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Polar Bytes - No. 42 - January 2007

Polar Bytes - No. 42 - January 2007

From the Incoming Chairman, Robin Back:

Happy New Year to all our Members and to our Executive Friends and indeed to all our readers. Although this is the first Polar Bytes of 2007 it is right to first look back on the successes of our Jubilee year and to say a special thank you to our outgoing Chairman, David Wilson. His unremitting efforts over the past four years have important implications for our future strategy. The revised membership structure and the attraction of Executive Friends has widened not only our membership now numbering 600, but also our ability to interest and inspire existing and new members. New ideas for fund-raising included dog-sledging for the first time in 2006. This was doubly successful in not only raising substantial funds for the Friends but also introducing new and younger members. A similar exercise is in final planning for February next with a second party expected to go out in March. So thank you David for your untiring efforts and best wishes for the future. We have included details of the Lent Term lectures culminating in "An Evening with Geoff Somers" on the 24th March. This will be the Friends fund-raising lecture for next term and tickets will be £10.00 each.


Whilst on lectures, there is a flyer included with this issue, seeking volunteer members to help man doors, wash up, answer questions, help set up lecture theatre equipment etc. etc. Probably more suitable for those living in or close to Cambridge but all volunteers will be much appreciated. Hopefully a roster can be published so that all know who is helping with which lecture.

For the longer term future, we are planning a Greenland Trek in 2008 on the same lines as the dog-sledging but aimed at those (including me) who may be less athletic! Dates, costs etc are being worked on but initially we are hoping for a party of 20, expertly guided, to trek for a week amongst the glaciers. for details. There is a link to signal your interest or please write to us at the Institute.

There is finally hugely important news to tell you. It's the reason this issue has been delayed so that readers can be amongst the first to know of the donation to the Institute's archives of Captain Scott's letters to Kathleen and of the camera Scott took with him on the Terra Nova expedition. See Comments on p2.

A few words from the Retiring Chairman, David Wilson:

Our Diamond Jubilee Year in 2006 was a splendid jamboree, boasting a series of special fund-raising events in addition to our regular fixtures. From our first Great Arctic Sponsored Dog Sledge in March (which raised £16,000), to Sir Ranulph Fiennes's lecture prior to our AGM (which grossed £5,500) Friends enjoyed raising much needed funds in support of the polar science and heritage work of the Institute. In the financial year to the end of July 2006 we donated £72,680.64 to the Institute; £20,381.08 in grants and £52,299.56 to the library via the Mills Fund, in honour of our late librarian. At July 2006 we held £ 22,804.07 in the Amalgamated Fund (which generates the revenue to administer life memberships); the Deposit Account balance stood at £55,370; and the Current Account balance at £2734.73. This effectively replenished our reserves, held towards emergencies.

At the AGM in November, we thanked Solveig Gardner Servian and Jennifer Hirsh for their service on the Committee and welcomed Judy Skelton and Cathy Cooper to serve for the next four years. I was also pleased to announce that Robin Back, grandson of Professor Frank Debenham, has been elected to be the Chairman of the Friends for the next four years. It is a relief to me as I step down as Chairman, to know that the Friends will continue to be in safe hands and I wish Robin every success. Thank you all for your support of the Friends and of the Institute - I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. Now bring on 2007!

Grateful thanks to Executive Friends, Princess Cruises for sponsorship of this edition of Polar Bytes.

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell:

The Michaelmas Term is always the busiest of the year for the academic staff of the Institute. Those of us with faculty positions in the University are delivering lectures and laboratory classes to undergraduate students, and this year many of these lectures have taken place in SPRI. Numbers vary from about 100 first-year students to between 20 and 30 who take our final year options in Glaciology and Peoples of the Arctic. Several of us are also Fellows of colleges, including Christ's, Downing, Jesus, St Catherine's and St. John's. In the colleges we also take supervisions, small groups of two or three students, for more intensive teaching mainly in Geography and Physics.

From January, Dr Poul Christoffersen will be joining the Institute as a University Lecturer in Geography. Poul is from Denmark and has most recently been a Lecturer in the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, after having completed undergraduate and postgraduate study in Denmark and California, respectively. Poul will also become a Fellow of New Hall. His research concerns the flow of glaciers and ice sheets, and he has worked extensively in the Arctic. He is married, and his wife Dr Marion Bougamont, is also a glaciologist. They have one baby daughter. It is a pleasure to welcome them to the Institute.

The British base at Rothera
The British base at Rothera

Finally, we are making final preparations for our forthcoming research cruise on the RRS James Clark Ross. A party of four from the Institute - myself, Jeff Evans, Kelly Hogan and Riko Noormets, will fly south to Punta Arenas in Chile to board the ship in early January. We will then spend about a month in the outer part of Marguerite Bay, west of the Antarctic Peninsula, undertaking geophysical and geological measurements of the sea floor to reconstruct aspects of past glacial activity. A highlight of the work will be the first Antarctic use of the ISIS Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). The ROV and its seven-strong technical team from the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, will also join the ship in Chile. ISIS is deployed and controlled from a cable that allows it to venture into water depths of over 1,000 m and to sample the sediments of the sea floor and to image them at a very high level of detail. This provides information on the nature and rate of physical and biological processes taking place on the Antarctic sea floor, for example the disturbance of sediments and marine biota by the ploughing action of iceberg keels. The party will return to the UK in early February.

May I thank you as Friends once again for your strong support of the Institute over the past year, and indeed over the 60 years since your foundation? It is also a pleasure to record special thanks to David Wilson for his very successful term as Chair of the Friends and to wish Robin Back well for his time as Chair.

News from the Library, Archives & Museum

The archive and museum are delighted to announce the generous donation of a collection of letters between Captain Scott and his wife Kathleen and the camera taken by Captain Scott on the Terra Nova expedition, 1910-1913. The letters form an unbroken sequence with those already housed in the Archives. The correspondence in this latest volume, bound together in guard book format, runs from 1909 to 1912 and include Scott's last letter to his wife, written on the return from the South Pole and found with his body in 1913. Earlier letters recount the planning of the expedition and long letters written during its early stages. Kathleen's letters to her husband detail her life and her plans to meet Scott on his return from the Antarctic. The Scott family, whose continued support of the Institute is greatly appreciated, has donated both the letter book and the camera.

The letters and camera will be on public display in the SPRI Museum from 17 January 2007 to the end of March 2007.

Polar News

News from the Arctic:

  • Not really Arctic but...The New Scientist has reported the possibility that planting trees to help absorb carbon in Northern latitudes may well contribute to global warming. This is because, outside the tropics, the absorption of heat in leaves outweighs the amount of cooling effect of CO2 captured.
  • 2006 is reported to have been the warmest year in the UK since records began in 1659. Elsewhere in the world a pattern of extreme weather events distinguished 2006 from previous years in the US, continental Europe, Africa and the Far East, notably China. All of which have been linked to the changes in temperature at the poles and the increasingly rapid loss of ice cover.
  • New data from seismometers deployed on the Ross Ice Shelf and on various icebergs adrift in the Ross Sea reveal that the dominant energy of these floating ice masses is associated with sea swell generated in the tropical and extra-tropical Pacific Ocean. In one example, a strong storm in the Gulf of Alaska on 21 October 2005, approximately 13,500 km from the Ross Sea, generated swell that arrived immediately prior to and during, the break-up of a large iceberg off Cape Adare on 27 October 2005.

News from the Antarctic:

  • In case you missed it earlier, BAS is currently hosting a new project Integrating Climate and Ecosystem Dynamics (see ICED has been developed with the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), with support from the Integrated Marine Biogeochemistry and Ecosystem Research (IMBER) and Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) programmes. ICED will lead and coordinate international research in partnership with the Southern Ocean System of the European Network of Excellence for Ocean Ecosystems Analysis (EUR-OCEANS), and the International Polar Year (IPY) consortia: ICED-IPY.
  • Also from BAS is news of joint BAS and Arts Council of England Fellowships offering specialist support and funds for practice-based research, accommodation, food, travel and a small stipend whilst in Antarctica. Two individuals will be invited to spend up to 8 weeks in the Antarctic between November 2007 and March 2008. Successful applicants will develop new work in response to this remarkable, frozen continent, a place of scientific challenge and a wilderness of great beauty. More details on
  • Sediments extracted from the Antarctic seafloor by the international drilling project, involving scientists from Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, show the world's largest ice shelf has disintegrated and reappeared many times in the past. Fluctuations of the Ross Ice Shelf are revealed by an early look at 600 m of the sediment cores being drilled near the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. Read more in the BBC story "Big ice shelf's disappearing act" on the BBC website at:; and read more about the science on the ANDRILL website at:
  • For one year now, the working group on "Oceanic Acoustics" of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) for Polar and Marine Research at Bremerhaven, Germany, has been maintaining PALAOA, the "PerenniAL Acoustic Observatory in the Antarctic", located near Neumayer Station (70°31'S, 8°13'W). PALAOA comprises four hydrophones (underwater microphones) that record all sounds of the Antarctic Ocean 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Scientists are hoping to gain new insights into the communication of marine mammals such as seals and whales. The data will also provide information about the effect of anthropogenic sounds (eg from sonar equipment) on the behaviour of the animals. A live audio stream of PALAOA can be found on the Internet at This project helps to meet one recommendation of the SCAR Action Group on Acoustics, namely that before we can assess the effects of human-induced noise on cetaceans, we need to monitor the natural noise in the Antarctic marine environment.

From the Secretaries

A few words from the secretaries:

Formal thanks are recorded to our sponsors Cambridge Saab for their support for Sir Ranulph Fiennes lecture. At the same time, we also record our grateful thanks to those who generously donated prizes to our Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw. Hurtigruten (formerly Norwegian Coastal Voyages) for 1st prize of a 4-day Arctic Cruise, also Duncan Lawie, Keith Shackleton, Pauline Young, Solveig Gardner Servian, and Judy Skelton. We would also like to thank Huntley and Palmer Biscuits for their support.

The Diamond Jubilee Prize Draw: This raised a total of £3,744.80. The prize for selling the most tickets (A signed Keith Shackleton print of HMS Endurance) was awarded to Angie Butler. Sir Ranulph and Lady Fiennes, assisted by Stuart Whittington from event sponsors, Hurtigruten, drew the following winning tickets:

  1. 13112 Sascha Seitz
  2. 02660 Pauline Young
  3. 02779 Mr and Mrs Golder
  4. 12285 Tim Wilson
  5. 13417 Deidre Woolgar
  6. 09790 Max Robinson
  7. 04909 Derek Frost.

All prize winners have now been notified. Congratulations to them.

New Acquisition:

Also our thanks to American artist Lisa Goren for her generous donation of one of her Antarctic watercolours to the SPRI collection (

New Friends:

A very warm welcome is extended to all our new Friends. We are delighted to report that we have reached a milestone of 600 memberships. Onwards and upwards...!

Passing Friends:

We are sorry to note the death of Professor K J Miller who had been a Friend since 1973.


The President and Committee of the James Caird Society invite you to attend the Grand Nimrod Ball on Friday 16th February 2007. To be held at the Great Hall, Dulwich College, 7pm for 7.30pm. Tickets £110 double, £60 single. Further information from the Society Secretary via or 01580 714944

Some Dates for your diary:

Lent term lectures 2007

27th January, Sir Martin Holdgate - 'An Unsuspected Isle in Far-off Seas' -The Gough Island Scientific Survey 1955-56
10th February, Jean de Pomereu - 'Antarctica - Nature's White Canvas'
24th February, Dr.Martina Tyrrell - 'Dreams of polar bears, or becoming an (Arctic) anthropologist'
10th March, Prof. Bill Block - 'Coping with cold - lessons from polar insects' 
24th March, Geoff Somers MBE - "An evening with Geoff Somers"

Friday 16th February Grand Nimrod Ball, James Caird Society (see above)

Saturday 2nd June Friends Summer Lunch

Saturday 10th November AGM/Buffet Supper