by Rob Stephenson. The Buffet food will be provided by Jane Best, once again, so we can be assured of a splendid meal. Application forms for buffet tickets are enclosed with this issue of Polar Bytes. Please return these to me as soon as you can.

Several of you have asked how you can sponsor a dog sledger for the Friends' Great Sponsored Arctic Dog Sledge in Norway in March 2006. Each team member is trying to raise a minimum of £3000. Details as to how you can do this will shortly be posted on the Friends' website at along with up-to-date information on all Friends' events. Or you can contact me directly on 01895-271-141

It is possible that there will be a couple of seats available from London to Alta in Norway, as part of the group airfare arrangements for the dog sledgers. If you are interested in spending a week in Arctic Norway from 12-18 March 2006 please let me know. The airfare is currently expected to be £379 rtn (including taxes - but still subject to fuel surcharges etc.) and you will need to make your own arrangements in Alta for the week, although I understand that there are plenty of places to stay and things to do. First come first served.

Passing Friends: No members are reported to have passed recently. However, we are sorry to note the death by old age of Ambrogio Fogar, who survived for 73 days in an open boat amid the frozen waters of the South Atlantic after his yacht was sunk by a killer whale off the Falklands in 1978.

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

Some dates for the diary

At the Institute

  1. 30 September 2005 - 31 March 2006 The Antarctic Photographs of Herbert Ponting
  2. Saturday 12 November 2005. The Friends AGM and Autumn Buffet Supper
  3. Lent Term Public Lecture Dates: 11 and 25 February, 11 and 25 March, and 29 April 2006
  4. Saturday 29 April 2006 Friends' Diamond Jubilee Party and special guest lecture
  5. Saturday 3 June 2006 Friends' Summer Lunch and Polar Book Den

In Plymouth:

Plymouth City Museum until 31 December 2005: As part of the Sea Britain Exhibition 'Antarctic Connections' celebrates the heroic age of Antarctic exploration and includes artefacts from Discovery, Aurora and Terra Nova

In Woodstock

2pm, Friday 14 October as part of the Woodstock Literary Festival, Stephen Haddelsey will be 'in conversation' talking about Frank Bickerton and his role in Mawson's AAE. For further information call 01993 813632

In Ireland

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, at the Riding School, Collins Barracks, Dublin 7. The exhibit runs until mid-October 2005. Associated events include lectures by Joe O'Farrell and Michael Smith. Further details at

5th Ermest Shackleton Autumn School, 28-31 October 2005 at the Athy Heritage Centre, Athy, Co. Kildare. Details at

In New York, USA

From December 6 2005 to February 5, 2006 the exhibition, Books on Ice: British and American Literature of Polar Exploration, will be on view at the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th St., New York City. The Grolier Club is the premiere bibliophilic club of North America. Highlights will include books which have survived the polar regions, including a Franklin relic, a volume from the library of HMS Resolute, Cherry-Garrard's Tennyson, and books from Adolphus Greely's Fort Conger Library. Speakers giving talks associated with the exhibition will include Sian Flynn of the NMM; SPRI's Dr. Michael Bravo; and David H. Stam, the exhibition curator and Friend of the Institute. Further details at