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Polar Bytes - No. 57, October 2010

Polar Bytes - No. 57, October 2010

From the Chairman, Robin Back

Dear Friends,

Poster: The Great White Silence
AGM Event 2010 © 2010 BFI

After the hectic events following the re-opening of the Museum, the summer has provided a breathing space. The visitor traffic to the refurbished museum is more than triple what it was before and the new opening hours are proving very popular. Activity is expected to increase further once schools return.

We now turn our attention to our AGM day on the 13th of November. This will be a special event involving the first preview showing of the digitally re-mastered Ponting film, "The Great White Silence" in conjunction with the British Film Institute. A short introductory lecture to the extraordinary challenges faced by the BFI (coincidentally re-emphasising how far advanced, technically, was Ponting himself) will be followed by the digital version of the film presented as audiences in 1924 would have seen it. There is an event page with further details, including ticket information. Doors open at 3:30PM for the 4:00PM event.

Ponting at work
Herbert Ponting at work 1910/11 © SPRI

The Institute Museum and Shop will be open until 4:00PM so please do bear this in mind when planning your day. The Shop will not be open in the evening although we expect to open the museum after the AGM.

Our AGM itself will follow at 6:30PM. Should you wish to be considered for a committee position please ask Celene Pickard for a nomination form. As our strategies evolve, different expertise is required so do please get in touch if you would like to help. Nomination forms need to be returned to Celene before October 31st.

A buffet supper in the lobby and lecture theatre will follow the AGM and tickets for this can be obtained as described on the AGM Page, which also contains the Agenda for our AGM.

The minutes of last year's meeting are enclosed (in the print edition only), together with a summary financial statement for your perusal.

The committee will appoint a new Chairman at its meeting before the AGM and this will be announced at the AGM itself – which now reverts to its normal home in the Institute. Whilst on this topic, Cathy Cooper and Judy Skelton leave your committee this year on completion of their terms and on your behalf I would like to thank them both most sincerely for their very extensive contributions during their period of office. Cathy's involvement and encouragement of our sledging activities has been a great success and she has laid solid foundations for the future. This is Judy's second stint on the committee and her valuable contribution in bringing our financial affairs under more stringent controls has coincided with new arrangements at the Institute and within the University's financial procedures.

Finally, please remember that post/email bids for the auction of Rowan Huntley's painting of Luigi Peak must be received by October 31st.

The Institute

From the Director, Julian Dowdeswell

The summer at SPRI, after the end of the academic teaching year at Cambridge, is a time for our senior academic staff to go into the field in the Arctic and to get on with the analysis and writing up of our research. Several of us have been in Svalbard during August and September, and the datasets that are collected are often combined with satellite remote sensing observations and computer modelling of glaciers and ice caps in order to gain the fullest possible understanding of how those ice masses are behaving. Most of the glaciers we are working on at the moment have been retreating and thinning over the past years.

In the Institute, a splendid exhibition of Antarctic paintings by the Australian artist Sidney Nolan has just opened. The exhibition will remain open in our foyer space until mid-December and I hope that many of you will be able to view the paintings after the Friends Annual General Meeting at SPRI on 13 November. The museum will also be open for those of you yet to see the fruits of our redesign and refurbishment programme. Our visitor numbers have at least trebled since the reopening in June.

This week is marks the beginning of the new academic year in the University. I am delighted to say that our Masters Programme in Polar Studies, the first of its kind in the world when it was set up, continues to thrive. We have nine students this year, some taking the Polar Social Science and Humanities strand and others the Science topics. Students from many countries have attended the course since its establishment and several have published papers in the international literature as a result of their studies.

News from the Collections

From the Librarian Heather Lane

Scott family gift Terra Nova model

'John Bull' Terra Nova
The 'John Bull' Model of the Terra Nova in silver.
The gift of the Scott Family © 2010 SPRI

We are enormously grateful to the Scott family (Nicola, Dafila and Falcon in particular) for their generous gift to the Museum of the silver model of Terra Nova, which was formerly in the family home of Lady Philippa Scott at Slimbridge. This is a very important addition to the collection, as we previously had no model of the vessel. The model was originally given in 1913 to the young Peter Scott, after the loss of his father, by the proprietors and readers of the John Bull Magazine, which had chosen Peter as 'John Bull's Boy'.

Terra Nova was a sturdy three-masted whaler, purchased by the British Antarctic Expedition in 1909. The beautifully crafted model comes complete with anchors, winches and davits. The rigging is silver wire. The sails are furled and the hatches battened down. An inscription on the base of the model shows that it was made by Mappin and Webb.

Just like the full scale Terra Nova, the model appears, in conservation terms, to have had something of a turbulent time. Past repairs, including new stays not made from the same silver as the originals, will be carefully assessed before any decisions are made on treatment. The model has a slightly yellow glow as sometime in the past it has been lacquered. This is a common practice for silver but requires careful and skillful application as the lacquer can cross-link and discolour as it has done here. Before any conservation is carried out the model will be photographed and a note made of any damage and other interesting features. Research will also be undertaken into the background of the model and its history. Regular updates on its conservation will be put onto the SPRI conservation blog.

Arctic and Antarctic News

Ridge clue to Antarctic ice loss

By Mark Kinver Science and environment reporter, BBC News

Pine Island Glacier is one of the largest in Antarctica. The discovery of an underwater ridge in West Antarctica could help explain why there has been an acceleration in the ice flowing from a glacier in the area. Researchers suggest that the base of Pine Island Glacier once sat on the ridge, but recently became detached from the feature. The team made the discovery during surveys that used a unmanned submarine to examine waters under the glacier.

The findings have been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

In Ground-Based Astronomy's Final Frontier, China Aims for New Heights

No place on Earth rivals the Antarctic Plateau for stargazing. The air is thin and bone-dry; dust is minimal. As observatories go, the higher the better — and at 4093 metres above sea level, it doesn't get any higher on the East Antarctic icecap than Dome A. Last year, Chinese researchers opened Kunlun Station near Dome A. Now they intend to find out if a superior vantage point translates into superior astronomy. At a workshop last month, astronomers unveiled plans to build two major telescopes at Dome A during the Chinese government's next 5-year plan, to start in 2011. The 2.5-metre Kunlun Dark Universe Telescope, or KDUST, would survey the optical and near-infrared bands for planets beyond our solar system and plumb the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. However, "one instrument would be lonely," says astronomer Yang Ji, director of Nanjing's Purple Mountain Observatory, which is developing a companion: a 5-metre terahertz (THz) telescope to observe 200- to 350-micrometer wavelengths. This "under-explored frequency window" is acutely sensitive to gas clouds — ideal for probing, for example, star and planet formation, says Qizhou Zhang, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a member of the group that initiated the THz telescope project.

Ancient giant penguin unearthed in Peru

Peru Penguin
Artist's impression of the giant penguin
compared with inquisitive Emperor
and Magellanic varieties.
Image © 2010 The Money Times

By Katia Moskvitch Science reporter, BBC News

The fossil of a giant penguin that lived 36 million years ago has been discovered in Peru. Scientists say the find shows that key features of the plumage were present quite early on in penguin evolution. The team told Science magazine that the animal's feathers were brown and grey, distinct from the black "tuxedo" look of modern penguins. It was about 1.5m (5ft) tall and nearly twice as heavy as an Emperor Penguin, the largest living species. The bird, named Inkayacu paracasensis, or Water King, waddled the Earth during the late Eocene period. It had a long, straight beak, much longer than that of its modern relatives. The fossil was found in Reserva Nacional de Paracas in Peru. The scientists nicknamed the penguin "Pedro" - after a scaly character in a Colombian TV series.

From the Secretaries

Membership (Ann Bean) (

Membership is currently 653.

New Friends

We are pleased to report that the increase in visitors to the Museum has led to fourteen new subscriptions for the Friends. Our very warm welcome is extended to all new members.

Some Dates for your Diary

Friends Lecture series. NB Except for the 13th Nov event (AGM) Lectures are free to members of the Friends otherwise £5.00 on the door.

FoSPRI Events in 2010: Date: Time: Location:
Friends AGM 13th November 6:30PM SPRI

Lecture "Sir Hubert Wilkins – Forgotten Hero?" Jim McNeill, Arctic Explorer 16th Oct 8:00 PM (Doors open 7:30PM) SPRI Lecture Theatre
Lecture "Melting Ice-Rising Seas" Antarctic Climate change and the Environment. Dr. Colin Summerhayes, Emeritus Associate, SPRI 30th Oct 8:00 PM (Doors open 7:30PM) SPRI Lecture Theatre
Cambridge & World preview of Ponting's The Great White Silence – The digitally remastered film of the Terra Nova expedition 13th Nov 4:00PM (Doors open 3:30PM) BMS Lecture Theatre. NB This is a two hour lecture and film show.
Friends AGM & Supper 13th Nov 6:30PM SPRI Lecture Theatre
Lecture: "The Northern Party – in the shadows of the Heroic Age" R.P.Back, Chair Friends of SPRI 27th Nov 8:00 PM (Doors open 7:30PM) SPRI Lecture Theatre
Other Events:

"Rock Ice & Eggs – The science of Scott's Last Expedition" Andy Clarke (ex BAS) & Meredith Hooper (author)
COST: Lecture (£15) and Reception (£20)

20th Oct 7:00 PM (Doors open 6:00PM)

RGS (With IBG) London Tickets from Peter Fuchs, Fuchs Foundation
01455 202207

"The Logistics of Polar Exploration" - Paul Rose
Part of Cambridge University's Festival of Ideas

26th Oct

5:30 - 7:30 PM
Admission FREE

SPRI Lecture Theatre. To book a place call 01223 336540 or email
Antarctica Day Inaugural Lecture - Prof Paul A Berkman Wed 1st Dec 7:00PM SPRI Lecture Theatre

Other Matters of Note

Professor Colin Bull:

Although not a member of the Friends, we report the sad passing of Professor Colin Bull whilst on a cruise in the Arctic, at the age of 82. Born in England, he trained at Birmingham University as a physicist and was known to many in the Polar world as a geophysicist and glaciologist taking part in his first Arctic expedition with the University of Birmingham to Spitzbergen in 1951. After a short spell in Cambridge where he took part in the British North Greenland expedition of 52-54, he emigrated with his wife Gillian to New Zealand in 1956. He became Senior Lecturer in the Physics Dept at Victoria University (Wellington) and whilst there, he lead the VUWAE expedition to the Dry Valleys (Antarctica) in 58-59 and joined in the 60-61 expedition as well. During the latter he was persuaded to move to Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio in 1961 to assist in the founding of their Institute of Polar studies, later the Byrd Polar Research Center (BPRC). Here he evinced a remarkable talent for fund-raising and the BPRC owes much to his efforts over the years until his retirement in 1986.