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Polar Bytes - No. 58, January 2011

Polar Bytes - No. 58, January 2011

From the Outgoing Chairman, Robin Back

Robin Back
Outgoing Chairman
Robin Back, 2007-10

As we begin a new year, may I start by wishing all Friends a happy and prosperous New Year for 2011. As you read this I shall have handed over the baton to your new Chairman, Rear Admiral Nick Lambert with all best wishes for the future, and be on my way to the Ross Sea aboard the Spirit of Enderby.

I have greatly enjoyed being your Chairman for the past four years and would like to say a big thank you to my committee, to Celene and Ann our secretaries and to the Staff of the Institute for their support and aid over the years. This has been a busy period coinciding as it did with the refurbishment programme, so a special thanks also to our Director, Julian Dowdeswell and to our Librarian and Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane.

There are some changes to note in this issue, notably our first advertisement. We expect this will be extended in future issues as we increase membership and circulation. I will leave future strategy to our new Chair and close by wishing the Friends well for the future.

From the Incoming Chairman, Rear Admiral Nick Lambert

Rear Admiral Nick Lambert
Incoming Chairman
Nick Lambert

I feel very privileged to have been elected as Chairman of the Friends of SPRI and much look forward to working with you over the coming year. It’s clear that there is much for your Committee to do if we are to build on the successes of our predecessors and to resolve the thorny issues such as our financial viability and increasing membership numbers. However these are perfectly normal problems in any small charity and I’m confident that we will resolve them in the medium term. On the positive side we have a passionate membership, a wonderful home in Cambridge and the ability to attract great interest in our events as was evidenced by the excellent turnout for The Great White Silence at the AGM, all coincident with the centenary years which are almost upon us. The Committee’s task is therefore to play to our strengths setting a vision for a small, engaged, well funded charity that effectively sponsors SPRI outputs and that, above all, is supported by you as happy, fulfilled members.

To that end your new Committee met in early December 2010 and will gather at least three times a year thereafter. Our immediate concerns are to establish a Friends of SPRI programme for 2011 with associated fundraising activities to ensure our solvency, the details of which will be published on the website. However your Committee cannot do everything so we would very much welcome comments and ideas from the Friends of SPRI membership, and especially active support for fundraising events in Cambridge or out in the regions. We also plan to improve communications between the Committee and the Members through the website and by email (which is why we sought your email address at the AGM). Please do not hesitate to contact Celene (details below) providing your email address if you were not at the AGM or expressing your desire for more traditional postal communications.

Thank you for your continued support of the Friends. I look forward to a busy and productive New Year and to meeting you in due course.

E-mails for the future

Enclosed with this Polar Bytes is a short form seeking members e-mail addresses with a view to possible future dissemination of Polar Bytes, interim news items, notification of special events etc. by electronic means. Please complete and return or (more efficient) e-mail Celene direct at:

The Institute

From the Director, Professor Julian Dowdeswell:

The Institute, like much of the country, has been blanketed by snow for several weeks. This, as many people have pointed out, should suit those of us who have worked in the Arctic and Antarctic. The weather has not deterred visitors to the museum, where our well-stocked shop has provided many Christmas presents. We have trebled the number of visitors to the museum since we reopened, and the number of visits by schools also continues to rise.

Greenland ice sheet

Crevasses and exposed bedrock.
Greenland ice sheet
© Julian Dowdeswell, SPRI 2010

Planning is already underway for fieldwork in Greenland during the spring. I will lead one group to undertake airborne investigations of several major ice streams that drain vast interior basins within the Greenland Ice Sheet during April. In collaboration with the University of Texas, we will be using a radar system to measure ice thickness and the properties of the subglacial bed, and a lidar to record the elevation of the ice surface to a very high accuracy. Another group will be working in the ice-sheet interior about a month later, taking in situ measurements of snow density and accumulation, as part of a programme to calibrate data derived from the radar altimeter carried aboard the newly launched CryoSat 2 satellite.

Our exhibitions of polar art also continue, and are not only in the UK and Europe, but also further afield. In early December I spoke at the opening in of an exhibition of fine-art platinum prints of Herbert Ponting’s photographs of Captain Scott’s last expedition; the exhibition was in the Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai. The desert has many features in common with the poles – low precipitation and no vegetation, the latter allowing a clear focus on the landscape itself. The exhibition was very well received and attracted considerable media interest around the Gulf. We continue to sell both single images and a 48-print Portfolio of these platinum prints, which are produced in collaboration with Salto Ulbeek, a fine-art print and design company based in Belgium.

News from the Collections

From the Librarian and Keeper, Heather Lane:

In November, we were pleased to welcome Georgina Cronin, who joins us as Library Assistant following Mark Gilbert's move to become Careers Librarian at Kings College London. Georgina formerly worked at Cambridge University Library.

We were delighted to receive a gift of a painting entitled Windy Dawn, donated to the museum's collection of modern works by last year's Friends Artist in Residence, Rowan Huntley. For further information about Rowan's current activities see her web page

The Museum continues to be very popular with visitors and feedback is overwhelmingly positive. By the end of November we had had over 23,000 visitors. This compares to about 15,500 for the whole of the year before we closed in 2009.

Our special exhibition, Sidney Nolan: Antarctica was very well received with many visitors coming especially to see it. Our next exhibition, Return to Antarctica: The British Graham Land Expedition 1934-37, opens on 20 January and runs until 30 April. We hope to see you there.

The Sidney Nolan exhibition

The Sidney Nolan exhibition
© R.D. Smith, SPRI

From the Archivist, Naomi Boneham:

The SPRI Archives 2010

After the massive upheaval of the previous year 2010 saw the archive and the archivist return to their day job. The archive closed for May and early June to allow for the grand reopening of the Polar Museum. The "last letters", some Arctic diaries and paintings and Wilson watercolours were moved into their new homes in the display cases. Despite this break we still managed to fit in nearly 500 research bookings as well as accommodating SPRI / University staff and students.The volunteers - several of whom are also Friends - continued with their work in making the collections easier to access

I was pleased to be able to thank the Friends committee in person in November for their support of the Archives and would like to take this opportunity to thank all the Friends for continuing to ensure that our Polar heritage is preserved and made available for research.

Arctic and Antarctic News

The Arctic has been slower to refreeze this year compared to the 1979-2000 median (pink line on drawing). The flippant might argue it’s been freezing in the wrong places – i.e. in the UK – but the trend overall seems consistent with scientists’ anticipated reduction in Arctic ice cover over time.

Ice cover

© National Snow & Ice Data Center, Boulder, CO

Between 10th November and 1st December 2010, four Toyota Hilux 4 x 4 offroad vehicles transported expedition members of the Indian National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) − studying snow chemistry, the glacial landscapes and the bedrock hidden beneath the ice − on a 4,600 km round trip from Novolazarevskaya Air Base, to the South Pole, and safely back. The 5.65MPG achieved using Jet 1A fuel is some 5 to 8 times better than comparable tracked vehicles and offers significant oppportunities to reduce fuel and lubricant loads on future similar expeditions. The team used one refuelling point as you can see from their map.



Friends Artist in Residence

The Friends Artist in Residence programme aboard HMS Scott continues in the New Year. We are delighted to announce that Dafila Scott has been selected to go south in the 2011 season. Trained as a zoologist, much of her work is inspired by animals and landscapes, particularly places with which she is familiar. She is a member of the Society of Wildlife Artists. Daughter of Sir Peter Scott and granddaughter of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, it is particularly apposite she should be aboard HMS Scott, named for her grandfather. We wish her well and look forward to her safe return and seeing the results of her endeavours.

News from HMS Scott

The Friends have benefited over the past few years from a close working relationship with the Royal Navy, most recently with HMS Scott. We would like to extend our best wishes to her outgoing Captain, Commander Gary Hesling, for success in his new post. Friends may remember the very enjoyable visit to HMS Scott which he hosted last year and for his enthusiastic support of the Artist in Residence programme. We are pleased to welcome his successor, Commander George Tabeart, who has already made his first visit to the Institute, where he met Dafila Scott.

From the Secretaries

Membership (Ann Bean) (

Membership currently stands at 660.

Increase in subscriptions. Thank you to those of you who have returned your revised Bankers Order. Please contact me for a form if you pay by Bankers Order but have not yet increased your subscription.

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.

Passing Friends: We are sorry to have to report the passing, earlier in the year, of Professor R D Keynes who had been a member of the Friends since 1949. Our condolences have been sent to his family.

Some Dates for your Diary

Friends Lecture series

Lectures are free to members, otherwise £5.00 on the door.

For the 2011-12 season the Friends will be offering themed series of lectures to tie in with the Terra Nova centenary. The Lent Term commences with a look at Antarctic science past and present.

Professor John Turner - BAS
Recent Antarctic Climate Change
12 February 8:00 pm (Doors open 7:30pm) SPRI Lecture Theatre
Dr Mike Sparrow – SCAR
Antarctic Science and Policy Advice in a Changing World
26 February 8:00 pm (Doors open 7:30pm) SPRI Lecture Theatre
(tbc) Please see website for details 12 March 8:00 pm (Doors open 7:30pm) SPRI Lecture Theatre
Dr Jonathan L. Watkins – BAS
Variation and change in the Southern Ocean eco-system
26 March 8:00 pm (Doors open 7:30pm) SPRI Lecture Theatre

Other Events

British Graham Land Exhibition 1934-37
Celebrating the 75th anniversary
20 Jan – 29 April 2011 Museum opening hours: 10:0AM to 4:00PM (closed Sundays & Mondays) Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Rd. Cambridge CB2 1ER
Ben Fogle
Lecture on Scott and the historic huts
(ticketed event - see attached application form)
Thursday, 17 February 7:00PM (Doors open 6:00PM) Royal Geographical Society, Kensington gore, London SW7 2AR