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Polar Bytes - No. 49, October 2008

Polar Bytes - No. 49, October 2008

From the Chairman, Robin Back

Dear Friends,

This time last year I wrote of the very wet summer in 2007. It seems we’ve had the same again, so I’ll say no more in case I tempt fate for next year. October sees the start of the Michaelmas Term and, of course, our lecture series. Details of this are enclosed and also on the Friends website.

Captain Ross
Captain Ross, Arctic Hero!

Our AGM will be held on 8th November at the Institute as usual starting at 5:00PM. An agenda and last year’s minutes are enclosed, together with a copy of our accounts for the year ended 31st July 2008. Nomination forms for committee members are also enclosed. We are looking for two new members this year as Paul Davies and Pauline Young have sadly come to the end of their terms and are stepping down. There has been a tendency for committee members in recent years to come from further afield and we would be very happy to see Cambridge-based members stepping forward.

The AGM this year will be held in the rather more intimate atmosphere of the Museum at the Institute at 5:00 PM. The AGM is followed by a buffet supper and the application form for this is enclosed. Please also help by sending an SAE in which we can return your tickets to you.

In this issue of Polar Bytes you will also find details of how to obtain tickets for the Epic-Heroic-Magnetic-Melo-Drame – Captain Ross! Tickets are limited due to the capacity of the Institute Lecture Theatre and have already been strongly selling, so do apply promptly.

Fishing boats in Illulissat Harbour
Fishing boats in Illulissat Harbour
© SPRI / Prof. Julian Dowdeswell, 2005

We are swinging firmly into gear for our sledging and Greenland trekking events next year. Greenland is regularly in the news, with recent programmes by Iain Stewart on the BBC and others on other channels. The programmes focus on the Kangya Ice Fjord above Illulissat and the signs it is giving of increased flows and the implications for climate change and sea-level rise. In a recent Times article (20th September) Martin Fletcher spoke of Greenland’s first(?) market garden producing cabbages, cauliflowers and iceberg lettuces (what else?). In fact, the effects of climate change have been visible off West Greenland for some years as fishing stocks move north in the warmer water and icebergs diminish both in size and frequency. Less ice equals more land and the miners are moving back in and there is increasing talk of oil and gas exploration offshore.

I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at the AGM in November – notwithstanding the rival attractions of fireworks and bonfire parties!

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell


The summer is a period of field and laboratory research time for the senior staff of the Institute. I have had two periods in Trondheim, working with colleagues at the Geological Survey of Norway on geophysical and geological evidence for past glacial activity on the Norwegian continental margin. Others have been making field measurements in Russian Siberia and Spitsbergen on biological and glaciological aspects of environmental change, respectively.

I have also been in Svalbard, based at the University Centre there, writing up some of the geophysical data we have acquired from both the Arctic and Antarctic seas over the past few years, on several cruises of the UK’s scientific ice-strengthened ship the RRS James Clark Ross. An example of the type of geophysical data being analysed, from eastern Svalbard, is shown below.

Riko Noormets, a post-doctoral Research Associate at SPRI for several years, has just been appointed as Assistant Professor at the University Centre, where he will be teaching courses in Arctic marine geology. He is one of a growing number of Institute doctoral and post-doctoral researchers to have gained a full-time position in academia.

Judy Heath, who has been SPRI accounts manager for a number of years and has also dealt with many financial aspects of the Friends, left the Institute at the end of August. She and her husband are moving to Kenya. I am sure you will join me in wishing Judy well. The Institute is delighted to welcome Maria Pearman who joins us as full-time Senior Clerk.

News from the Heritage Collections

From the Archives Manager, Naomi Boneham

Visitors to the Museum from 21 October onwards will be able to see the diary of Sir Ernest Shackleton and other archival material from the Nimrod collections on display. The materials are usually securely stored in the archives but will be out on view to celebrate the centenary of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909. The diary covers Shackleton’s attempt to reach the South Pole, which began in October 1908 and the pages will be turned weekly to reflect their journey.

The archive has recently accepted the papers of the Wardropper family who lived and worked in pre-revolutionary Russian and later in Canada. The archive includes several letters in Russian, as well as correspondence with the polar explorer Nansen and joins material of Khanty-Mansy origin from the River Ob region, loaned to the Museum earlier in the year by another branch of the family.

A series of papers by Denis and Elizabeth Coleman has been deposited by Elizabeth’s daughter. The papers recount life on South Georgia during the 1950s and 1960s, when Denis served as Administrative Officer; their time there covered the Joint Services Expedition and the building of the Administrative Officer’s Bungalow at King Edward Point.

From the Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane

SPRI Museum
Y: 62/15/5

After a year’s work, we are about to launch two new sections of our online Museum catalogue. Dr Janet West has provided invaluable advice and assistance on the Scrimshaw collection, providing the descriptions and overseeing the photography, ably carried out by Don Manning.

The second group of materials form the Polar Art catalogue, which has been compiled by Dr Huw Lewis-Jones, with the aid of a grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In the process, Huw has identified and described several hundred paintings and sketches, of which very little was previously known. The catalogue will also incorporate images of all 1100 of Edward Adrian Wilson’s works from the SPRI collection, many of which have never been before the public eye.

S.S. Discovery
Edward Wilson, S.S. Discovery lying at Madeira. Funchal Harbour from SPRI MS 232 v.1

This summer the Institute took delivery of the Quintin Riley collection, comprising of diaries, letters, photographs and expedition equipment, including a wonderful group of cameras and accessories. The material covers both the British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-1937 and Riley’s Arctic expeditions. A small section of the material deals with his involvement with the John Mills film Scott of the Antarctic. We are still raising funds towards the cost of acquiring this collection – all donations are gratefully received.


Annual General Meeting

Saturday 8 November 2008

Any notices of motion for the Annual General Meeting to be held at SPRI at 5pm on Saturday 8th November should be sent to reach the Secretary, Mrs Celene Pickard, no later than 1st November, either by post to the Institute or via Please see the enclosed flyers for information on how to book tickets for the Buffet Supper and Captain Ross Melo-Drame.

Some Dates for your Diary:

Events in 2008: Date: Time: Location:
Lecture by Robert Burton: Henry Kater and the Swinging Pendulums 11th October 8:00PM SPRI Lecture Theatre
Devon & Cornwall Polar Society meeting & lecture on Antarctic Huskies by John Killingbeck (Admission £4 for non-members: bar opens 6:30PM)
Contact Paul Davies 01548 561798
16th October 7:30PM Plymouth Royal Corinthian Yacht Club
Lecture by Chris and Vikky Furse: Art in the Polar Regions 25th October 8:00PM SPRI Lecture Theatre
James Caird Society Evening, AGM & Lecture by Charles Swithinbank 7th November 6:00PM Dulwich College, London
Friends AGM & Buffet supper 8th November 5:00PM SPRI Museum
Captain Ross Melo-Drame! 8th November 7:00 for 7:30PM SPRI Lecture Theatre
Lecture by Denis Wilkins: Medical care and challenges in British Antarctica, past and present 22nd November 8:00PM SPRI Lecture Theatre

Doors open for SPRI lectures at 7:30pm.

Further information on the Lectures is available at

From the Secretaries

Membership (Ann Bean) (

New Friends:

A very warm welcome is extended to all new members. Membership is currently 639.

We congratulate Cathy Cooper, sledger extraordinaire and indefatigable committee member, on her forthcoming marriage to Robert O’Connor. We wish them both every happiness for the future.

Overseas Members

With the increase in overseas postal charges it would be more economical to send Overseas Members their subscription reminders and acknowledgements by email. I already have this arrangement with a few Friends but would now like to extend it to all Overseas Members for whom I have an email address. Please do drop me a line at the address above if you wish to be included on the mailing list. With effect from November, I will be contacting you in this way. Please let me know if you have any objection to corresponding via and do inform me directly if you wish to pay by credit card.

Passing Friends

We are very sorry to note the passing of Mr Bill Hankinson and of Mrs. Winifred Ware.

Lucy Martin, Picture Library Manager at SPRI writes of Winifred: “How saddened we were to hear about the sudden death of one of our highly respected volunteers. Winifred Ware worked for many years alongside Angela Haines in the Picture Library, diligently re-housing the entire photographic negative and loose print collection. Winifred will be remembered for her conscientious and enormously helpful work for the Picture Library and for her quiet and caring concern for all around her. Winifred died suddenly, aged 97, on 2 August 2008.”

We are saddened to report the death of Peter Speak on the 3rd of July. Members who attended the Summer Lunch will recall his tour-de-force in launching the publication of his last work, a biography of Deb. We shall miss him and remember him with great affection.

Other News:

Friends of SPRI Artist in Residence

Rowan Huntley

We are very pleased to announce the appointment of Rowan Huntley as the first Friends of SPRI Artist in Residence on board HMS Endurance. We are most grateful to Capt Bob Tarrant and the crew of HMS Endurance for extending to the Friends the offer of a placement on board for an Artist in Residence for part of their forthcoming season in Antarctic waters. After an intensive selection process of applicants of a very high calibre, we are delighted to announce the nomination of Rowan Huntley as our successful candidate. Rowan brings with her an incredible portfolio of landscapes, specialising in scenery of mountains and ice. We look forward to following her journey as she embarks on her exciting post on behalf of the Friends and to exhibiting her work at SPRI on her return.

The Friends of SPRI are also delighted to welcome Gavin Pritchard as the new Captain of Endurance.

Seas Likely to Rise Faster This Century

Glaciologist W. Tad Pfeffer of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and his colleagues (writing in Science) have calculated how fast glaciers would have to flow in order to raise sea level by a given number of metres and then considered whether those flow rates were plausible. The resulting "improved estimate" of sea-level rise ranges from 80 centimetres to 200 centimetres by the end of the century, a significantly higher rise than the estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested in February 2007. Rises of this order would threaten coastal people in many parts of the world.

Wilkins Ice Shelf on the verge of breaking up

A thin strip of ice is all that now prevents the Wilkins Shelf from disintegrating and breaking away from the landmass of the Antarctic peninsula. The Antarctic Peninsula has experienced unprecedented warming over the last 50 years and several ice shelves on the peninsula have retreated in recent years and six of them – the Prince Gustav Channel, Larsen Inlet, Larsen A and Larsen B, the Wordie, Muller and the Jones ice shelves – have collapsed completely.


We are most grateful to EXPLORE! for sponsoring this edition of Polar Bytes. More details at