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Polar Bytes - No. 43 - April 2007

Polar Bytes - No. 43 - April 2007

From the Chairman, Robin Back:

Late winter may well be a period of dormancy for mice and others but no hibernation for your committee! Our Lent term lectures ended on Saturday 24th with a most amusing and indeed alarming presentation from Geoff Somers, the well-known global traveller and expedition leader. Alarming when during an 'intermission', he jumped onto a table and proceeded to undress! All in the name of knowledge I hasten to add so that he could demonstrate the array of natural polar clothing that would have been worn 100 years ago. As an audience member observed with admirable understatement...we haven't seen that before! The lecture was a great success and netted some £400 for the Friends.

Other lectures ranged from Sir Martin Holdgate's fascinating exposition of the discovery and progress of Gough Island from 'ocean lump' to World Heritage site, Jean de Pomereu's story of how art has developed in Antarctica, Dr. Martina Tyrell's experiences with the Inuit people (and Polar Bear dreams) and Dr Michael Gilkes' early experiences as Medical Officer first on South Georgia and then aboard the whaling ship Southern Harvester.

© Phil Alton - Sledger

I'm also delighted to report that both 2007 sledging journeys were successfully completed. All told, 19 sledgers completed their runs and all have great tales to tell. The most astonishing fact however is that between them they will have raised almost £26,000 for the Friends! In addition published articles by Penny Smith and coverage on GMTV and in the Mail on Sunday since, have greatly heightened the profile of the Institute and of the Friends. Details of these and plans for 2008, including more about the Greenland Trek, will find their way onto the website in due course.

This success has brought with it some administrative headaches! Notably, the volume of mail both post and electronic, has posed a real challenge and we are very grateful to Cathy Cooper for shouldering this burden. Going forward, the Committee have agreed to appoint a part-time assistant who will be based in the Institute and handle these and other matters to do with the Friends affairs. More details of this when the technicalities have been ironed out.

Another and very happy result of the dog-sledging success is the decision by the committee to establish a Museum Acquisitions Fund in the Institute. This is intended to be an imprest-style fund rather than an endowment fund and replaces the somewhat ad hoc arrangements that have grown up over the years. Initial funding of £25,000 has been agreed.

Finally, I need to mention two events especially.

First is the exhibition at Bonham's in 28th May to 15th June of the Seago paintings in the Royal collection by kind permission of HRH The Prince Philip. A flyer is enclosed with this mailing seeking volunteers to help man the exhibition and more details of the exhibition itself are available online.

Second is our Summer Lunch. The date is Saturday the 2nd of June, at the Institute and begins as usual at 12:00 noon with a sherry reception. Details on the enclosed form which please use to obtain tickets.

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell:

© Prof. Dowdeswell 2007

Photo © Prof. Dowdeswell 2007

I'm writing this looking out over the snow-covered lawns of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. I am here representing SPRI and the UK at meetings of the Council of the International Arctic Science Committee and the Arctic Ocean Sciences Board. One of the activities many SPRI staff undertake is to attend international science and science-planning meetings around the World. This allows us to help set the polar science agenda and to project our own scientific work.

The evening before leaving the for the USA we also had the opening of a new exhibition at SPRI - the first to use the new hanging system for paintings now installed on the walls of the foyer. The splendid watercolours of Svalbard, by Trine Lotte Krogseth from Norway, will be on show for the next month.

Prior to this, we had a very successful month of geological and geophysical work aboard the RRS James Clark Ross, using the Isis Remotely-Operated Vehicle (ROV) to look at the sea floor offshore of the Antarctic Peninsula and to investigate the imprint of past glacial activity. Isis was deployed in water depths of a few hundred to about 3,500 m, and acquired many high-quality photographic images and samples of the sea floor.

The ROV was flown along a number of submarine channels, up to about 100 m deep, which carried water at the base of an ice sheet that covered the area about 20,000 years ago and has since retreated, allowing us ship access. These channels were a vital part of the hydrological system or 'plumbing' of the past glacier, and the behaviour of pressurized water within them controlled the velocity at which the ice once flowed. We also undertook several days of work in the little-known but very beautiful Bourgeois Fjord, about 30 miles from the British base at Rothera. Here, the Isis ROV imaged a series of submarine ridges, built during the recent retreat of the glacier. The area of Blind Bay, at the head of the fjord, had not been surveyed before, and the James Clark Ross's multibeam echo sounder will provide the first bathymetric map of the fjord. A BBC report on the expedition can be found online.

Archives & Museum

From the Librarian, Mrs Heather Lane

Details of Britain in the Arctic, which opens at the beginning of April, will shortly be available on the website at

The retrospective of Keith Shackleton's polar paintings will run from1 May -30 June.

The SPRI are restaging the 2005 exhibition of the Antarctic paintings of Edward Seago, this time at Bonhams New Bond Street Gallery, from Sunday 27 May to Friday 15 June. This exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh's tour of the Antarctic and is being staged in support of the SPRI Appeal. For further information, please see the Bonhams site.

Conservation of Ross and Marston paintings

Lucy Martin, Picture Library Manager

In 2006, the Friends of SPRI very generously provided £1880 for the conservation of two paintings in the SPRI collection - Elephant Island, by George Marston and an oil portrait, Sir James Clark Ross, by an unknown artist.

© Scott polar Research Institute

A professional conservator from the Hamilton Kerr Institute, a renowned department of the Fitzwilliam Museum specialising in the conservation of easel paintings, was consulted and provided estimates for the very necessary treatment that was required for each painting. These two paintings have now been restored to their former glory.

The painting of Elephant Island by George Marston had some flaking paint and was in need of immediate attention. The painting has now been unframed and the back of the painting dusted and dirt removed from behind the stretcher bars. The flaking paint has been consolidated and some raised paint has been reduced. The surface has been cleaned and holes in the canvas at the corners have been mended with specialist gauze. The paint losses have been filled and the painting has been re-varnished and reframed. The splendid results are on view to all, as the painting is now back in its accustomed place, hanging on the wall in the Friends' Room.

© Scott polar Research Institute

The portrait of Sir James Clark Ross (shown above and right) was disfigured by a large drip of domestic paint and was very dirty. The painting has been unframed and the back of the canvas dusted and dirt removed from behind the stretcher bars. Two small holes in the canvas have been repaired with specialist gauze. The painting has been surface cleaned and a very thick discoloured layer of surface dirt has been removed. Once the dirt had been removed the drip of paint was no longer evident, as it had actually been in the surface dirt only. A repaint layer on the jacket, face, hands and in the background was also revealed, and this was removed. A small amount of retouching was necessary in drying cracks on the jacket, face and background. The painting was then re-varnished and reframed. The wonderful transformation resulting from this work can be seen from the photograph on the right. The painting will be on public display in the Museum in the new SPRI exhibition "Britain in the Arctic" which opens in April.

We are, as ever, grateful to the Friends for their assistance in helping to conserve the Institute's collections. A programme of conservation reporting for the art works is now in place, to enable us to assess which are most urgently in need of repair.

Polar News

News from the Arctic:

  • Exceptionally cold weather in Swedish Lappland in February threatened reindeer herds with starvation. Earlier snowfalls had turned to ice preventing the animals from getting at the lichens underneath to feed. The Swedish Government stepped in with cash aid to buy fodder to prevent mass starvation of the animals

News from the Antarctic:

  • Important visitors to the Peninsular region in January and February were HRH The Princess Royal in her capacity as Patron of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. Accompanied by her husband, Admiral Tim Laurence, and other distinguished guests, (including our former Chairman, Philippa Foster-Back, now Chair of UAHT) she visited Port Lockroy and other historic sites in the care of the Trust on board HMS Endurance.
  • In February, UK Science & Innovation Minister, Malcom Wicks visited Rothera on the eve of the International Polar Year 2007/2008 to see for himself scientific progress and the emerging implications for our changing climate. His visit was hosted by Professor Rapley, who commented on the timeliness of the visit in the light of the particular sensitivity of the Polar regions to climate change and increasing evidence that the icecaps are responding more rapidly than expected.

From the Secretaries

A few words from the secretaries:

We are most grateful to Windows on the Wild for once again supporting Polar Bytes. Windows on the Wild organise adventure holidays featuring spectacular scenery and wild life all over the world, including cruises to the Polar Regions. Their support of the Friends is greatly appreciated and we have pleasure in extending their Executive Friend membership.

New Friends:

A very warm welcome is extended to all our new Friends. Membership continues to grow and from 600 at the end of last year we have now arrived at 625!

Passing Friends:

We are sorry to note the death of Commander V A J B Marchesi who had been a Friend since 1994.


We currently have 626 memberships (which includes some with outstanding subscriptions). Support for the 80 and 90 Degree Clubs continues and we now have thirty 80 Degree Club Memberships and three 90 Degree Club.

Some Dates for your diary:

At the Institute:
Until 21st April 2007 Trine Lottee Krogseth's "Svalbard" exhibition
1st May -30th June 2007 Retrospective of Keith Shackleton's polar paintings
Saturday 2nd June 2007 Summer Lunch
Saturday 10th November 2007 AGM/Buffet Supper
  NB For details of Britain in the Arctic, which opens at the beginning of April see online on the SPRI website.

In London:

Bonhams New Bond Street Gallery
101, New Bond St.
27th May - 15th June 2007
SPRI are restaging the 2005 exhibition of the Antarctic paintings of Edward Seago. This exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh's tour of the Antarctic and is being staged in support of the IPY 2007/8

Stop press!

The Friends are very pleased to announce the appointment of Mrs Celene Pickard as PA to the Friends. Celene's appointment began on the 1st April and she will be working for two days a week initially Tuesdays and Thursdays. Responsibilities include coordinating the increasingly diverse activities of the Friends such as the very popular Sledging and Trekking programmes, as well as liaising with the Institute from a newly established office within the Institute itself (available from mid-May). Celene remains a valued Friends committee member and will continue to volunteer her time in support of the lecture activities and Polar Bytes as before.

Windows on the Wild Grateful thanks to "Windows on the Wild" who have kindly agreed to sponsor this edition of Polar Bytes. For more details see