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Polar Bytes - No. 38, January 2006

Polar Bytes - No. 38, January 2006

Friends at 60 logo

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson

As I raise a glass of Sloe Gin to welcome in 2006 - the Friends Diamond Jubilee Year - I can't help reflecting that it is an extraordinary privilege to be your Chairman. The Friends have been going from strength to strength. Your support is quite inspirational - and I am not simply referring to those who are supporting me for the forthcoming sponsored dog sledge! At the AGM in November, I was able to report that the Friends had donated £21,285 to the Institute during the University year 2004-2005 (£15,000 for the Ponting negatives; £4000 for the provision of Library books; £2,160 for the purchase of the Mott Collection & £125 towards the travel costs of a visiting Russian scholar). Despite the fact that our fundraising efforts were focused on the Mills Appeal this was achieved with a deficit of only £8,000, which leaves us with a Deposit Account balance of £43,495.00. In addition, I am very pleased to report to you all that a flurry of cheques followed the last Polar Bytes which means that we have raised our £50,000 target to endow the William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund, in honour of our late Librarian. As the appeal closed on 31st December the balance stood at £51,593.61 which is the most extraordinary achievement. Thank you to all those who have contributed so generously over the last 18 months.

Port Lockroy II, by Lucy DeLeiris

The gifts of 2005 were not always in a monetary form, however. The American artist, Lucia DeLeiris recently donated a painting of Port Lockroy; members Dan and Jonolyn Weinstein donated a sweater worn by Murray Levick during Scott's Terra Nova expedition; the British artist, John Gale donated a print to the AGM raffle; whilst Adrienne Reynolds donated some special books to our Polar Book Den as well as original programmes from Herbert Ponting's film shows. Thank you to all those who have made such gifts through or to the Friends.

2005 also saw the successful introduction of our new membership structure. Thank you to those that have upgraded membership category. The Committee has now also put into place a structure for recognising those who give us long term support or volunteer their time. As announced at the AGM, ordinary members of 25 years standing will now automatically become Life Members in recognition of their long term support for us. The Committee was astonished to discover that we have founder members still with us to celebrate our Diamond Jubilee Year: Ray Adie; Michael Gilkes & June Back have all been members since 1946! The Committee also decided to award a special print to volunteers. Understandably, the Committee was reluctant to award itself such a privilege; however, a unanimous vote at the AGM means that retiring Committee members, who volunteer so much of their time to the Friends, will also receive the print. Judy Skelton and Kim Crosby are the retiring Committee members this year - with many thanks to them for their hard work. They are being replaced by Celene Pickard and Robin Back (details of all committee members are on our website). At the AGM I was able to present volunteer prints to Sally Stonehouse; Ann Todd; Ann Bean; Neil Turner and Judy Skelton in recognition of their service. Rob Stephenson stood in for Dr. John Levinson, whose generous donation of the Shackleton flag from the Nimrod Expedition was recognised with the award of 90 Degree Club Membership; and it was also my privilege to award the rarely given Honorary Life Membership of the Friends (with an appropriate print and 90 Degree Club pin) to Bob Headland, the retired Archivist and Curator, for his outstanding service to the Friends. The Committee and Institute are now giving consideration as to how best to recognise those members who leave legacies in support of our work. This seems to me to be the final piece of our re-structuring, leaving the Friends fitter for the world in which we have to operate. Thank you for your patience during this process - to all of our volunteers and to all of you that support us with your membership.

For 60 years, now, the Friends have supported polar science and heritage through the work of the Institute - and so as a 'thank you' the Committee has decided that our Diamond Jubilee Birthday Party in April should be free to all members and Institute staff. This is a celebration and we hope that you will be able to attend. During the tea party, we will formally hand over the cheque for the Mills Fund to the Institute. A fund-raising 'Evening with Kari Herbert' will follow. There will be ample opportunities for you to continue your support of the Friends during our special Jubilee year and I hope that you will do so. Support and enthusiasm for the study of the polar regions has never been more critical. Perhaps you would like to sponsor one of our 12 intrepid dog sledgers, sledging for SPRI in March? Or to sign up for our sponsored dog sledging team for 2007? Or to attend our fund-raising talks and performances? Perhaps you will support the Summer Lunch this year, or the AGM? Or all of the above? In particular, I hope that you will support our Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw by selling tickets to your friends! Details of events are enclosed or posted on the website:

I look forward to celebrating a wonderful Diamond Jubilee year with you all.

Institute News

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

A part of our strategy in projecting the Institute outward is the mounting of a rolling series of exhibitions in the Museum. During the summer, there was an exhibition on the life and work of Frank Debenham, founder and first Director of the Institute, and also Professor of Geography in Cambridge. Later in the year, an exhibition of Herbert Ponting's photographs of Scott's last expedition was opened and will continue until March 2006. The photographs were all produced from the original glass-plate negatives that the Institute acquired recently with the help of the Friends and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The large format of the plates, at 5 by 7 inches, makes the quality of the photographs exceptional. Included in the exhibition is a photograph of Edward Wilson painting, together with the original painting that he was working on at the time. This demonstrates the breadth and depth of the Institute's collections, and the importance of having complementary material housed together in putting together compelling exhibitions.

Julian Dowdeswell, opening the Institute's Ponting Exhibition

On the research front, Dr Piers Vitebsky has returned recently from field work in Siberia. His book, Reindeer People, is a very accessible account of many years of research with the reindeer herders of the eastern Siberian mountains. Scientific papers continue to be produced regularly by SPRI staff in major international journals, and a grant for over £100,000 has just been awarded to the Institute to investigate the glaciers of West Greenland and the reconstruction of their past fluctuations in the offshore geological record. This work, in collaboration with colleagues at Durham University, will use the British ice-strengthened research vessel James Clark Ross to deploy geophysical equipment and undertake geological sampling in waters from a few hundred to several thousand metres deep in Disko Bay and Baffin Bay. SPRI scientists will also be using the James Clark Ross next summer to investigate the continental shelf and adjacent deep sea north of Svalbard in order to better understand history of ice-sheet behaviour in this relatively inaccessible part of the Arctic.

A Few Words from the Librarian, Heather Lane

It is hard to believe that a whole year has already passed since I joined the Institute as Librarian. The year has been an immensely busy one: first finding my way around the amazing collections, which reveal new depths almost daily, then carrying out a thorough review of all our services to work out the best way forward, and now taking up the challenge of being Acting Keeper of Collections. I'm glad to report that the Library is, on the whole, in very good shape. We were

Heather Lane, getting to know the Library collections

most grateful to receive the news that the Friends have achieved their target for the William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund, which will be of enormous benefit to future readers. In the past few months, a great deal of work has also gone into a thorough check of the Special Collections, for which Mark Gilbert and Larry Rockhill deserve particular thanks.

The highlight of the year for me was being granted the English Speaking Union/CILIP Travelling Librarian Award, which enabled me to spend three weeks this autumn visiting polar libraries in the United States. I spent two weeks in Alaska, meeting colleagues in Anchorage, Barrow, Fairbanks and Juneau, then headed to Boulder to visit NSIDC and INSTAAR. Although I only spent twenty-four hours in Barrow, it certainly rates as one of the most memorable parts of the trip and provides me - just - with some Arctic credentials, even though I didn't actually see any snow!

Appeal Update

The Library and Archives Appeal currently stands at a figure of £146,153.00 (exclusive of the Mills Fund) towards the total endowment requirement of £5 million. The Friends' William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund appeal in honour of the late librarian, and which will contribute to the main appeal is now achieved, although the Fund will always be open to further donations. The total raised to date stands at £51,593.61 surpassing our target of £50,000. The Fund will be formally handed over to the Institute at the Friends' Birthday Tea on Saturday 29th April. Many thanks to all who have contributed.

Polar News

The launch of Europe's Cryosat spacecraft to study the Earth's Polar ice caps went disastrously wrong, with the satellite getting too close to the object of its study and crashing through the Arctic ice shortly after take off.

News from the Arctic

Greenland White-fronted Geese, on their dangerous migration through Iceland (c) C.J. Wilson

News is emerging that the population of the Greenland race of the White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons flavirostris), which was first described in 1948 by C.T.Dalgety and Peter Scott, is in catastrophic decline. The population has dropped by a third in the last six years. Likely causes seem to relate to climate change on their Arctic breeding grounds, and an unexplained change in breeding pattern (from regular breeding at around 3 years to irregular breeding from 5 years), with further pressure from hunting.

Over 12% of the world population, some 3000 birds, is shot annually during migration through Iceland. Unsustainable hunting is starting to become a major polar issue, once again, with both Iceland and Norway increasing their whaling activities. Whether whale products are fit for human consumption is questionable, however, with Arctic Killer Whales recently being found to have the highest concentrations of man-made chemical toxins of any animal.

Concern is also increasing over Polar Bears. Not only are they affected by high toxin levels and hunting but evidence is emerging that climate change is severely affecting the population. There are reports that the bears are drowning in large numbers as a result of having to swim greater distances due to the extraordinary retreat of polar ice.

NASA scientists who have been monitoring Western Hudson Bay since 1950 have stated that on average temperatures have risen by 0.3 to 0.4 degrees every decade, with sea-ice retreating at a rate of about 9% every ten years. The retreat of the ice is not just affecting the wildlife, with the Inuit nations suing the United States Government. In a petition to the Organisation of American States, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference claimed that the US failure to tackle climate change was directly destroying their culture and amounted to an abuse of their human rights: "Our hunting culture is based on the cold. We want it to remain cold," a spokesman stated. Climate change is good news for other Arctic dwellers, however.

With the end of the Cold War in the Arctic and now with the literal retreat of the cold, companies are lining up to exploit the region, which may contain up to a quarter of the world's petroleum based resources. Such potential riches are increasingly leading to territorial disputes between the Arctic nations as Norway and Russia argue over the Barents Sea, Canada and Denmark argue over a small island off Greenland, the USA and Canada are arguing over the North West Passage, Russia refuses to ratify an agreement with the US over the Bering Sea and Denmark is seeking to pull a fast one on everyone by claiming rights to the North Pole itself.

Meanwhile, the Earth's North Magnetic Pole is drifting away from North America so fast that it could end up in Siberia within a decade, scientists have said.

News from the Antarctic

The Southern Giant Petrel has become the first bird species to be listed as Critically Endangered within the Antarctic region. Globally the species has declined by 20% and is listed as Vulnerable under IUCN guidelines but the population within the Antarctic has collapsed by 90% over 3 generations making it Critically Endangered within the region. Climate change and human activities affecting breeding sites are thought to be having an impact. However, the longline fishing industry is thought to be the main cause of this catastrophic population collapse.

Those who eat Chilean Sea Bass, Tuna or other fish from unsustainable fisheries are continuing to contribute to the deaths of large numbers of Southern Ocean seabirds in return for their fish dish.

It is climate change that continues to dominate the Antarctic news, however, with scientists increasingly reporting that Antarctic ice is melting, adding to an inexorable rise in global sea levels. There is currently a net loss of ice mass in Antarctica as the gains in ice levels in the Greater Antarctic landmass are more than offset by loss on the coasts. This is in part attributable to a little understood rise in sea temperature - the ocean has warmed by 1 degree off the Peninsula in the last 40 years.

In another twist, a European study of Ice cores taken from 3km below the Antarctic Ice sheet has recently shown that current levels of the key climate change gases, carbon dioxide and methane, in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years.

Other human activities are also causing concern. Japan has doubled its declared 'scientific' catch of Minke Whales and expanded the number of target species to include Fin Whales. As a result, there have been dramatic confrontations between Japanese whalers and environmental activists off the Antarctic coast, with Greenpeace boats repeatedly interrupting the whaling activities of the Japanese vessels. There have also been incidents in Australian ports, which have been used by the Japanese vessels.

Meanwhile, the Australian Antarctic Programme has achieved a first, with the Queen's relay baton tour for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games including a visit to Casey Station. The baton sailed for Antarctica aboard the vessel, Aurora Australis.

India has joined the growing list of countries building new stations in Antarctica, with the announcement that they intend to build a third station there.

Meanwhile, 3 Chilean officers were killed after their snowmobile fell into a crevasse. This occurred shortly after the death of Argentine officers in similar circumstances.

On a lighter note, a study, which considers the considerable distance achieved during penguin defecation, called "Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh - Calculations on Avian Defecation" has recently been awarded a much coveted Ig-Nobel award. The spoof awards are given for scientific achievements which "cannot, or should not, be reproduced".

A few words from the Secretary, Ann Bean

We are very grateful to Discovery Initiatives for supporting the Friends; to Workplace Law for providing major support to one of our dog sledgers; to Norwegian Coastal Voyages for providing the cruise for the Prize Draw; and to Windows on the Wild for supporting this issue of Polar Bytes. All these companies have been recognised as 'Executive Friends' for their generous support of the work of the Friends. If you know of further companies that would like to support our work in support of polar science and heritage, then please get in touch.

Interest in The Great Sponsored Arctic Dog Sledge in Norway in March 2006 was considerable and so we are announcing new dates to repeat the event in 2007. The Second Great Sponsored Arctic Dog Sledge will take place in Arctic Norway from 18th - 24th February 2007. Please contact me at once for details if you wish to take part, or with recruitment ideas. To sponsor a dog sledger for this years event, please refer to the Friends website, contact me, or make a donation via the Institute on your credit card (01223-336-540)

A booking form is enclosed for The Friends Diamond Jubilee Birthday Tea on 29 April. Whilst this event is free to members, please return the forms as soon as possible, so that we will have an indication of numbers for catering. The form also allows you to book tickets for An Evening with Kari Herbert, which follows the tea.

A list of interested members is already building up in anticipation of a repeat Friends' visit to HMS Endurance in the summer. We will announce a date as soon as possible. As per last year, numbers will be limited. A letter from our friend the Captain, Nick Lambert, is enclosed, so that we can follow their current deployment.

Aidan Dooley as Tom Crean; photograph © Futoshi Sakauchi

By popular demand Aidan Dooley will be returning to perform his play Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer on the evening of the Summer Lunch (June 3rd). A booking form will go out in the next issue of Polar Bytes - however, demand for tickets is very high as they are also going to be sold by the University of the 3rd Age. If you wish to ensure tickets to attend this performance please telephone me at once (01895-271-141)

A book of tickets for The Friends Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw is enclosed. A prize will be offered to the person who sells the most tickets. Currently Duncan Lawie and Nigel Back are neck and neck having sold 6 books (60 tickets) each. The draw will be made at the AGM in November.

New friends

A very warm welcome is extended to all of our new Friends. The current membership stands at 528 members. No members are reported to have died recently.

Some dates for the diary:

At the Institute:

Until 31 March 2006

The exhibition of the Antarctic Photographs of Herbert Ponting

Saturday 29 April 2006

  • 5 pm: Friends' Diamond Jubilee Birthday Tea & Mills Fund presentation
  • 7 pm: An Evening with Kari Herbert

End April - August 2006

SPRI Arctic Collections Exhibition to mark the launch of the Arctic Material Culture Catalogue on the web.

Saturday 3 June 2006

12 noon: Friend's Summer Lunch and Polar Book Den

7 pm: Aidan Dooley presents the play Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer

Saturday 11 November 2006

5 pm: Sir Ranulph Fiennes: Living Dangerously, My Life as an Explorer

6 pm: Friends AGM, Autumn Buffet and Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw

3 - 30 March

Material from the Institute's collections will be on show at the Jock Colville Hall, Churchill College, Cambridge, from 3 - 30 March in an exhibition on The Uses of Drawing.

February 11 - end 2006

Material from the Institute will also be on show in Falmouth from February 11 - end 2006 in the Endurance and Survival Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Cornwall.

In Bath

  1. Friday 10th March 2006 Ice and Environmental Change, A talk by Professor Julian Dowdeswell, 7.30 pm.
  2. Friday 7th April 2006 Sir Edward Parry, Bath's Arctic Explorer, A talk by Bob Headland, 7.30 pm.

Both events are to take place at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution,. 16-18 Queen Square, Bath, BA1 2HN during the Bath Literary Festival 2006. 01225 312084

In Ivybridge, Devon

Thursday 23 March 2006 7 pm at the New Country Inn near Ivybridge, the South West Polar Buffs will meet to hear the Hon. Broke Evans give a talk on Scott's Last Expedition.