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Polar Bytes - No. 54, January 2010

Polar Bytes - No. 54, January 2010

From the Chairman, Robin Back

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year and a prosperous 2010 to all our readers! Thank you to all who attended our AGM and Pen Hadow's lecture and helped to make the day a success. Numbers were less than we had hoped, perhaps not surprisingly in the current climate. However, we enjoyed a very amusing and perceptive lecture from Pen, describing a 'bad day at the office' as he swam across an open lead north of Greenland towing his sledge!

In the light of economic events, your committee is currently reviewing all the Friends activities. The 2010 Sledging adventure and the evening in Dyers Hall to promote it have both had to be cancelled due to lack of numbers. This is desperately disappointing after all the hard work involved and we must now look elsewhere to boost our fundraising. We hope to have news of fresh initiatives in the spring. At the same time, we have reviewed our overheads and have reduced these where we can. For example, our Executive Secretary, Celene, will reduce her remunerated hours by a third. Further changes cannot be ruled out.

Set against this is the success of bookings for the Friends Centennial voyage to the Ross Sea in January 2011. We had reserved 30 berths on the Spirit of Enderby through Heritage Expeditions of Christchurch NZ. Their UK agents, Discover the World, tell me there is now a waiting list.

I must now mention membership fees. The basic Friends membership fees have been unchanged for ten years whilst adding the 80° and 90° categories in 2004/5. We have concluded that a moderate increase is now unavoidable and a new structure is published (see panel) to take effect on 1st August this year (2010). Those who wish to upgrade their membership at the current prices before that date are very welcome to do so whilst a form to instruct your banks to amend standing order payments will come with April's Polar Bytes.

Revised scale of membership fees with effect from 1st August 2010
  • Polar Circle Annual Fee: £20 (Individual), £30 (Family), £25 (Overseas)
  • Polar Circle Life Membership: £400 (Individual), £600 (Joint)
  • 80 Degree Club Annual Fee: £80 (Individual), £120 (Family), £100 (Overseas)
  • 80 Degree Club Life Membership: £1200 (Individual), £1800 (Joint)
  • 90 Degree Club Life Membership: £6000 (Individual), £9000 (Joint)

Two new appointments to our committee were announced at the AGM - Commodore Nick Lambert, formerly CO of HMS Endurance and shortly to assume the role of Deputy Chief Executive of UK Hydrographic Office, and Rie Inouë, Life 80° member. We welcome them both whilst saying farewell to Celene Pickard as a committee member although she remains in her role as Executive Secretary. Numerically, I leave the committee as well but remain Chairman until the end of this year.

At the Art Event
Sara Wheeler, Judy Skelton and Heather Lane
at the Artists' Evening

Also at the AGM we welcomed Putachad Leyland the artist to the 80° club and thanked her and her fellow artists for their fund-raising efforts last September. Particular thanks also to Sara Wheeler, author and guest of honour. Whilst on this topic, we continue to be in awe at Jennifer Murray's exploits, this time in Namibia and her success in raising sponsorship moneys for the Friends.

There are four lectures planned for the Lent term starting on 6th Feb. and fortnightly thereafter. Details are at the end but please note that Paul Goldstein's illustrated lecture on Feb 20th will be in the Wolfson lecture Theatre (School of Chemistry) and tickets will be £5 on the door (free to SPRI Members). Otherwise, we shall continue to use the Pfizer lecture theatre but we are confident we shall return to our home in the Institute for the next Michaelmas term.

Our summer lunch will be one month later this year due to other events at the Institute intervening. Please note the date for your diaries as Saturday, 10th July, 2010 from 12:00PM and IN THE INSTITUTE! For many, this may be your first glimpse of the 'new' museum!

The Institute

From the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

The Hut at Cape Evans
The Hut at Cape Evans from Flagstaff Hill
Photo © Julian Dowdeswell

I have just returned from a month in the McMurdo Sound area of Antarctica. My main purpose was to take part in a collaborative scientific programme to measure the thickness of ice in a very poorly mapped but huge area of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. A particular highlight of the work was our success in measuring ice thickness and bed properties at the base of Byrd Glacier, which drains a huge basin in the interior of East Antarctica. The work took place supported by grants from the Natural Environment Research Council (to Bristol, Cambridge and Edinburgh universities in the UK) and from the US National Science Foundation (to the University of Texas).

During my stay on the American base at McMurdo Sound, I was also able to visit a number of historic sites in the area. These included Scott's Discovery hut at Hut Point and the Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans, as well as the superb views from the memorial cross on Observation Hill. It was especially interesting, and also very moving, to be in the historic huts, which have so much preserved in their interiors from the 'heroic era'. I was also a guest for dinner and a tour of the New Zealand Scott Base, close to McMurdo, and enjoyed both the Kiwi hospitality and a walk to the nearby ice ridges and into Sir Edmund Hillary's Trans-Antarctic Expedition hut. I was delighted to be asked to give a talk to several hundred people on McMurdo Base, on the subject of British exploration of Antarctica.

Cross at Observation Hill
The Memorial Cross on Observation Hill
Photo © Julian Dowdeswell

On my way South, I was also able to meet a number of people in New Zealand involved with Antarctic science and heritage; Prof. Bryan Storey at Gateway Antarctica, Anthony Wright, Director of the Canterbury Museum, Nigel Watson of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust and Lou Sanson, Head of Antarctica New Zealand. Anthony and Nigel showed me the Antarctic gallery at the Museum and took me behind the scenes to see the curatorial work going on with artefacts from the huts.

Returning to Cambridge in mid December, I found the museum building works nearing completion – indeed, this phase of the refurbishment was accepted from the contractor just before Christmas. From now until the late spring, the display-case installation and fit-out will be taking place in time for re-opening in June 2010.

May I thank all of you for your support in what has been a busy and important year for the Institute?

Julian Dowdeswell, Director.

Archives & Museum

From Heather Lane, Librarian and Keeper of Collections

Digital Optical Module
The Digital Optical Module © SPRI

The American project team for the IceCube Neutrino telescope at South Pole recently presented a Digital Optical module (DOM) to the Museum. We were delighted to receive this as an example of an exciting technological development. IceCube, a telescope under construction at the South Pole, will search for neutrinos from the most violent astrophysical sources: events like exploding stars, gamma ray bursts, and cataclysmic phenomena involving black holes and neutron stars. The telescope uses large volumes of ice below the South Pole to watch for the rare neutrino that crashes into an atom of ice. This collision produces a particle ­ dubbed a "muon" ­ that emerges from the wreckage. In the ultra-transparent ice, the muon radiates blue light that is detected by IceCube's optical sensors.

Further information can be found at

We were also honoured to accept a further gift from John Kelly, whose 2009 exhibition at SPRI was such a success. John has kindly donated one of his forensic boxes, entitled 6 February Observation Bluff, made from materials collected on Signy Island, with drawings and photographs from his visit there in 2003.

ADVERT: Interested in working for the new Polar Museum? We are looking for volunteers to help staff the new museum when we re-open in June 2010, in particular, people who can give their time on a regular basis to work on the reception desk and the museum shop and to help visitors to the museum. If you are interested in joining the volunteer team, please send a short CV to Kate Gilbert at the Institute.

Friends visit to Plymouth

Visit to HMS Scott and to Plymouth Marine Laboratory Friday 16thOct. 2009

More than 20 members of the Friends were received on board by Lt. Commander Philip Harper and his officers and crew shortly before HMS Scott sailed to the Southern Ocean to take up her duties replacing HMS Endurance. The ship has recently come out of refit and is in excellent shape for her new role.

Robin Back receives HMS Scott plaque
Presentation of HMS Scott shield to our Chairman

A key part of this is undersea or bathymetric mapping of the sea floor using her state-of-the-art side-scan sonar array. As Lt. Cmdr. Tony Jenks explained, this is a line of devices across the beam of the ship which send out sonar pulses in a fan shape downwards towards the sea bed. The echoes, as these pulses are reflected back to the ship, are measured by a second array of devices. The results are processed and result in a computer generated 3D image of the sea floor. The whole process is continuous as the ship moves forward along a pre-determined path at a steady speed. Depending on sea conditions, she is able to accurately map up to 150 KM2 in an hour. We were shown a bathymetric survey off the coast of North Sumatra (Bandar Aceh) clearly showing the underground trench and debris slide arising from the tectonic movements which caused the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami.

We were also shown the rest of the ship from the engine room to the Bridge and the well-appointed crew accommodation in between. The ship is manned to commercial marine levels as she is not a warship although all officers and crew are of course Royal Navy personnel. Lunch in the wardroom brought the occasion to a close when thanks were tendered. Julian Evans (grandson of Lt. Teddy Evans) had brought with him a piece of family silver which had been used on the Terra Nova. Lt.Cmdr Harper very generously presented to the Friends a shield of the HMS Scott badge and motto and a suitable place will be found for this in the Institute.

Plymouth Marine LaboratoriesPlymouth Marine Laboratory

After lunch on board, the party made its way to PML's research centre on Prospect Place where Kelvin Boot and his colleagues, Tim Fileman and Kelly-Marie Davidson had laid on a most interesting series of short expositions on the research being carried out. This is almost entirely to do with the biodiversity and biogeochemistry of the world's oceanic systems as well as the study of pollution in estuarine and marine environments. This is of course a huge topic and PML contribute to and are supported by a large network of national and international scientific research organisations.

Our group was then split into manageable numbers and given tours of the building. The laboratory facilities are most impressive and whilst the lay members of our party struggled with some of the more technical aspects, the breadth and scope of the research programmes was well illustrated.

It is important to recognise that, as with our own Institute's research programmes, an important element lies in the sustained, year-by-year accretion of data without which measurement of trends is meaningless. It is to be hoped that research programmes such as these will not fall victim to the economic problems we are facing and will be allowed to continue for all our sakes.

The visit concluded with tea and thanks were tendered for a most informative and welcoming tour.

From the Secretaries

Membership (Ann Bean) (

New Friends

A very warm welcome is extended to all new members. Membership is expanding and is now 627.

With the increase in subscriptions becoming effective from 1st August 2010 a new Banker's Order form will be included with the April issue of Polar Bytes. We realise that for many of you your subscription renewal will not be due until the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011 but this is the most cost effective way of delivering the new forms and gives you plenty of time to get your new order in place and also gives the opportunity to those of you currently paying by cheque or credit card to change to paying by Banker's Order. We look forward to your continued support and please return the completed forms to me in due course.

Passing Friends

We are very sorry to note the passing of Rear Admiral Sir David Haslam in September 2009 aged 86. Sir David retired from the post of Hydrographer to the Royal Navy in 1985 after 44 years in the service. He specialised in hydrography as early as 1944 when he surveyed a number of unexplored estuaries in Malaya and Burma preparing for the aborted 'zipper' landings. This was followed by a number of posts in HM survey ships in one of which, Hecla, he landed on Rockall in 1964 to claim the territory and surrounding seas for the Crown. His commercial success at the Hydrography office in Taunton included winning the Queens Award for Export Achievement – unique amongst Govt departments.

Sir David never married but had numerous nephews and nieces as well as 32 godchildren. In retirement he devoted himself to Bromsgrove School and a number of national sporting associations together with serving as Chairman of the International Committee of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. There is also an extended obituary.

Some Dates for your Diary

FoSPRI Lent Term Lectures 2010: Date: Time: Location:
"With Scott in the Antarctic, Edward Wilson – Explorer, Naturalist, Artist" Isobel Williams: Doctor & Biographer 6th February 20:00 doors open 19:30 Pfizer Lecture theatre, school of Chemistry
"Penguins to Polar Bears" Illustrated lecture by Paul Goldstein: Photographer 20th February 20:00 doors open 19:30 Wolfson Lecture theatre
Tickets £5.00 on the door (Free to SPRI Members)
"Conservation" Fiona Carhill: Institute Conservator 6th March 20:00 doors open 19:30 Pfizer Lecture theatre, school of Chemistry
"The South Sandwich Islands" Bob Headland (in conjunction with the South Georgia Association) 20th March 20:00 doors open 19:30 Pfizer Lecture theatre, school of Chemistry
Other Events in 2010:
RGS sponsored exhibition of works of Edward Wilson 1902 - 1912 12th Mar to 24th May Open Daily Brantwood, Coniston, Cumbria
Friends' Summer Lunch 2010 10th July 12:00 noon In the Institute!
We are most grateful to Exodus Travel Company for sponsoring this edition of Polar Bytes. Exodus Logo

All images in this issue of Polar Bytes are copyright their respective owners