skip to primary navigation skip to content

Polar Bytes - No. 40, July 2006

Polar Bytes - No. 40, July 2006

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson

As the sun passes the solstice, once again, we reach the mid-point of our Diamond Jubilee year and so it seems appropriate to pause for reflection over a glass of home-made lemonade!

We kicked off with a successful Lent Term Lecture series and then the sponsored dog sledge in March - which raised around £16,000 - a remarkable achievement by our 13 volunteers. (The February 2007 dog sledging group is rapidly taking shape - so if you are thinking about signing up, or know someone who might - go for it!)

Presentation of the cheque

On our actual birthday in April, the Institute hosted a small dinner party for our founder members and recent Committee members, at Jesus College. This was followed on the Saturday by a hugely enjoyable Diamond Jubilee Birthday Tea [including a speech], attended by over 100 members. In honour of our Jubilee, the Friends presented an oil painting of Polar Bears by the artist, Keith Shackleton, to the Institute, with an appropriate plaque. Also during the tea, Dionne and Jacqueline Mills received the £52,299.56 cheque to endow the William Mills Library Acquisitions Fund which they then handed to the Institute on behalf of us all. This appeal has been a remarkable achievement, emerging out of tragic circumstances - and Dionne thanked all of the Friends who have so generously contributed to the Library and to her husband's memory through this appeal over the past 18 months. Many members then went on to a remarkable lecture by Kari Herbert which also raised much needed funds for the Friends.

Judging from your letters of appreciation, the Summer Luncheon and Polar Book Den in June were also much enjoyed. Sally Poncet and Kim Crosby launched their new Visitors Guide to South Georgia; we watched the BBC film of the 2006 dog sledging; and Captain Nick Lambert gave us a splendid talk on the polar work of HMS Endurance. Aidan Dooley rounded off the day with another powerful performance of his play 'Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer'.

Which leads us towards the remainder of the year. The visit to HMS Endurance in July is already over-subscribed! Then in September, we will hold another fund-raising evening when the Hon. Edward Broke Evans presents his father's lantern slide lecture 'South with Scott'. This is a rare opportunity to hear a classic polar lecture, which I hope you won't miss. The Michaelmas Term lecture series is almost organised (details with the next PB) and the final fund-raising event of our Diamond Jubilee year will be a lecture by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, prior to the AGM and autumn buffet. We are aiming to fill all 400 seats in the Chemistry Lecture Theatre for this event - so please help us to sell as many tickets as you can. After the AGM Sir Ranulph and Lady Fiennes will draw our Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw - and I hope that you are also all busy selling tickets for this. I hope that the final part of our Jubilee Year will be as successful and memorable as the first.

They say that success breeds more work - and Ann and I have simply been swamped as Secretary and Chairman. In order to ensure continued efficient functioning, therefore, the Secretary's role is to be split into 3 - with Emma Dunn taking on the new role of Social and Events Secretary; Elizabeth de Gaetano taking on the new role of Minuting Secretary; whilst Ann will remain as the Membership Secretary. Celene Pickard is going to take on the role of Editor of Polar Bytes from the next issue. I hope that these new arrangements will allow the Friends to continue to flourish.

It has long been a personal 'muttering' of mine, that there are many fund-raising expeditions to the Polar regions these days and yet almost none of them do anything to raise funds for polar charities. I am pleased to say that 3 medical students from St. George's Hospital are preparing to be one of the exceptions. They are intending to travel to the South Pole and beyond in the next austral summer and to raise money for the Edward Wilson Memorial Fund (I) at the Institute, along with other charities. If you wish to support their efforts visit

So all in all, the Friends are on course for supporting the on-going polar research and heritage work of the Institute with around £20,000 this year, in addition to the Mills Fund donation. Let's keep up the good work ... enjoy your lemonade!

Institute News

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

Presentation of the painting

The academic teaching and examining year has just ended in Cambridge, and a number of members of staff will be undertaking Arctic field work over the coming three months. A team of five from SPRI, including myself, together with post-doctoral researchers Jeff Evans and Riko Noormets and doctoral students Kelly Hogan and Ruth Mugford, will be going north. The scientific programme will take place during a month-long geophysical cruise of the RRS James Clark Ross to the waters north and west of Svalbard. Multibeam echo sounding and shallow acoustic profiling will be used to assess the extent and dynamics of the large ice sheet that covered the continental shelf in this region at the Last Glacial Maximum (about 20,000 years ago). In addition, sediment cores will be taken to pin down the detailed chronology of ice retreat as conditions warmed from about 16,000 years ago. The SPRI team will board the James Clark Ross in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, and the ship then head as far north and east in Norwegian waters as sea-ice conditions permit. After the cruise, the team will remain on the ship during passage back to Immingham Dock in the east of England, processing the geophysical data and writing reports on the work. All of us are looking forward to an interesting and productive summer in the Arctic seas.

A few words from the Archives Assistant, Naomi Boneham

Naomi Boneham

As you know the SPRI archives house a wonderful collection of manuscripts and unpublished material for the Arctic and Antarctic. It was as Assistant Archivist between 2002-2004 that I first became acquainted with the collections when I worked on the Archives Hub project to make the archives catalogue available on line. Since the completion of that project I have been working at county record offices on a variety of cataloguing and outreach projects before returning in May to take over the running of the SPRI archive. At this point I would like to extend a very big thank you to everyone at the Institute for the warm welcome I received on my return.

Over the last month I have been reacquainting myself with the archive collections and getting to grips with accessioning material that has arrived between Bob's retirement and my taking up the post. I am reminded daily of the depth of the collections, recent accessions have included a set of signalling instructions used during the Franklin searches and material relating to Scott's last expedition, while archive visitors have been researching Antarctic expeditions and missionary work in the Canadian Arctic.

I would like to thank the Friends for their generous gift of £5,000 towards conservation materials. I am busy making arrangements to spend this money to ensure the continued preservation of the collections. Over the years the Friends have been a great support to the archives and I look forward to meeting you all soon.

Appeal Update

The Library and Archives Appeal currently stands at a figure of £234,469.55 (including the Mills Fund) towards the total endowment requirement of £5 million. Many thanks to all who have contributed. The Friends have greatly assisted with the appeal and your continuing generosity and fund-raising ideas are deeply appreciated. Please contact our Fund-raising Co-ordinator, Rossie Ogilvie with further thoughts (

Polar News

News from the Arctic

The leader of the British Conservative party, David Cameron, visited Svalbard during a dog-sledging publicity stunt to highlight climate change. He was not the only politician heading North this spring, however. Prince Albert of Monaco went further and visited the North Pole on a four-day dog sledging expedition to highlight climate change. He is the first head of state in office to reach the Pole by sledge. Prince Albert, 48, followed his great-great-grandfather, Prince Albert I, who made 4 Arctic trips a century ago.

Climate change is nothing new. Recent research has shown that 55 million years ago, the Arctic was tropical in climate. However, the speed of the change and the fact that human activities are generally now accepted to be largely responsible, is causing general alarm.

The politicians' visits coincided with reports that, after one of the warmest winters on record, Arctic Sea Ice cover reached an all time low, contracting by an area of some 300,000 square kilometres. Summer and Winter ice levels are now at their lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979. The increasing failure of the sea ice to form is fuelling fears that irreversible climate change in the region is well underway, with a corresponding catastrophe for its indigenous peoples and wildlife.

Partly as a response to this, the International Conservation Union has listed the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) on the 2006 Red Data list for the first time, listing the species as Vulnerable. This was based on assessing habitat loss, declining habitat quality, pollution, disturbance from shipping, recreational viewing, oil and gas exploitation, and legal and illegal hunting. A population reduction of over 30% is expected in the next few years. Reports from Svalbard this season, as elsewhere in the Arctic, suggest that there was little winter sea-ice and that Polar Bears are increasingly being forced to become a terrestrial species, for which they are ill adapted. It is not just Polar Bears that are affected.

Recent media reports suggested that dog sledging may become a thing of the past. Many of Svalbard's fjords are no longer freezing in winter and so the traditional husky sledges used for transport are proving redundant. The problem is serious enough that the Norwegian Polar Institute is considering moving its base from Ny-Alesund. The Institute's Director has suggested that "We might have to move to somewhere colder to continue our experiments."

As the ice retreats, the oil industry is moving in. Recent scientific reports suggest that the Arctic regions may hold substantially larger oil reserves than previously estimated - and the estimate was already huge. Oil extraction comes at a price, however. BP is facing possible court action and fines after spilling 267,000 gallons (1m litres) at the Prudhoe Bay field, the largest ever oil spill in Alaska's North Slope region. Environmental assessors are still trying to gauge the 'catastrophic' damage caused by the leak.

News from the Antarctic


Up to 100,000 Albatrosses per year are being killed by fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean, which has resulted in a continuing population crash. Recent research shows that Albatross numbers around South Georgia have declined by a third over the last 30 years. 19 of the 21 species are now considered liable to extinction and are listed on the Red Data List.

Meanwhile, the planet is about to welcome a new species of penguin. The sub-species of the Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome moseleyi) found on Tristan de Cunha, St. Paul and Amsterdam Islands, has now been declared a separate species.

A recent scientific paper has suggested that Antarctic Krill (Euphausia superba) may play a significant role in carbon sequestration in the ocean, thereby helping to combat climate change. The fact that they eat frequently at the surface and then return to the depths to excrete the products of their digestion has been calculated to sequester a total of 0.02 metric gigatons of carbon per year - equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of 35 million cars. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of climate change in the Antarctic is the reduction of sea ice upon which the Krill are dependent for a part of their life cycle. Recent studies suggest that the Krill population is being adversely affected in the Peninsula region.

Scientists recently reported that Antarctica's ice sheet decreased by about 152 cubic kms per year from April 2002 to August 2005. The estimated loss was enough to raise global sea level about 1.2 mms during the study period or about 13 percent of the overall sea level rise observed. Climate change is also hypothesised to account for the changing breeding patterns of Antarctic seabirds which have been shown to be breeding on average 9 days later than 50 years ago, due to changes in ice and weather. These changes are also leading to the successful invasion of alien species into the Antarctic eco-system. Species brought in by visitors are now increasingly likely to survive, with two species, the North Atlantic spider crab (Hyas araneus) and a grass, (Poa annua) already established. The recent Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Edinburgh reached a series of agreements to help tackle the problem.

Scientists recently announced that many of Antarctica's 145 known under-ice lakes appear to be connected by a network of rivers moving under the ice. The discovery has further called into question projects to drill into Lake Vostok and Lake Ellsworth, as accidental contamination may have wider implications than previously thought. It has long been believed that the under-ice lakes were isolated and likely to provide unique biological insights.

Scientists have also recently discovered a 300 mile wide crater under the ice, which is thought to have resulted from a large meteor strike. Speculation has arisen that this meteor strike-site may account for the Permian/Triassic mass extinction ('the great dying') when the majority of earth's species died out or even precipitated the break up of the super-continent Gondwana.

Finally, a Marine Technician, Joshua Spillane, is the latest Antarctic casualty, having been reported missing at sea from the American research vessel Laurence M. Gould. The ship was in routine transit from Palmer Station.

A few words from the Secretaries

We are very grateful to Explore Worldwide for supporting this issue of Polar Bytes. Explore Worldwide 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 Hoopoes Ltd, in particular for sponsoring champagne for the Jubilee Tea. Hoopoes Ltd. have now been recognised as an Executive Friend. If you know of a company or Trust that would be interested in supporting our work, please contact us.

A booking form is enclosed with this issue for the special fundraising lecture, South With Scott on Saturday 30th September. This will be a unique occasion, so please support it by booking your tickets with our new Social and Events Secretary, Emma Dunn, as soon as you can.

An advance booking form is also enclosed for the fund-raising lecture with Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Living Dangerously, My Life as an Explorer on Saturday 11th November. This is to give members advance notice of this event, to ensure priority booking. A booking form will also be enclosed in the next PB, along with forms for the AGM & Autumn Buffet.

Further books of tickets for The Friends' Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw are available by request from Ann Bean (01895-271-141) or from the Institute. We still have plenty to sell; and every effort is appreciated! The prizes are very exciting and may be viewed on the Friends' website. We are also 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) Currently in the lead on the sales table is Robin Back who has sold 14 books of tickets.

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

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. Ray Adie OBE, the noted South African geologist and FIDS dog sledger, who was Deputy Director and Chief geologist at BAS for many years. He was also Chairman of the Friends from 1986-1995 and one of our 3 Diamond Jubilee founder members, having been a Friend since 1946. Cdr. Angus Erskine RN: a noted FIDS dog driver and member of the British North Greenland Expedition. He had been a Friend since 1953; and Mrs J. Sweatman who had been a Friend since 1982.

Friends Committee: As per the constitution, two members will, by rotation, retire from the Committee in December. We are, therefore, seeking nominations. Should you wish to nominate someone please, as per Article 5(v) of our Constitution, send a letter of nomination together with the names and addresses of two seconders and a letter of agreement to serve from the nominee. Please forward nominations to Ann Bean by 30th September - these may be sent by e-mail to with paperwork following thereafter.

There are many members for whom we do not have e-mail contact, which makes it difficult to contact you at short notice. If you would like to receive last minute information on events etc. please email us at and we will add you to the membership e-list. Event details may also be found at:

Some dates for the diary:

At the Institute:

  • Until 28 October 2006: Arctic Encounters: an exhibition of Arctic material culture from Canada,
  • Greenland and Alaska
  • Saturday 22 July 2006: Friends' visit to HMS Endurance in Portsmouth
  • Saturday 30 September: 8 pm The Hon. Edward Broke Evans: South with Scott
  • Michaelmas Term Lectures: [30 Sept.]; 14 Oct.; 28 Oct.; [11 Nov.]; and 25 Nov. 2006
  • Saturday 11 November 2006: 5 pm Sir Ranulph Fiennes: Living Dangerously, My Life as an Explorer
    6.15 pm Friends' AGM, Autumn Buffet and Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw

In Cambridge

  • Saturday 1 July - 23 September 2006, Due South, Art from the Antarctic by John Kelly will be showing at the University Museum of Zoology, Downing Street. There will also be a series of Antarctic events over the Summer. Friends have received a separate mailing with details; or visit

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 the South-West:

  • Until December 2006, the Endurance and Survival exhibition, at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth
  • Thursday 5 October: Autumn meeting of Devon and Cornwall Polar Buffs Group 7pm to 9pm at the New Country
  • Inn, near Ivybridge Devon. Naturalist Tony Soper will talk on his voyages to the polar regions 01752 896555