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Polar Bytes - No. 41, October 2006

Polar Bytes - No. 41, October 2006

A few words from the Chairman, David Wilson

Another summer is over; the equinox has passed and the Michaelmas term is already upon us. The fruits of the year's labour will soon be celebrated in harvest festivals - and I hope very much that the final round of Friends' Diamond Jubilee events will also prove a bountiful celebration, as a fitting climax to our birthday year. You should already have received a list of the Michaelmas Term lectures; and as promised, a booking form is enclosed for our major fund-raiser of the autumn, the talk by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, along with a booking form for the Friends AGM Autumn Buffet supper, which follows. I hope that you also noted the final appeal from me to send in Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw ticket stubs in time for the draw, which will be made following the AGM.

David Wilson

And then, that is it. No more nagging from me! Whilst I will no doubt write a short note by way of report for the next issue (including announcing my successor), my four year term as Chairman will end on 31st December and so by the next Polar Bytes, I will have handed on the baton and stepped down. As I do so, I can tell you that I am more optimistic about the future of the Institute now, than I have been for some years. The Institute staff have made great strides in turning things around, with the Institute's research work, Library, Archive and Museum once again starting to receive the recognition that they deserve. The Friends are also going from strength to strength. The renewed membership structure, coupled with more adventurous events have proved to be more successful than I had dared to hope. This has enabled us to significantly increase our support for the 'provision of the materials of research' at the Institute. With the Friends and the Institute revelling in new-found vigour, I feel sure that considerable progress will continue to be made - indeed, I am counting on you to make it happen!

That said, the future of the Institute as we know it is still far from secure. Until we raise the necessary funds to meet the current Library and Archives appeal, the staff positions that are essential for the running of the Institute are not securely funded, and without the staff to run things, the Institute cannot properly function. It is difficult, I know, for Julian, Heather and other senior staff, to concentrate on their own work, when they are constantly having to try to raise funds to keep the current staff in post - never mind developing things towards the future. So the current appeal is not a luxury - these are funds that we simply have to raise. If we fail, it is hard to see how the irreplaceable multidisciplinary approach to polar studies as embodied in the Institute can continue; Science matters; Anthropology matters; History matters - and under one roof they cross-fertilise in the most unexpected ways. The Institute is, in my view, one of our great national treasures. The heritage that it encompasses not only opens the doors to some of the greatest epic tales in our human heritage, tales which can inspire every generation, but its continuation of our heritage of cutting edge polar research leads the way to the future through a better understanding of our present. The Institute is a unique bridge, on many levels. It seems ironic to me that we are often urged to send money overseas to support British polar heritage when we cannot even properly fund that which is in our midst. In this we must not fail.

So if, as Chairman, I have nagged you, implored you, cajoled or otherwise persuaded you to help to support the Institute through the Friends, know that I have done so because I believe that there is little of greater importance. We must understand what is happening at the poles in order to understand climate change and the way to our future. And we surely must enable access to the historic 'derring do' of the heroes in our greatest epic tales, to inspire the next generation towards the challenges which will face them. This is a role that I believe that only the Institute can fulfil in its entirety, if only we enable it to.

The enclosed legacy leaflet may provide one answer. Leaving a legacy is one way in which many of us may be able to help secure the Institute's future. This new legacy campaign, which will be followed in due course by a book of remembrance in the Friends Room, to remember those that do leave us legacies, is the final piece amongst the recent changes made to give better recognition to our supporters, at every level. Please give this your serious consideration. However you choose to continue to support the polar science and heritage work of the Institute, I thank you.

No doubt I will see many of you at this autumn's events, which I am looking forward to enormously. In the meantime, I am grateful to you all for your support for the Friends during my time as Chairman. We have had some enormous fun together, exploring and celebrating the wonders of the polar regions - and I wish you well.

Institute News

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

The northern summer saw a party of five from SPRI heading to the Arctic for a month aboard the UK's ice-strengthened research vessel James Clark Ross. Funded by a substantial grant from the Natural Environment Research Council, and led by the Director, research students Kelly Hogan and Ruth Mugford, together with post-doctoral researchers Jeff Evans and Riko Noormets, flew to join the ship in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, in late July.

The ice cliffs on the eastern side of Nordaustlandet in eastern Svalbard © Julian Dowdeswell

The aims of the scientific work were to reconstruct the dimensions and flow of the ice sheet that covered Svalbard and its surrounding continental shelf at the Last Glacial Maximum, about 20,000 years ago. A variety of geological and geophysical investigations took place both north and east of Svalbard, with the eastern area around Nordaustlandet, Kvitøya and Kong Karls Land being extensively surveyed only because of the almost complete absence of sea ice. The lack of sea ice south of about 81.5ºN has been a feature of the past few summers in this part of the Arctic, and represents a trend that, if continued, will see open water in summer over much of the Arctic Basin in the coming decades.

It is clear from a first view of the data we collected that we will learn much about the full-glacial extent and subsequent retreat of the ice sheet in the area of Svalbard and the northern Barents Sea. In particular, we will be able to reconstruct the flow directions of the ice sheet from the orientations of streamlined sedimentary features on the sea floor, where they have been preserved almost unaltered since the ice retreated from about 14,000 years ago. Ridges orientated transverse to former ice flow directions can also be used to pinpoint places where there were still-stands during ice retreat, and linear gouges in the sea bed show the ploughing action of the keels of icebergs that were up to 600m thick. The scientific results of the work will be written up as papers over the coming months.

Other news from the Institute includes a most generous gift in the will of Angela Matthias, the widow of Apsley Cherry-Garrard. Mrs Matthias left the Institute the copyright to Cherry-Garrard's book The Worst Journey in the World, which is regarded widely as one of the best-written books ever to appear about the polar regions. We are delighted to receive such a gift, especially given that it is about Scott's last expedition.

News from the Library, Archives and Museum

This summer the Institute has been fortunate to host three student volunteers, all of whom have made very valuable contributions to longer term projects in collections care. Torsten Fratzke worked on a placement in the Library, prior to undertaking a professional information studies course, and made great progress in upgrading our serials records within the University's online catalogue. Luisa Retamales, daughter of the Director of the Instituto Antártico Chileno in Punta Arenas, assisted in the Archive and Picture Library with collections documentation and reorganisation. Alistair Auffret, an environmental sciences student from the University of East Anglia who has just returned from a spell of research at Abisko Station, provided help in the Museum, undertaking a full inventory of the stores and boxing and labelling a large part of the clothing and textiles.

Birch bark basket from the Wardropper loan

It has been a busy period for new acquisitions. Naomi Boneham writes: 'The Friends' assistance in the purchase in July of the diary of William Mogg is greatly appreciated. The diary recounts the journey undertaken by Captain Mogg of the schooner Bonanza between October 1905 and April 1906, when he accompanied Roald Amundsen from Herschel Island to Eagle City during the latter's North West Passage expedition. This clear account of the journey ends when Mogg reached San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake which devastated the city. The diary is accompanied by newspaper accounts of the captain's life and Arctic voyage.'

The Archives and Museum have also been privileged to acquire an important collection of items belonging to Commander CJW Simpson, relating to his leadership of the British North Greenland Expedition (BNGE) 1952-1954, generously gifted by his step-daughter, Mrs Catherine Plowden. It is hoped that his medals will shortly be on display in the Museum. The Museum has also received on loan a fascinating collection of Samoyed clothing and artefacts, collected by the Wardropper family in pre-revolutionary Siberia, as well as James Edward Wardropper's family-history and photograph album, including correspondence with Terence Armstrong. Cataloguing and photography is currently in progress.

Appeal Update

The Library and Archives Appeal currently stands at a figure of £258,913.43 (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

Previously Polar Bytes, (Jan 06- Issue 38), highlighted the catastrophic decline in the population of the Greenland White-fronted Goose. Since that article, we are in receipt of excellent news, as the Icelandic Ministry of the Environment has officially announced the protection of the Greenland White-fronted Goose from autumn hunting, as of this autumn.

Drastic ice shrinkage in the Arctic continues to dominate the headlines. A NASA satellite has recorded dramatic changes in sea-ice cover between 2004 and 2005, with September 2005 showing the lowest recorded area of ice cover since 1978 when satellite records were available. The reports suggest that the Arctic is warming about twice as fast as the global average and that over the last few decades the summer ice has been shrinking at a rate of about 0.7% per year. Even the extent of 'perennial' ice, (thick ice which remains all year round), has declined by 14% losing an area the size of Turkey or Pakistan, largely in the East Arctic (north of Russia and Europe). This drastic shrinkage may partly be due to unusual wind patterns found in 2005, but the problem of rising Arctic temperatures may also be a key factor. Other satellite measurements have shown that the meltdown of Greenland's ice sheet is speeding up, especially in eastern Greenland, since 2004. Estimated monthly changes in the mass of the ice-sheet suggest it is melting at a rate of approx. 239 cubic kilometres (57.3 cubic miles) per year. This is 3 times higher than earlier predictions.

The retreat of sea ice in the Arctic, is forcing the wild polar bear population into an unnatural fast, which could threaten the species with extinction. Polar bears rely on floating banks of ice in order to reach their prey, and scientists have found that the spring hunting season for the bears is being cut short, as the annual break-up of ice is occurring earlier in the year.

Investigations into the cause of the spillage of 267,000 gallons (1m litres) at the Prudhoe Bay field, the largest ever oil spill in Alaska's North Slope region, have come up with some interesting findings. It is understood that bacteria that live on oil sludge caused the rapid corrosion of more than 16 miles of steel pipe. These microscopic bacteria made five holes, (each smaller than the diameter of a penny), which caused the leak, and a further 16 potential holes have been identified. In order to replace more than 20 miles of transit pipelines in Prudhoe Bay, it would cost an estimated £53 million pounds.

Scientists have discovered that the Arctic thawed in a prehistoric global warming, 55 million years ago, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. It is alleged that these dramatic increases in concentrations of carbon dioxide or methane must have caused global warming, at a time when the North Pole was an ice-free expanse of open ocean teeming with tropical marine life.

News from the Antarctic

Belgica ©

A recent newspaper report has suggested that a factory trawler equipped with new technology poses a serious threat to Antarctic life. This reported development will exploit one of the world's last great-untapped food sources, Antarctic krill, and as a result affect the ecosystem and breeding areas for seals and penguins. Krill have a unique tendency to self-destruct when dying in a conventional net. They do this by releasing enzymes that make them rot quickly. This fact alone has prevented the establishment of a large krill fishery. However, the converted factory trawler, the 'Saga Sea', (operated by Aker of Norway), has now overcome the problem (patent pending), by pumping the krill out of the net and directly on board the ship still alive. The concern is that the 'Saga Sea' will be joined by many others operating in small areas which could well overlap with the main feeding grounds of krill-dependent predators.

Adrien de Gerlache's famous ship the 'Belgica' has been located off the Norwegian coast near Harstad. Reports have confirmed that the wreck of the ship is laying in pieces and disintegrating, thus making recovery unlikely to a port or museum. Having been attacked in Norwegian waters, the 'Belgica' sank in 1940. She will always be remembered as the home of the first explorers of the 'Heroic Age' of Antarctic exploration. On board were many famous explorers, including Roald Amundsen.

A pilot study has suggested that scientific researchers spending winter in Antarctica might be at increased risk of osteoporosis unless they take vitamin D supplements. There bones are prone to becoming weaker due to low levels of vitamin D.

Scientists in Tasmania have been measuring the effects of ozone depletion on the levels of phytoplankton - the major food source of lower species such as krill, and have deduced that the ozone hole is having an affect on ocean food. At low ozone concentrations, a 60 percent reduction in phytoplankton have been measured compared with the six percent of recent studies. These findings have significant implications for species higher up the food chain.

A few words from the Secretaries

We are most grateful to Noble Caledonia for once again supporting Polar Bytes. Noble Caledonia organise adventures all over the world, including specialist cruises to the Polar Regions. Their support of the Friends is greatly appreciated and we have pleasure in extending their Executive Friend membership.

The UK Antarctic Heritage Trust has launched a campaign of letter writing to MPs to lobby over the refusal of the National Heritage Memorial Fund to award a grant to the 'Save the Huts' campaign. The aim is to persuade the British Government that it should contribute funds to renovate the huts of Borchgrevink, Shackleton and Scott in the Ross Sea area of the Antarctic. The Trust's proposed developments for the sites are available in the SPRI Library. Anyone wishing to assist this campaign may obtain further information from Martin Williams: Russet House, Lughorse Lane, Yalding, Kent ME18 6EG Tel; 01622 815403

The RSPB has launched a major campaign to 'Save the Albatross'. All Albatross species and many other Southern Ocean seabirds, are threatened with extinction through the activities of the long-line fishing industry for Tuna and Patagonian Toothfish (Chilean Sea Bass). Anyone wishing to assist this campaign may collect and send their used postage stamps (sorted into 'British' and 'overseas') to: Save the Albatross, RSPB Stamps, PO Box 6198, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire LU7 9XT. Do not include any other correspondence.

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

Passing Friends: None have been reported during this period.

Membership: We currently have 583 memberships (which includes some with outstanding subscriptions!); our next target is to reach 600. However the actual number of Friends exceeds this as over 100 memberships are Family/Joint.

The recently introduced 80 and 90 Degree Club memberships have attracted new members and several Friends have upgraded. We are very happy to report that we now have twenty-eight 80 Degree Club, two 90 Degree Club and one Honorary 90 Degree Club memberships.

A booking form is enclosed for tickets for the Buffet Supper and Ranulph Fiennes lecture.

We are still hoping to add to our list of helpers. So if you would be willing to be on call to help with coffee after Saturday lectures, getting Polar Bytes ready for mailing or helping at any of our events please contact or Ann Bean on 01895 271141.

Dog Sledging Expedition - 18th-24th February 2007. Places are still available so please spread the word. Further details can be found on the SPRI webpage or from

Further books of tickets for The Friends' Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw are available by request from Ann Bean or from the Institute. A prize is on offer 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 the Chairman who has sold 20 books of tickets - he is hoping not to have to award the prize to himself!

Some dates for your diary

At the Institute:

Saturday 11 November 2006 5pm: Sir Ranulph Fiennes:Living Dangerously, My Life as an Explorer
  6.15pm: Friends' AGM, Autumn Buffet, Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw
Michaelmas Term Lectures 7 October, 28 October, [11 November], 25 November
Lent Term Lectures 27 January, 10 February, 24 February, 10 March
Saturday 24 March 2007 "An Evening with Geoff Somers"

In Oxford:

October 2006 - January 2007: John Kelly's exhibition 'Due South' will be showing at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History

In Falmouth:

Until January 2007: The Endurance & Survival exhibition, National Maritime Museum Falmouth

In Athy, Ireland:

26 - 30 October 2006: The 6th Ernest Shackleton Autumn School

Stop Press!!

We have just heard that the Institute has just acquired the following items at the Christie's Polar Sale:

7 glass negatives by Marshall and Shackleton from the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909. The set was purchased with funding kindly provided by the U.K. Antarctic Heritage Trust. And a portrait in oils by John Lewis Reilly of Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, KCB, FRS, wearing the Arctic Medal. This was purchased with generous assistance from the Bevis Foundation.