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Polar Bytes - No. 51, April 2009

Polar Bytes - No. 51, April 2009

From the Chairman, Robin Back

Dear Friends,

As I write, our 2009 intrepid sledgers are preparing for their departure to North Norway. We wish them a very enjoyable trip and look forward to hearing how they get on. The 2008 journeys were the most successful ever, raising large sums for the Friends ready to help the next phase of development at the Institute. Elsewhere in this issue you will learn of progress made at the Institute but all the staff have been involved in moving, clearing, storing and putting back.

Our Lent term lecture series has now drawn to a close with a varied range of topics. All were well-attended and we were particularly pleased to host the South Georgia Association as our curtain-raiser in February. Although arrangements have been complicated by the unavailability of the SPRI Lecture Theatre, we were able to use the SPRI lobby that evening to host a small reception before adjourning to the Pfizer theatre in the School of Chemistry. Our two subsequent lectures show the variety of topics we are able to present. Raymond Moloney talked of the pressures facing the Inughuit people of North Greenland in the face of creeping westernisation from the Danish south and the presence of the US Base at Thule while, in contrast, Ron Pett, retired Electrical engineer and industrial historian spoke of the RRS William Scoresby, her construction and career. Our Michaelmas Term Lecture series begins on 3rd October 2009.

Installation of Frank Wild Memorial
Bronze Memorial to Frank Wild installed at the Grytviken church
Photo © 2009 Angie Butler

With January's Polar Bytes, we enclosed a flyer about Angie Butler's journey to South Georgia to set up a plaque in memory of Frank Wild, A devoted companion of Ernest Shackleton and one of the Heroic Age's most-travelled Antarctic explorers. Here is the plaque installed in the church at Grytviken showing Angie the sculptress (and sledger), on the left with Elsa Davidson, curator of the South Georgia Museum. Angie was supported by One Ocean expeditons South Georgia Heritage Trust, The James Caird Society, Lockbund Bronze Foundry and others. She reports: "The unveiling took place with all the passengers, some 40, in the church. We read two Shackleton poems and also from his journal. Ray McMahon, the historian for One Ocean Expeditions, the company that kindly gave me the trip, made a wonderful speech. After the unveiling of the plaque we all drank a tot of rum to honour the great man!"

Our next event is on Saturday 6th June and is our traditional summer Lunch – except it will take a different form since we will not have access to the Institute.

Kapitan Khlebnikov
"Kapitan Khlebnikov"
Photo © 2000 Robin Back

Instead, we are arranging a visit and guided tour to BAS in Cambridge. Details are on the enclosed flyer and as usual, please send in your requests for tickets as soon as you can together with an SAE so we can send your tickets to you.

Friends will know I have close to my heart a voyage to the Ross Sea area and historic huts to coincide with the centennial of the Terra Nova's voyage to the Antarctic in 1910. We have just had confirmation that this voyage will now take place on the Kapitan Khlebnikov as we had originally hoped. Getting to this stage has taken almost two years but we expect to announce full details of costs and how to apply in the near future. Interest is keen, especially amongst the families of those directly connected with the Terra Nova.

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

I have just come back from a week of research work in Svalbard. By late March the light is returning to the archipelago, although the temperatures during my visit were still between -15 and -20°C. Wind and drifting snow were the predominant weather, but on my last day it was clear and calm (see photo of Longyearbyen).

Longyearbyen in early Spring
Longyearbyen at 78 degrees North in Svalbard, in the early
Spring. The church, power station and some mining
buildings can be seen on this clear and calm morning
with temperatures around -15 degrees C
Image © 2009 Julian Dowdeswell

One of our staff, Dr Poul Christoffersen will be in eastern Svalbard for the coming weeks, working on the changing flow of the large ice cap of Vestfonna. In the summer I, and several others from SPRI, will also take part in a five-week marine geophysical cruise of the RRS James Clark Ross to the fjords and continental shelf offshore of West Greenland. The aim of this work is to reconstruct the past growth and decay of the Greenland Ice Sheet from the imprint it has left on the marine sedimentary record.

Back at SPRI, the refurbishment of the Polar Museum continues. We are making progress in terms of raising matching funds to go along with the Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £1 million. Planning and design work on the new museum displays is also taking place at the moment. Our intention is to make sure that the contemporary significance of the polar regions in a warming world is projected clearly, along with the exploration and scientific work of earlier times. From Easter the museum will be closed for just over a year and we look forward to reopening in the early summer of 2010.

The new Polar Museum

From Project Manager, Robert Smith

By now I am sure you will all be aware that SPRI has been awarded just over £1 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the total of £1.73 million for the re-development of the Museum. Added to the funds that SPRI has already raised, this generous award means that we are now ready to start work on what is arguably one of the most exciting periods in the history of the Institute since the opening of the building in 1934.

The re-development has two distinct, though related, phases. The first will be behind the scenes - the refurbishment of the Archives on the first floor of the Institute, and the development of new museum storage facilities in the basement. The former will mean that the Archives will not only be housed to the highest possible standards, but there will be enough space for the foreseeable future to accommodate what is an ever-growing, internationally renowned, resource. The latter is of particular importance as it means that we will be able to keep our artefact collections in optimum conditions.

More visible, however, will be the second phase - a complete renovation of the museum galleries, and work here will start in the summer. Most obviously, we will open up the old entrance on Lensfield Road, blocked since the late 1960s, so that visitors will once again be able to appreciate the wonderful façade of the building. In addition, the existing entrance to the Institute will remain for non-museum visitors, although it will be moved back to provide an increase in floor area for the new museum.
We already have outline plans for how the new museum will look, though these are still in the development stage. Essentially, we are planning displays on the history of exploration and science in the Polar Regions and which will show how our knowledge of the Poles is helping us to understand changes in our world today.

All this work means that the Archives have already closed for a thorough re-organisation and will re-open in the summer. The Museum will close on 4 April 2009 and will re-open in late Spring 2010, in time for the commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of the departure of Terra Nova in June 2010.

We are just about to start the last phase of planning. Regular updates on progress will be given in forthcoming issues of Polar Bytes.

Archives & Museum

From the Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane

Recent Museum acquisitions include a small leather rucksack, made while awaiting rescue by Frank Kenneth Elliott, FIDS Base Leader at Hope Bay, after the Hope Bay fire in 1948 and kindly donated by him. We also acquired at auction a 19th century brass pocket compass. The lid has a printed label with the words: 'Pocket compass used by the late Sir Robert Le Messieur McClure, K.C.B., the discoverer of the North West Passage.' This we hope to put on display when the Museum reopens. Alexander Dalgety has generously donated the Bell and Howell cine camera in a leather case used by his father, C.T. Dalgety, on the 1934 Wordie Expedition. Film taken by this camera is held by SPRI.

We have also been able, with Friends' funds, to purchase an 1846 pattern presentation naval officer's sword, retailed by Whiteman, Portsea, and presented to Adam Ayles, a member of Nares' Arctic Expedition, 1875-1876. Ayles was Chief Petty Officer of HMS Alert, one of the two ships that made the Royal Navy's last attempt to reach the North Pole, commencing on 29th May 1875. They reached Greenland in August of that year, but were unable to travel further as the ship was trapped in the ice. They continued their expedition by sledge, with Ayles leading one of the teams chosen to journey west, but failed to reach the Pole. The one notable reward for their suffering came when Aldrich, Ayles and their team set a new mark for Farthest North, breaking a record that had stood for 50 years.

From the Archivist, Naomi Boneham

A hundred years ago ...
Nimrod, beset in the ice
"The Nimrod beset in ice"
British Antarctic Expedition 1907/9
© 2009 SPRI Freezeframe library

Freeze Frame launched amid much positive publicity on 4 March 2009. Over the past two years a dedicated team have been digitising cataloguing and creating information packages based around 20,000 images from the historic photographic collections. The first results of this work went live at and additional images will be made available throughout the coming months. Although aimed at the higher and further education communities and part of a wider digitisation programme funded by JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee), Freeze Frame is free to access by all. For those friends wishing to view the images at SPRI a set of new computers in the Friends Room of the SPRI library will provide access to the resources.

Other News

From the Antarctic

The Census of Antarctic Marine Life (CAML) - a SCAR programme, an IPY programme, and part of the global Census of Marine Life - found some 7500 animal species, 1000 more than were known before. Surprisingly, some 235 species were found to be common to both the Arctic and the Antarctic. See this article, published on 14th March for more details of this unexpected discovery.

The Russian Antarctic Expedition continues to make progress in drilling toward Subglacial Lake Vostok, the largest known subglacial lake on earth. The lake/ice interface is now believed to be less than 100 meters away. If all goes well, the first ever direct sampling of a subglacial lake beneath the vast East Antarctic ice sheet is expected to occur some time in 2009-2010, More here on the IPY website

On February 15th, 2009, the Brussels-based International Polar Foundation (IPF) officially inaugurated the new Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Station, the very first Antarctic research station ever designed and built to run entirely on renewable solar and wind energies.The new "zero emission" Belgian research station is the only research platform completed during the fourth International Polar Year (IPY) and constitutes Belgium's main contribution to IPY-4.

From the Secretaries

Membership (Ann Bean) (

New Friends

A very warm welcome is extended to all new members. Membership is currently 640.

Passing Friends

We are very sorry to hear of the passing in October last year of Mr F G Larminie.

Some Dates for your Diary

Event Date: Time: Location:
Friends Summer visit to BAS 6th June 11:30 BAS, Madingley
Michaelmas Term Lecture 3rd October 20:00 Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
Michaelmas Term Lecture 17th October 20:00 Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
Michaelmas Term Lecture 31st October 20:00 Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
AGM 2009 and fund-raising event 14th November From 17:00 BMS (Main Chemistry) Lecture theatre
Michaelmas Term Lecture 28th November 20:00 Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
A moulting King Penguin on Macquarie Island. Image © 2000 Robin Back
King Penguin chick, Macquarie Island
We are most grateful to Hurtigruten for sponsoring this edition of Polar Bytes. More details at Hurtigruten Logo