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Polar Bytes - No. 59, April 2011

Polar Bytes - No. 59, April 2011

From the Chairman, Nick Lambert

Rear Admiral Nick Lambert
Nick Lambert

Dear Friends,

I have much pleasure in penning my first editorial for Polar Bytes as we venture firmly into the centenary period. From a committee perspective quite a lot has gone on over the past few months including the Extraordinary Meeting in December, significant changes to the committee membership (as shown elsewhere in this issue) and adoption of Will Taunton-Burnet's SSS100 charity sledge pull. The full committee discussed a very busy agenda on 19 April, particularly pondering the fairly tricky financial state of the Friends. In short, our finances are not overly strong and we need to raise around £20,000 this year if we are to fulfil our obligations to SPRI. That's the bad news; the good news is that your committee is full of great ideas and well on the way to creating an activity and fundraising programme that should achieve the aim. This is where you, as members, all have a part to play and we will explain in PB, by email and on the website how you can participate should you wish.

More widely, Dafila Scott reports on her period as artist in residence during HMS SCOTT's work spell in the Antarctic Peninsula. Commander George Tabeart, the ship's commanding officer, has kindly provided an update on his proceedings and I know that Dafila's work will be sure to thrill us all when we see it later in the year. Preparations are well underway for the South West's Scott Centenary Weekend in Plymouth, including a formal dinner at HMS DRAKE to mark the centenary of Scott's last birthday dinner in the Cape Evans hut on 6 June 2011. Celene, Heather and Bob Smith will be there for the whole weekend manning a combined SPRI and FoSPRI stall. This is a great chance to spread the word about SPRI so I would be extremely grateful to anyone volunteering to assist them in representing the interests of the Friends.

This term's lecture programme on polar science featured some wonderful speakers. I'm extremely grateful for the support of Dr Peter Clarkson and Grattan MacGiffin, our Vice Chairman, in representing the Friends at these important gatherings. Not to be forgotten is the very well received lecture by Ben Fogle at the RGS, which raised in excess of £400 for the Friends, thanks to the cooperation of UKAHT. I've also written on your behalf to thank the Clerk of the Dyers' Company for the very generous £1000 donation that we recently received.

Your committee is also busy preparing for the Summer Lunch. The SPRI lecture theatre is not available so we've decided to ring the changes at an alternative venue, settling on HQS (Headquarters Ship) WELLINGTON, the liveried hall of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners on the Thames. The aim is to attract as many members as possible in a new location with different speakers (please be assured that we have not abandoned Cambridge and we will of course return there for the AGM). However this departure from the norm brings additional costs, notably for the venue and refreshments, and we're acutely aware of the need to at least break even, ideally turning a profit. Vigorous negotiations have therefore taken place; we've modified the format to include two speakers and lunch with a cash bar to keep costs down and, in light of my earlier comments on finances we're keen to raise funds for FoSPRI during the event. Your ideas and support in this would be extremely welcome.

The rest of the programme for this year and into 2012 is shaping up well. Celene alludes to it elsewhere in PB and we intend to publish it on the website. Please use it as a guide to engage in fundraising activities of your own. All offers will be very gratefully received!

Finally, our warmest congratulations to Julian Dowdeswell on the news that he has been awarded the Louis Agassiz Medal by the European Geosciences Union.

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Professor Julian Dowdeswell:

We were privileged to host a visit by the Chancellor, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in February. He met staff and students and was shown around the newly refurbished Polar Museum and reserve collections. Whilst in the Institute, the Chancellor also received the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who was visiting the University to deliver this year's Alcuin Lecture.

Chancellor and Mr Barroso

Julian Dowdeswell in conversation with the Chancellor and Mr Barroso in the Polar Museum © University of Cambridge

The term between Christmas and Easter is a busy one for many of our senior academic staff, delivering lectures, supervising small groups of students and setting university examination papers for sitting in May and June. Before term started, I was invited to attend a meeting at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington DC, so that our forthcoming airborne radar campaign over the Greenland Ice Sheet could be coordinated with the scientific flying being undertaken in spring by our American colleagues. A week before flying to America I also represented the UK on the International Arctic Science Committee's working group on the cryosphere in Potsdam, Germany.

In February, the University of Cambridge released a 5-minute documentary film called 'This Icy World'. It is part of an ongoing series, 'Cambridge Ideas', which features Cambridge academics and their research findings and is Antarctica, I had to do almost all the on-location filming myself after a couple of days training in the use of a highdefinition film camera. I must say that I found the sound quite difficult to master, not to mention setting up the shots of myself walking through an Antarctic blizzard. At one point, I did have a bit of help from a BBC producer working in McMurdo Station on the next David Attenborough series (see photo). The results can be viewed on the University of Cambridge website at:

News from the Heritage Collections

From the Librarian and Keeper, Heather Lane

Antarctic Memorials to be unveiled

The dedication of the Antarctic Memorial for those "who lost their lives in Antarctica in pursuit of science" takes place in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral, City of London, as part of Evensong at 5.00pm on Tuesday 10 May. The service is open to the public, but tickets for reserved seating and for access to the crypt are available on request from the British Antarctic Monument Trust. The newly commissioned Antarctic Monument sculpture will be unveiled at the Scott Polar Research Institute at 4.00pm on Thursday 12 May followed by tea. Please contact Claire Lampitt ( if you wish to attend.

Recent Gifts

Following the success of the exhibition on the British Graham Land Expedition, we were delighted to receive from Lisle Ryder, son of R.E.D. Ryder, the sextant and sail plans of Penola, delivered in person by Lisle's son and daughter.

Centenary Concert Series announced

In association with the City of London Sinfonia, a celebration in music, words and pictures of Scott's Terra Nova expedition has been arranged, with works by Ralph Vaughan Williams and a new commission from Cecilia McDowall over four dates in February and March. For more details or to help support the venture see:

Museum on longlist for the Art Fund Prize 2011

The Polar Museum is in the running for the Art Fund Prize 2011, the UK's largest arts prize. It is among ten museums to be long listed for this prestigious £100,000 award, including The British Museum, the V&A and the Roman Baths Museum.

The judges, chaired by Michael Portillo, visited the Museum on 12 April and we had an enjoyable day showing them around. We will hear whether we have a place on the shortlist of four by mid-May.

Please support the Museum by voting in the online poll:

By adding a comment you can also enter a Prize Draw to win an Apple iPad.

Voting and comments for the long list closes on 3 May 2011 at 5pm. Voting and comments for the short list will re-open on 20 May 2011 at 9am and close on 7 June 2011 at 5pm. The Art Fund Prize 2011 winner will be announced on Wednesday 15 June 2011.

The online poll helps the judges to assess whether the winning museum has "clearly won the support and enthusiasm of its visitors and users". All votes and comments will be considered by the Judges in their decision-making process but the judges also visit all ten museums and evaluate them against the full set of criteria.

Calling all Friends in the South West

The Friends will be present at the Scott 100 Conference in Plymouth from 4-6 June, where we will have a stand in the foyer of the Roland Levinsky building. Are you willing to spare a couple of hours to talk to members of the public about SPRI and the Friends, or help with the running of the shop? If so, please contact Celene Pickard ( or tel 07976 939656). Our displays will include paintings from Dafila Scott's recent voyage on board HMS SCOTT as Friends' Artist in Residence, the ship's own photographic record of the trip and a chance to see the Ponting platinum print portfolio.

Special Offers

Antarctica - the Ultimate invitation in aid of SPRI: Celebrating Scott with Robin Hanbury-Tenison

First-timers and aficionados alike are welcome on board Quark Expeditions Ocean Nova for this very special journey. Privately chartered and hosted by The Ultimate Travel Company's Nick Van Gruisen, the Celebrating Scott centenary voyage sails from Ushuaia on 4 February 2012. Another of our great explorers, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, will be on board for what promises to be a truly memorable experience and one which will generate much needed funds for SPRI.

From £6,335 per person, the price also includes international flights, two nights in Tierra del Fuego and a final night in Buenos Aires. For further information call Antonia at The Ultimate Travel Company on 020 7 386 4659.

South Polar Times IV

The Institute, in association with John Bonham, has published a facsimile of the last issue of the Terra Nova expedition newspaper, written during the Antarctic winter of 1912, in a limited edition of 500. It is available to Friends at the promotional price of £250 (+P&P) until the end of May (normal price £275). Where possible the publishers will allocate the same number as the earlier volumes you may already own. Proceeds of the sale of this volume will support the work of SPRI's Library and Archives. Please see the flyer that was enclosed with the hard copy of Polar Bytes for further details.

News from HMS Scott

One of my rueful observations on departing HMS ENDURANCE in April 2006 (then under the Command of Capt Nick Lambert) was that my adventures in Antarctica were realistically over. During the 2009/10 Austral summer I noted with real interest that HMS SCOTT (the ship I navigated before joining ENDURANCE) was fulfilling the RN's Ice Patrol Ship remit. When selected to be the next Commanding Officer of HMS SCOTT I was thrilled that this role was reprised for the 2010/11 season and that against the odds I was destined to revisit the pristine region. This year we benefited greatly from the lessons of the earlier experiences accrued around the Antarctic Peninsula and we were furthermore blessed by remarkably favourable weather conditions.

HMS Scott

Highlights of the work period included visits to nine foreign research stations, smoothly achieved with our revised boat outfit. Landing a combination of ship's staff and representatives from the FCO and BAS these informal visits did permit us to endorse a widespread RN presence in the British Antarctic Territory, and learn a great deal of the collaborative science work undertaken within the refreshingly cooperative culture of the Antarctic Treaty. We also landed tailored teams onto 4 separate Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs) permitting the timely review of their continued status as sites worthy of additional protection. Visits to the BAS stations at Rothera and Signy, as well as the historically significant and ever popular Port Lockroy, educated my Ship's Company on the enduring British heritage within Antarctica. This heritage was eloquently demonstrated with the outstanding work achieved by Dafila Scott, this season's artist in residence sponsored by the Friends of SPRI. For the ship named after Dafila's grandfather it was a real privilege to witness her artistic creativity and enjoy her company south of the Antarctic Circle. What better way to mark the resonance of Capt R F Scott's centenary, and demonstrate that his enduring example continues to inspire the contemporary work both in the RN and in Antarctica?

Dafila Scott

So as I often comment to my colleagues, "never say never!" While five years ago it seemed very unlikely I would ever get back to an area that I had been profoundly privileged to work in and marvel at in my two years onboard ENDURANCE, I have recently been most fortunate to revisit Antarctica in Command of HMS SCOTT, which (with apologies to the chairman of the Friends, but I am sure he appreciates why) even exceeded my earlier experiences of the White Continent.

Commander George Tabeart Royal Navy
Commanding Officer HMS SCOTT

Friends Artist in Residence

I had a wonderful trip with HMS Scott on Ice Patrol Duty around the Antarctic Peninsula. I am enormously grateful to the Friends of SPRI and the Royal Navy for sponsoring me to go south. It was a great opportunity as an artist to see and learn about a different world – fabulous landscapes and icebergs, amazing wildlife and fascinating research at the different research stations.

The ship set out from the Falkland Islands at the beginning of February and went south through the furious fifties and the screaming sixties. Luckily they were benign, it was calm and I got my sea legs gradually. We saw albatrosses in small numbers for much of the way, mostly wandering albatrosses (wingspan around 11 feet) but also grey-headed (a bit smaller) and a few black-browed albatrosses. On the third day we saw the first iceberg on the horizon, large and mysterious; then the next day, the first land which was the South Shetland Islands. From then on we saw wonderful landscapes with huge snowy mountains and sharp peaks, as well as many more icebergs which I found fascinating in their infinite variety of shape, size and colour. I spent a good proportion of my time on the bridge drawing as much as I could and trying to take it all in.

It was cold but not very cold and seldom below zero for any length of time but the wind chill meant that it felt colder than it was. However, it was possible to see a lot from inside the bridge and to go outside for short periods. I have filled three notebooks with drawings from which I hope to produce finished paintings. Normally I don't take photographs much, but on this trip I took a lot of photographs which will also help to remind me of it all.

The Captain and crew of HMS Scott were tremendously helpful both in making me feel at home and also in enabling me to do and see as much as possible. It was a privilege to be on board under the captaincy of George Tabeart and to see how the ship works and the results it produces.

I was lucky enough to go ashore on seven occasions. My first visit was to the three neighbouring research stations on King George Island, South Shetlands: Bellingshausen (Russian), Frei/Marsh (Chilean, and Great Wall (Chinese), all of which were interesting in their different ways. The second visit was to Whaler's Bay on Deception Island (the volcanic caldera south-east of the South Shetlands). Here I saw the remains of the British and Chilean research huts abandoned in 1969 when the latest major episode of volcanic activity occurred, as well as the remains of the whaling station dating from 1906-31. If it had not been for the abundant wildlife – Antarctic terns, Dominican (kelp) gulls, cape petrels, Wilson's storm petrels, fur seals and the odd penguin and Weddell seal, it would have been an interesting but desolate place.

My third and fourth visits ashore were to Port Lockroy, the British base now managed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. This is a long-established base and it was here that scientists first measured the height of the ionosphere. There is now a first class museum showing how the base operated from the early days and displaying the equipment used to make the scientific discoveries. There is also a substantial (and increasing) gentoo penguin colony which continues to be monitored. Port Lockroy is a major tourist attraction and they were expecting 13,000 visitors this season (2010/11). While I was there a crowd of tourists came ashore and by extraordinary chance I met up with a lady called Davina Oates, a penguins were my main focus here and I spent several happy hours drawing them, although most of the time I had to draw from the shelter of the porch of the museum or from the smart new accommodation block because it was snowing so hard that, standing outside, my paper rapidly became too wet to draw on.

My fifth visit was to the large British base at Rothera, where we had a beautiful sunny day. For most of the time during my month south, the sky was overcast and the mountains had their heads in the clouds but on a few occasions the cloud melted away and the scale and grandeur of the scenery became apparent. At Rothera we had a very interesting tour of the base, including the aquarium where they had living cushion starfish, sea lemons, sea spiders and urchins. We were also given a brief introduction to the work of two of the scientists, an oceanographer and a virologist. Then I spent the rest of the day drawing the ice which had packed into the bay north of the station and looked stunning in the sunlight. There were also some Adelie penguins, fur seals and crabeater seals. As I came down to the jetty to catch a boat back to the ship, a pod of killer whales swam past.

My sixth visit ashore was a relatively brief visit to the Korean station, King Sejong, back north in Maxwell Bay, King George Is., South Shetlands. The weather had closed in and the visibility was low so that the ship could scarcely see the base and was reluctant to spend a long time so close inshore. Nevertheless it was interesting to learn about how the Koreans work in Antarctica. The station's commander repeated what others had said – that people who have been to the Antarctic keep coming back. The place has a very special fascination.

My final visit ashore was to the British base at Signy Island in the South Orkneys. This was possibly my favourite trip ashore as there was wildlife everywhere. We were greeted by fur seals playing in the water round our boat. Then on the deck around the station itself lay the enormous bodies of snoozing elephant seals. I was hoping to see more Adelie penguins but sadly they had left two weeks earlier. Instead there were chinstrap penguins in number. Biologist, Derren Fox very kindly took me, together with one of the marines from the ship and the ship's photographer Ray Jones, up over the top of the island and down to the Gourlay Peninsula where there are several colonies of chinstraps. As everywhere else they were very tame which made it much easier to draw them. No telescope or binoculars were needed. I spent more happy hours drawing penguins but all too soon it was time to head back across the island.

While I was on the ship, I was glad to meet Stuart Doubleday from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ronnie Allen from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and John Hall from the British Antarctic Survey, all of whom were informative and helpful about aspects of the trip and I am very grateful for this. I am especially grateful to John Hall for arranging my visit to the chinstrap colonies on Signy Island. On the way back the Drake Passage was miraculously calm though the visibility was low. Again we saw albatrosses, this time more black-browed albatrosses as we neared the Falkland Islands as well as a variety of other seabirds.

During the trip I made a number of paintings in pastel and in oil when there was not so much to see outside. Now that I am back I will work from my sketches for the next few months. I have seen so many exciting and interesting things that I shall be kept painting for some time. I am keen to do work that draws attention to the spirit of cooperation and the emphasis on science that prevails in the Antarctic, as well as doing some of the landscapes and wildlife that have been so spectacular. The work of the ship will also provide inspiration as will aspects of life on board. So I shall have a busy spring and summer, but it will be a pleasure to be thinking back to such a great experience.

Dafila Scott

Dafila Scott

From the Secretaries

Would you like to receive future issues of Polar Bytes via email? If you haven't already added your name to our mailing list, please let Celene Pickard know at

Membership (Ann Bean) (

A very warm welcome is extended to all new members. Membership currently stands at 657.

New Committee Member

We are delighted to welcome Will Taunton-Burnet to the Committee as a co-opted member. Will is Event Director of Inspire Youth Development Ltd which is organising the Scott Centenary Scholarships Fund - 2011 Sledge Pull.

Passing Friends: We are sorry to report the passing of Mrs J Maker and Mr J Sanderson and our condolences have been sent to their families.

Some Dates for your Diary

Please see hard copy Polar Bytes and SPRI events and SPRI Friends events for upcoming event information.


We are most grateful to Orion Expedition Cruises for sponsoring this edition of Polar Bytes. Orion will make a donation to SPRI for any bookings made by Friends – call 0207 399 7620.

Orion Expedistion Cruises