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Polar Bytes - No. 52, July 2009

Polar Bytes - No. 52, July 2009

From the Chairman, Robin Back

Dear Friends,

Summer lunch 2009
Summer Lunch 2009

2009 moves on apace and I'm delighted to report on the success of our summer lunch at BAS in early June. Many months in gestation and through the good offices of Dr. Nick Owens, Director of British Antarctic Survey, and the very hard work by Bill Block, Ellen Bazeley-White and others from BAS as well as Celene Pickard whom you all know, we were able to enjoy a very well-organised lunch, sledgers presentation and guided tour of BAS facilities on June 6th. Deprived of our normal venue at the Institute I cannot think of a more welcoming environment in which to enjoy our 'away-day'. There is a great deal going on at BAS and we could mostly do no more than scratch the surface but nevertheless the opportunity was sincerely appreciated.

HMS Scott
HMS Scott
©2009 Royal Navy/MOD

With the trials facing HMS Endurance, HMS Scott has been assigned to Southern Ocean duties in the coming Austral Summer. Her Captain, Commander Gary Hesling, has offered Friends a tour of the ship in PLYMOUTH on 16th October before she heads south to take up her duties. A flyer is enclosed and since places are limited please complete and return this promptly if you wish to join.

Details of the proposed Centennial voyage plans have at last been received from the Kapitan Khlebnikov's Agents and sadly, I have to report they do not offer the voyage we had expected. The good news, since the Summer Lunch, is that an alternative at lower cost is available. This will involve a smaller, ice-strengthened vessel and fewer passengers, mid-Jan to mid-Feb 2011. I had hoped to include much more detail but the paperwork is not yet complete.

Our next large function is of course our AGM and fund-raising lecture on November 14th. (NB for diaries). Pen Hadow has generously agreed to talk to us about his very apposite and interesting Catlin Arctic Survey to the North Pole in April/May this year. Whilst on the subject I hope you all followed and rejoiced in the success of the NORUK expedition (also to the North Pole) with Bob Russell, Sledger and Friends 90 degree member together with Per Thore Hansen, our Sledgers no. 1 favourite dog team leader.

Museum before Museum after Museum diagram
Before ...
© 2009 Bob Smith, SPRI
© 2009 Bob Smith, SPRI
The New museum!
© 2009 SPRI

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

In Cambridge over the past month, many of the senior staff at SPRI have been involved in marking examinations at undergraduate level, and in the assessment of the Masters Degree students on our Polar Studies course. This work is now complete, and we turn to the summer. For several of us, this means field programmes; this year in Svalbard, Norway and offshore of West Greenland.

Greenland Iceberg
Icebergs produced from one of the fast-flowing outlet
glaciers draining the Greenland Ice Sheet.
©2009 Julian Dowdeswell SPRI

The UK's ice-strengthened research vessel, James Clark Ross, leaves Falmouth in early August heading around Cape Farewell into the huge Baffin Bay between the western side of Greenland and Baffin Island. I will be joining the ship in Illulisat (formerly Jakobshavn) at 69°N on about 15 August, flying into Greenland from Copenhagen. The ship will be undertaking a month of sediment sampling and marine-geophysical work imaging glacial landforms on the sea bed and investigating the timing and nature of the ice-influenced deposits on the West Greenland continental shelf. The aim is to reconstruct the past growth and decay of the Greenland Ice Sheet over the past 20,000 or so years.

The fast-flowing ice streams draining basins of 50 to 100,000 km2 on the ice sheet are moving at up to 12 km per year; the fastest anywhere in the World. They produce very large numbers of icebergs, some of which remain trapped in the coastal fjords for several years before release into Baffin Bay. The deep underwater keels of these icebergs plough furrows in the sea floor and also carry relatively coarse sandy material into the deep waters of the Bay. The past quantities of icebergs can, in fact, be assessed by measuring changes in the amount of sand in the deep-water sediments of Baffin Bay. We will be investigating past changes in the rate of sand deposition to reconstruct the activity of the fast-flowing ice streams as part of our work.

As well as being a considerable scientific interest, the fjords and glaciers of West Greenland are very beautiful, if relatively inaccessible except by icebreaker, as the photograph shows. We will return to the Humber Estuary port of Immingham by mid-September, and the geophysical and geological datasets we collect will be analysed further in the laboratory over the subsequent months.

Volunteer Museum Manager

The new museum will be staffed by volunteers. We wish to recruit a volunteer who will be responsible for managing the museum and staff on a day to day basis, looking after staff rotas and the shop. This is not a full-time position and the hours are negotiable. For an informal discussion of the post, please contact Heather Lane at the Institute.

If you are interested, please send a short CV and covering letter to Kate Gilbert, Director's Assistant, Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1ER. Closing date for applications is 14th August 2009 and we will hold interviews at the end of August.

The New Polar Musuem

Robert Smith, Project Manager, SPRI development

The archive before
©2009 Bob Smith, SPRI
The Archive before ...

As those of you who have visited the Institute in the last few months will have noticed, we are now well into our plans for the redevelopment of the Museum and archives. First to be completed was the archive which has been transformed into a state-of-the-art store with new steel shelving on mobile bases providing substantially increased space for the growing collections.

At the same time a completely new museum storage area has been created in the basement of the Institute. Due to be completed by mid July, this will provide more space, stable environmental conditions and an area where the collections can be studied and researched. Although both of these developments are behind the scenes they are vital to the future of the museum and archives at SPRI.

We are now well on with the development of the Museum itself which closed in April for the removal of asbestos lagging to the old heating system. The first, and major, phase of building work is due to start in mid July, preparing for the installation of showcases and the new exhibition. Of particular significance will be the re-opening of the Lensfield Road entrance to the museum, closed since the late 1960s, and the re-positioning of the Institute entrance at the side of the building, giving us some 25% more floor space for the new displays.

Work is also well advanced on the new displays – developing an overall thematic structure, choosing objects and writing texts. Trying to get it all in has proved quite a challenge and our designers have worked hard to get everything we want into what is still quite a small area.

Due to the building work, access to the building will be somewhat restricted especially during July and August but we will be maintaining as normal a service as possible. This phase should be completed by the beginning of December so that the fitting out of the new museum can start in early January with a target of re-opening on 1 June 2010 in time for the beginning of the commemorations of Scott and his companion epic journey. We hope the new displays will be a fitting tribute.

Archives & Museum

The new archive
©2009 Bob Smith, SPRI
The NEW archive!

From the Archivist, Naomi Boneham

I am pleased to announce that work on the Archive store and collection audit is complete and the manuscript collections moved into their new home at the end of June. As a result we will be reopening to researchers from 1 July 2009. Access is by appointment via our online booking form or by contacting me directly. The closure provided an ideal opportunity to look through the collections and make plans for their future care.

Other News

The Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany announced in July the use of an infra-red thermal imaging device on board the RV Polarstern to record whale distributions. There are a number of practical difficulties in using ship-mounted cameras – mainly how to ensure they are always pointing in the right direction! This has been overcome by using stabilised platforms which ensure the upper edge of the image is always aligned with the horizon. The system generates five images a second of the area surrounding the ship from a height of 28 meters above waterline. It is claimed that fitting such systems to survey or other ships can warn of the presence of whales so that evasive action can be taken.

Cathy Cooper lectures in Lowestoft
Cathy Cooper at the Waveney Chambers of Commerce

On a different tack, this photo shows Cathy Cooper giving a talk on her sledging experiences to the Waveney Chambers of Commerce, Ladies Division, in Lowestoft in June. She gave a talk and slide show presentation on Dog Sledging with emphasis on the 2010 event. The talk was well received raising interest in both the challenge and the Institute. If other Friends feel called to do something similar to their local groups – and it IS fun to do – please let us know via Celene and feel free to ask for help and guidance.

From the Secretaries

Membership (Ann Bean) (

New Friends

A very warm welcome is extended to all new members and in particular to those who raised money for the Friends by taking part in this year's Sponsored Dog Sledging expedition.

Passing Friends

We are very sorry to note the passing of David Limbert - a Friend for many years.

Bob Headland writes: "Many of you will have known him well but, in any case, the note in the Polar Medal book by Neville Poulsom and John Myers gives a concise biography of which a summary is: He first served as a meteorologist with the advance party Royal Society Halley Bay Expedition in 1956. After a time in the Meteorological Office he became Chief Meteorologist with FIDS and BAS. He became Secretary of the International Council of Polar Meteorology, a council member of the Royal Meteorological Society, and a delegate to the World Meteorological Organization."

Passings of note:

Edith "Jackie" Ronne: Her obituary in the Washington Post talks of her being persuaded to be the first American woman to land and overwinter on the Antarctic continent in 1947/8 by her husband Finn Ronne who protested he couldn't do it without her. Finn and Jackie were part of a successful scientific expedition, mapping over 250,000 square miles of the Antarctic Peninsular and the Weddell sea coast, despite difficulties which arose amongst the team from time to time. Now known as the Ronne Ice Shelf, this area was originally named 'Edith Ronne Land' before being renamed at Jackie's request to honour the Ronne name.

Wayland Young, 2nd Lord Kennet, died in May 2009 at the age of 85. His obituary describes him as journalist and author with a wide spread of interests. He was active in politics throughout his career enjoying ministerial responsibilities in the Wilson and Blair governments until the latter's 'reforms' of the House of Lords resulted in expulsion of all but 92 of the hereditary peers in 1999. Calling this his liberation, he then felt able to comment freely on the Blair Government's foreign and military policy and proceeded to do just that! Connected with Polar affairs through his mother, Kathleen, widow of Captain Scott, Wayland served on the Polar Committee of the NERC for many years as well as other public bodies in conservation.

Some Dates for your Diary

Lectures in 2009: Date: Time: Location:
Gavin Francis - Travels in Arctic Europe 17th October 20:00 Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
Paul Berkman - Polar Politics 31st October 20:00 Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre
Pen Hadow - Catlin Arctic Survey 14th November From 17:00 BMS (Main Chemistry) Lecture theatre
David Wilson - Shackleton's Nimrod Expeditions 28th November 20:00 Pfizer (Chemistry) Lecture theatre