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Polar Bytes - No. 50, January 2009

Polar Bytes - No. 50, January 2009

From the Chairman, Robin Back

Dear Friends,

I wish all our readers a Happy New Year. We now look forward to Lent term lecture series, details and dates on the back page as usual. As you know, large parts of the Institute and the Museum will be closed for substantial renovations now the Heritage Lottery funding has been approved. Lectures will therefore be in the Pfizer Lecture theatre in the School of Chemistry. This is at the far end of the chemistry building but we will ensure everybody knows where to go on the day.

HMS Endurance's engine room flooded with sea water in a dramatic incident on 17th December. She was first towed by a Chilean tug to Punta Arenas and is now thought to be returning to UK for major repairs.

Other dates for the 2009 diary are our summer event on Saturday June 6th. This is likely to be a Cambridge-based visit and details will be released when known. The AGM date is 14th November.

Frank Wild plaque
Design for plaque
© Angie Butler, 2008

Our Sledgers are going to Norway from 29th March to 4th April and our Trekkers are heading off to Greenland on 17th July for 8 days. There are still spaces available so if you have friends or office colleagues who are looking for a challenge, please point them towards our website or to Celene Pickard at the Institute who will be pleased to help. A very successful introduction to the Institute for sledgers took place on 26th November and we are very grateful to Julian Dowdeswell for his inspirational exposé of the work of all parts of the SPRI. We hope to do this regularly and combine it with a London-based event along similar lines for those who find Cambridge a train journey too far!

We had hoped to tell you of Rowan Huntley's departure for Antarctica as 'Friends Artist in Residence' on board HMS Endurance.

This was to have been a new initiative for the Friends and grew out of the very generous offer by Captain Bob Tarrant RN, of a Friends' berth during their 2008/9 work period in the Antarctic. Sadly this has had to be 'put on ice' until we know more of HMS Endurance's movements.

Angie Butler, keen sledger and sculptor is also on her way south. She plans to erect a plaque in South Georgia to the memory of Frank Wild, well-known polar explorer who accompanied Scott and Shackleton on board Discovery and Shackleton again on the Nimrod, Aurora, Endurance and Quest voyages. A flyer with details is enclosed including an opportunity to help with casting of the bronze.

Finally, I welcome onto our committee, on your behalf, Duncan Lawie and Gloria Ward in place of Paul Davies and Pauline Young whose terms of office have come to an end. We are extremely grateful for the hard work both Paul and Pauline have contributed during the past four years and wish them well in the future. We extend an especial welcome to Wendy Driver, who has returned to take on the role of Vice Chairman of your committee.

Calling all Friends!

We are urgently looking for more sledgers for the March 29th departure. Do you know a friend or relative who would enjoy the challenge? If so, please tell Celene Pickard as soon as you can.

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

I am writing this piece from San Francisco, where I and several others of our academic staff are attending the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Each of us is giving talks, or presenting posters, of our most recent glaciological work. The meeting is the largest of its kind in the world, with the latest results on the interactions between ice and climate being discussed. It is important that both staff and research students at SPRI go to such meetings, both to showcase our own research, and to make sure that we are up to date with the latest findings by scientific groups from many countries. My own talk is on 'Marine geophysical investigations of Arctic and Antarctic margins: implications for palaeoglaciology' – the reconstruction of past ice-sheet growth and decay from the marine geological record.The Institute

It is also a great pleasure to report the success of our major bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the complete redesign and refurbishment of our Polar Museum and associated curatorial spaces. The award, for almost one million pounds, will allow us to project both the history of exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic, together with the scientific significance of the polar regions in a warming world.

The overall concept behind the new displays is 'Exploration into Science'. In the new museum, we will be able to show up to 30% of our collections, whereas at present only about 5% is displayed. We will need matching funds of several hundred thousand pounds in order to complete the work, and we hope that the Friends will join our efforts to raise the money. The refurbished museum will reopen in the summer of 2010 to coincide with the departure of Scott's Terra Nova expedition for Antarctica. The HLF award is a particular achievement for Heather Lane and Bob Smith, who have both worked tirelessly to put the bid together.

News from the Heritage Collections

From the Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane

Heritage Lottery Fund award means Happy New Year for SPRI!

Supported by the National Lottery

The announcement of an award of £994,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) means that we are able to embark on an ambitious project to refit the museum and archives. We are now well on the way to reaching our £1.75m target. Under the banner, "Exploration into Science" the renovation will see the current galleries redesigned, providing additional exhibition space and increasing the capacity for educational research. As a result, never-before-seen items will be displayed and we hope to double visitor numbers to the museum. The project will include a new archive strong room and reserve stores to house all the collections in suitable environmental conditions. Curatorial space will also be expanded to create, for the first time, dedicated search space for the Museum collections. Work will start early in 2009 to finalise the architectural plans and display designs, with the objective of opening the new Museum in June 2010 to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of the departure of Scott's British Antarctic (Terra Nova) Expedition.

The recognition by the Heritage Lottery Fund of the importance of preserving the best of Britain's polar heritage and presenting it to the public could not be more timely. The funding will enable us to design a Polar Museum for the 21st century in time to commemorate the centenary of Robert Falcon Scott and the polar party reaching the South Pole in 1912 - an event which led in turn to the founding of the Institute as the national memorial to Scott and his men. Robyn Llewellyn, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: "The collections at the Scott Polar Research Institute are of outstanding national and international heritage importance. More than telling the story of polar exploration, they embrace the cultures, art and scientific study of the polar regions, including work undertaken to investigate the impact of climate change. This award will mean that many more people will be given the opportunity share and learn about the Institute and its collections."


Gifts to the Collections:

Following the news that the HLF had granted £200,000 towards the development of our Inuit Art collection under their Collecting Cultures programme, we have been delighted to receive as gifts a number of artworks of very high quality. David Williams kindly donated a narwhal tusk and ten beautiful pieces, mainly from northern Canada, including important works by Qaunaq Palluq and George Arloq.

John Harper and Stuart Burns have also gifted two Greenlandic tupilaks, brought back from north-east Greenland by Stephen Pitt, who travelled aboard H.W. Tilman's vessel Mischief in 1965. We are most grateful for these wonderful and unexpected additions, which we hope to be able to put on display when the museum reopens in 2010.

David Langford has recently donated an outstanding collection of books on whaling, as well as an important diary of life in South Georgia in the mid-20th century. Most intriguingly, the gift also includes several thousand slides taken by photographer and inveterate traveller, Dr Sheila Pitts, whose expeditions included visits to many areas of the Arctic and Antarctic. Work has already begun to catalogue the collection and we hope to find the funding to digitise the images in due course.


From the Archives Manager, Naomi Boneham

Our success in attracting new deposits of archival material in recent years means that, in its present condition, the store is no longer fit for purpose. Since arriving at SPRI in 2006, I have accessioned hundreds of new items and our holdings have grown to over 2000 separate collections, some a single letter, others, like the Transglobe Archive, the records of an entire expedition!

The complete refurbishment of the Archive store will form the first phase of the HLF-funded redevelopment work. The existing store will be stripped, the wall and ceiling coverings replaced and a new shelving system installed. This will increase our capacity, while new air conditioning equipment will ensure that the collections are housed in optimum environmental conditions, which adhere to national standards.

While the building work is carried out, I will be taking the opportunity to conduct a complete collection care audit and a programme of re-boxing. This will result in additional material being made available to researchers when we reopen. As a consequence, there will be no access to the archive collections from 1 January to 30 June 2009.

I will do my best to answer enquiries during this time.

Scrimshaw collection online

Our thanks go to Dr Janet West for her support and guidance during this project.

W.E.Hampton reading 'The Motor' on an upturned hard runner sledge, Neny Fjord
W.E.Hampton reading 'The Motor'
on an upturned hard runner sledge, Neny Fjord
Photographer: Quintin Riley
British Graham Land Expedition 1934-37
© SPRI 2008
Freeze Frame

The project is now entering its final quarter and we look forward to the project launch in March. Work continues on the development of the web site, which will showcase 20,000 selected images from the historic photographic collection. We already have over 15,000 images scanned and ready to go.

Sally Verrall and Frank Bowles have moved on to permanent posts elsewhere and we thank them for all their efforts in making the project such a success. We welcome two new members of staff to the project team; Jon Bird and Willow Silvani join us to assist with post-processing and documentation. For further information on progress please see the website.

The British Joint Services Antarctic Expedition 2011-12

The Polar Journey - The Science Expedition
Apply in writing to:
Team selection: Winter 2009

From the Secretaries

Membership (Ann Bean) (

New Friends

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

Overseas Members

Through our sledging activities earlier this year we are delighted to welcome new Friends from America.

Passing Friends

We mentioned the sad death of Peter Speak in our September Polar Bytes. Because of press deadlines we were unable to include our Director's address delivered at the service of Thanksgiving held in late September. This is now enclosed.

Some Dates for your Diary in 2009

Event: Date: Time: Location:
Joint lecture with South Georgia Association, hosted by SPRI - "Visualising South Georgia" - Environmental information in a geographic framework - Paul Cooper, GIS Manager with British Antarctic Survey
7th February 8:00PM SPRI - Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
Rendezvous at SPRI at 7:15pm for drinks and nibbles beforehand
"The Inughuit, living at the edge of human existence" How the people of Avanersuaq face the challenges of the future while retaining their historical culture. Raymond Molony, a regular visitor to the High Arctic since 2000, Raymond has travelled extensively with Inuit hunters, particularly in the Qaanaaq area 21st February 8:00PM SPRI - Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
"The RRS William Scoresby - Cradle to Grave" The RRS Scoresby sailed many thousands of miles through the southern oceans, marking whales, carrying out oceanographic research and other activities both in wartime and in peacetime including Operation Tabarin, between 1926 and 1950. This lecture examines her origins and the significance of her role. Ronald G. Pett, Electrical Engineering Manager (retd) 7th March 8:00PM SPRI - Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre

"Exploration of the North west Passage" Ann Savours

Devon & Cornwall Polar Society

19th March 7:30PM Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, Plymouth
Friends Summer Lunch event 6th June Cambridge Visit!
Michaelmas Term Lecture 17th October 8:00PM SPRI - Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
Michaelmas Term Lecture 31st October 8:00PM SPRI - Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
AGM 2009 and fund-raising event 14th November 5:00PM SPRI - Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
Michaelmas Term Lecture 28th November 8:00PM SPRI - Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre

Doors open for SPRI lectures at 7:30pm.

Further information on the Lectures is available at

The UItimate Travel Company We are most grateful to The Ulltimate Travel Company for sponsoring this edition of Polar Bytes.