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Polar Bytes - No. 39, April 2006

Polar Bytes - No. 39, April 2006

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson

The latter days of the Lent Term have found the Chairman feeling something akin to the proverbial Arctic Tern. Having spent several weeks cruising the Antarctic I flew north to the Arctic, the main differences being that it took me several days, rather than weeks; and I didn't go to the Arctic to breed but rather to take part in the Friends' Great Sponsored Arctic Dog Sledge! We had a full group of 13 volunteers, aged 20-59, including a BBC cameraman, and the resulting film will be shown shortly on BBC Look East. It will also be aired at the Summer Lunch for those of you that miss it. It was an extraordinary experience. Many of our volunteers were polar novices; the wilderness of the Finnmark awed and challenged us; and in the process we have raised a healthy sum for the work of the Friends; so the event was a success on several levels. Many thanks to those of you that have sponsored participants - the money is still coming in and so I will have to let you know the total raised at a later date. Enclosed are brief accounts by a few of our volunteers, with more detailed accounts being available on the web. I hope that these will encourage you to sign up for the 2007 Sponsored Dog Sledge. We are signing volunteers now - so sign up, or persuade a friend to join, for what is an unforgettable, if challenging, experience.

Sledging group 2006

Of course, not everyone is up to such a venture and so our fund-raising initiatives for our Diamond Jubilee Year encompass a whole range of activities suitable for every member. In particular I cannot think that there are many members not up to selling tickets for our Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw. A book of tickets was enclosed in the last issue. The Prize Draw has the potential to raise us a large sum, and will be drawn by Sir Ranulph and Lady Fiennes at our AGM in November; so flog the tickets to your nurses, grandchildren, parents, neighbours - whomsoever you chose - but do please sell as many tickets as you can. The prizes are rather splendid. Further books of tickets are available from either Ann Bean (01895-271-141) or directly from the Institute. We are offering a prize for the person who sells the most tickets (a limited edition print of HMS Endurance in the Antarctic (1982) by Keith Shackleton) and it would be rather unseemly if the Chairman wins it. However, so far I am in the lead having sold 11 books of tickets! The challenge is made!

I am hoping to see you all at our Diamond Jubilee Tea on April 29th. This is the main celebration of our 60th birthday and we will hand over the cheque to endow the William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund during this event. If you haven't yet let Ann Bean know that you are coming, please call her at once. Likewise to book tickets for Kari Herbert's fundraising talk afterwards. This promises to be a first class evening; however, to date we have sold just over half the tickets. If you are unable to make this occasion then I will hope to see you at the Summer Luncheon, to which we will welcome the dog sledgers and the Captain and guests from HMS Endurance; this will be followed by the Tom Crean play (booking forms are enclosed).

Our entire range of polar-centred events rely on your participation for their success. I hope that we can count on your support, so that our Diamond Jubilee year, which is off to such a good start, will continue to be a memorable one!

Institute News

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell


The Institute's exhibition of the Antarctic Photographs of Herbert Ponting has just ended. It has been a great success and has received many visitors and positive comments. It is a pleasure to thank the Friends, once again, for their contribution to the purchase of Ponting's glass plate negatives. The exhibition is now heading to Edinburgh, along with numerous art-works from the Institute, to form part of the exhibitions surrounding the XXIX Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting which is taking place in Edinburgh from 12-23 June 2006. Britain is hosting the annual meeting this year, at which the 45 State Parties to the Antarctic Treaty discuss Antarctic governance and environmental issues. (White Horizons: British Art from Antarctica 1775-2006 & the Antarctic Photographs of Herbert Ponting 1910-1913, will be open at the Edinburgh Conference Centre on 17 & 18 June from 10am - 6pm and weekday evenings from 12 -22 June from 7pm - 10pm). Meanwhile, at the Institute, a new exhibition, Arctic Encounters, involving the display of much of our collection of Inuit artefacts, will begin next month. We are very pleased that the rolling series of Museum exhibitions we have staged over the past few years will continue, with further displays planned already up until the end of 2007.

A recent paper of mine that was published in the international journal Science generated a good deal of publicity for the Institute, both at home and abroad. The paper, (ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE: The Greenland Ice Sheet and Global Sea-Level Rise Julian A. Dowdeswell Science 17 February 2006 311: 963-964), together with a related contribution by researchers at the Californian Institute of Technology, discussed the growing contribution of the Greenland Ice Sheet to global sea-level change. Two of the past five years have seen the largest ever area of melting on the ice-sheet surface, and the speed of a number of the outlet glaciers that drain the vast interior of the ice sheet to the sea has also doubled to as much as 13 km/yr. These are the fastest-flowing glaciers anywhere in the World. The implications of the work are that estimates of global sea level rise are being revised upward to over 0.5 m in the next 100 years. The story was picked up in both the UK broadsheets and the New York Times, Washington Post and Time Magazine, and also on the BBC 10 O'clock news. The Institute was also involved in the BBC2 Natural World programme, The Iceberg that Sank the Titanic, screened in early March.

News from the Library, Archive and Picture Library

Members of the Friends will be aware of the staffing issues in the Library and Archive over the past few years, which, of course, the Library and Archives Appeal is intended to settle permanently. In the interim, however, a backlog of cataloguing work has built up. As a result the Friends have recently agreed to support the short term appointment of a polar bibliographer to reduce the backlog. We are very pleased to welcome Jeremy Wong to the team in this capacity. This work is essential to the proper functioning of the Library and we are very grateful to the Friends for supporting it.

The Shackleton Memorial Library at the Scott Polar Research Institute

We are pleased to announce that Naomi Boneham has been appointed to fill the position of Archives Assistant. Naomi will be a familiar figure to the Friends from her previous stint at the Institute working on the Archives Hub. As with the Library, staff shortage has led to a backlog of archive work building up. We are therefore delighted that the Friends have donated £5000 for the purchase of conservation materials to allow Naomi to work on the rehousing of documents in the Archives store as soon as she takes up her position in May.

The Institute's internationally important polar archive collections continue to expand through the generous contributions of donors and we are pleased to announce the recent purchase of some papers relating to Edward Wilson. The copy of his Terra Nova diary, made by his father, is the fullest manuscript version of Wilson's Terra Nova diary currently available. It was acquired through the kind assistance of a manuscript dealer, with donations from the Friends (of £1200), from Hoopoes Ltd and with matching funds from the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund.

The Friends have also been generous to the Picture Library, awarding a grant of £250 for the purchase of a refrigerator. This will enable the storage of historic negatives that might develop 'vinegar syndrome' if stored at warmer temperatures. The Friends have also given £1500 for the boxing of the British Graham Land Expedition (1934-1937) photograph albums and enabled a grant of £1400 from the Courtauld Trust for similar conservation work on the albums of the British Arctic Air Route Expedition (1930-1931). This work was delayed by the unexpected death of our preferred conservator., However, we have now found another conservator and so the work can proceed.

Appeal Update

The Library and Archives Appeal currently stands at a figure of £161,423.19 towards the total endowment requirement of £5 million. Many thanks to all who have contributed.

Polar News

The European Space Agency has decided to build Cryosat 2 - a satellite to study the earth's ice sheets. The original was lost in the Arctic Ocean last year when the launch rocket blew up.

Excitement is also building towards the International Polar Year, which will run from March 2007 to March 2009 and will involve the biggest resource concentration on polar science for 50 years. A concerted attempt to understand the complex physical, environmental and social impacts of climate change in the world's high latitudes will be made.

News from the Arctic

The latest data from Arctic science stations suggest that carbon dioxide levels are accelerating rapidly towards the 500 ppm considered to be the irreversible environmental 'tipping point'. Campaigners have been trying to persuade politicians to reach emissions agreements that will prevent the 'tipping point' being reached in the next half-century, however the new data suggest they may have a far shorter period of time in which to act. Recent data related to accelerating rates of ice melting across the Arctic have also received widespread publicity, (see Julian Dowdeswell's 'A few words...'). The implications for both the Arctic environment and for global sea level rise are clearly concerning.

Whether it is a part of a natural cycle, or a part of human induced climate change, the current warm winters in the Arctic are having a huge environmental impact. Parts of Arctic Canada and Alaska have seen the warmest winter on record. This has put pressure on wildlife, with increasing conflict between humans and hungry polar bears finding it difficult to hunt seals on the thin sea ice; Arctic adventurers attempting to reach various Polar objectives have also been suffering setbacks to their travel plans for similar reasons.

The warm winter even led to the re-routing of the famous Iditarod Trail dog sledge race to a route with enough snow, 30 miles north of the traditional trail.

The warming Arctic is leading to environmental and social chaos. Residents of the tiny Inuit hamlet of Tsiigehtchic in Canada's Northwest Territories are at loggerheads on whether they should vote for or against building a natural gas pipeline through the Mackenzie Valley. Some see it as an opportunity for financial gain and community growth whilst others see it as unambiguously harmful. Meanwhile the pipeline plans are paving the way for extensive industrial development.

A Vancouver-based company has unveiled plans to strip-mine extensive coal reserves along the Mackenzie River and begin building $2 billion worth of coal gasification plants to tie into the pipeline within four years.

Elsewhere, in response to the Senate once again blocking the Arctic Wildlife National Refuge to oil drilling, the Bush administration has announced that oil development is to be allowed in virtually all of the wetlands surrounding Lake Teshekpuk, Alaska. Norway, too, has just given approval for considerably increased oil and gas exploration in its Arctic waters but will limit drilling in more sensitive environmental areas, such as the Lofoten Islands, until 2010.

Norway and Russia are also reportedly close to forming a strategic Arctic partnership. The partnership would allow Norwegian companies to participate in Russian oil projects and reach solutions over disputed fisheries.

Meanwhile, less ice and an increased use of speed boats by native hunters has led to the collapse of many of Greenland's largest seabird colonies. Uncontrolled 'traditional' hunting has resulted in the extermination of several important colonies as hunters ruthlessly plunder sites that were previously inaccessible.

Finally, over recent days, Alaska's largest oil accident to date has been sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil pouring into the Arctic Ocean after a pipeline ruptured. The environmental impact is as yet unreported.

News from the Antarctic

Blue whale

US scientists have recently concluded that Antarctica's ice sheet decreased by about 152 cubic kilometres annually from April 2002 to August 2005. The estimated loss was enough to raise global sea level about 1.2 millimetres during the study period. Whilst much of this loss was from the Peninsula area, previous studies which suggested that Greater Antarctica would not suffer loss have been challenged. Recent data also show the air above Greater Antarctica to be warming, rather than cooling, as previously thought and that this warming is accelerating.

As part of ongoing climate change studies, a team of Japanese researchers drilling near the Fuji Dome has recovered what is believed to be the oldest sample of ice ever recovered, possibly dating back 1 million years, which it is hoped will yield interesting data relating to climate and atmosphere.

Issues relating to tourism and to bio-prospecting have also been making Antarctic headlines, with another record number of tourist ships operating over the recent season and with an enzyme derived from a micro-organism found in a volcanic vent in Antarctica by NZ scientists being launched onto the billion dollar global DNA extraction market.

Meanwhile, research is suggesting that the moratorium on whaling is slowly working, with both tourist ships and IWC scientists reporting a slow increase in whale numbers and most excitingly in the number of Blue Whale sightings. The biggest creature to have lived on Earth was nearly exterminated by commercial whalers to the point where scientists were unsure if it was viable as a species but it is now thought to be making a slow comeback. Japan is determined to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean, however, which is leading to an increasing diplomatic row between Japan and other nations, led by Australia. Japan resumed the killing of Fin Whales this season, as a part of its 'scientific' whaling programme.

Meanwhile, trial flights between Hobart and Antarctica should start later this year. Work has begun on a runway to land long-range aircraft 60 kilometres inland from Casey Station for the transportation of scientists participating in Australia's Antarctic programme.

A few words from the Secretary, Ann Bean

We are very grateful to Orient Lines for supporting this issue of Polar Bytes. Orient Lines have asked that we don't mail their catalogue to you in order that their donation to the Friends is maximised to the use of our polar science and heritage work. Please visit their website for details of their Antarctic cruises instead. They have now been recognised as an 'Executive Friend' for this generous support of the work of the Friends. We are also pleased to acknowledge the continuing support of Discover the World as an Executive Friend. The thanks of the Friends is also extended to Oswald Bailey (the outdoor equipment manufacturers), Blacks Leisure Group, and Executive Friend, Discovery Initiatives, for supporting the recent polar lectures in Bath. These very successful evenings were kindly organised by Friend, Jude Harris.

The Friends Diamond Jubilee Birthday Tea on 29th April is free for members, with guest tickets available for £7.50 Please let me know at once if you are coming so that we will have an indication of numbers for catering. Please also contact me urgently to book tickets for An Evening with Kari Herbert, which follows the tea; tickets are £12.50.

A booking form is enclosed for the Friends' Summer Lunch and Polar Book Den on Saturday 3rd June. We are hoping for a good turn out again this year, so please return these to me as soon as you can. On the same evening as the Summer Lunch (June 3rd) Aidan Dooley will be giving a repeat performance by popular request, of his powerful one man play Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer. Once again, please book for this as soon as possible.

Please contact me if you wish to join the Friends' visit to HMS Endurance in Portsmouth - which is a fabulous day out. This will take place on Saturday 22 July. As per last year, numbers will be limited. Members in the north of the country may like to visit Endurance when she is open to the public at Leith, near Edinburgh over the weekend of June 17 & 18. The Friends of the Antarctic Heritage Trust will be organising a visit to the ship at this time and members of the SPRI Friends are welcome to tag along. Contact Rachel Morgan 01291 690305 for further details.

The Second Great Sponsored Arctic Dog Sledge will take place in Arctic Norway from 18th - 24th February 2007. Please contact me if you wish to take part, or with recruitment ideas.

Friends Discount! Enclosed with the printed edition of this issue of Polar Bytes is a flyer for Mike Tarver's new book about the ship, Terra Nova. Mike has asked me to tell the membership that the book is available to Friends at £30 including postage and packing, rather than £35 as stated on the flyer, so if you are ordering a copy, please send the lesser amount!

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

Passing Friends: We are very sorry to note the deaths of the following: Dr John Heap CMG. John was well known to the Friends. He was an ex-FID and headed the Polar Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 1975 and 1992. As Director of the Institute from 1992-97 he led the appeal to extend the Institute and build the Shackleton Memorial Library. He was also President of the Antarctic Club; Chairman of the Trans-Antarctic Association; Chairman of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust; and an active Friend, having served on the Friends Committee.

Some dates for the diary

At the Institute

Saturday 29 April 2006 5 pm Friends' Diamond Jubilee Birthday Tea & Mills Fund presentation
7 pm An Evening with Kari Herbert
Saturday 22 July 2006 Friends' visit to HMS Endurance in Portsmouth.
3 May - 28 October 2006 Arctic Encounters: an exhibition of Arctic material culture from Canada, Greenland and Alaska
Saturday 3 June 2006 12 noon Friends' 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

In the South-West

Now - until December 2006 The Endurance and Survival Exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth
Saturday 22 May A performance of Aidan Dooley's one man play on Tom Crean at the Flavel Arts Centre, Dartmouth, 8 pm Tickets are £9 tel 01803 839530
Thursday 5 October Autumn meeting of Devon and Cornwall Polar Buffs Group 7pm to 9pm at the New Country Inn, near Ivybridge Devon which will include a talk by wildlife naturalist Tony Soper on his voyages to the polar regions Telephone number for the venue 01752 896555

In Tewkesbury

From July 19 2006, the exhibition, Sir Raymond Priestley, Antarctic Hero, will be showing at Tewkesbury Borough Museum. More details are available via the Museum. Telephone: 01684 292901

In Scotland

During the weekend of 17-18 June 2006 HMS Endurance & RRS James Clark Ross will be open to the public from 10am-5pm at the Ocean Terminal, Leith, near Edinburgh. This is one of many public events in Edinburgh surrounding the Antarctic Treaty Meeting taking place here in June. For details visit