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Polar Bytes No. 60 - July 2011

Polar Bytes No. 60 - July 2011

From the Chairman, Nick Lambert

Dear Friends,

It's that PB time again; surprising as it seems only a few minutes since I last put fingers to keyboard to write my first chairman's note for this illustrious publication. Much has happened since then, not least the excellent Scott 100 Centenary weekend hosted by the University of Plymouth and attended by a significant turnout of polar buffs all of whom were delighted with the quality of the lectures, their only 'complaint' being that they couldn't attend all of them! Commander George Tabeart opened HMS SCOTT to visitors and Commander Andy Swain of the Hydrographic and Meteorological School in Devonport Naval Base masterminded the whole operation in conjunction with Denis Wilkins and the managing team at Plymouth University. Their undoubted success was rounded off with a full house for dinner in the Wardroom of HMS DRAKE on the Monday evening, one hundred years after the celebration of Scott's birthday in the hut at Cape Evans. Attended by the great and the good, we were privileged to enjoy the company of three of Scott's grandchildren, a great grandchild and many other descendants of members of the expedition. Enthralled by the style of a naval mess dinner with mess beatings, port and speeches, guests were clearly delighted to be at the event, with many declaring that it was probably one of the greatest gatherings of descendants and polar buffs in modern times.

Hot on the heels of the Scott100 conference was the Friends' Summer Lunch, in a very different style from its forebears. On Saturday 18 June, approximately a hundred Friends, along with members of the James Caird Society and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, gathered on board Headquarters Ship WELLINGTON, the livery hall of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners at Temple Stairs on the Thames. Built in 1935, and a sloop of the Royal Navy's GRIMSBY Class with considerable wartime service, WELLINGTON was a unique venue for two inspirational speakers. First, Jennifer Murray who entranced us with her account of flying helicopters around the world via the equator and poles and her remarkable tenacity in the face of great danger during a crash in Antarctica. She also announced her next fundraising venture on behalf of the Friends – a marathon in Nepal. Secondly, David Mearns, the renowned wreck hunter, gave an riveting presentation on researching and discovering deep water shipwrecks. I was also delighted that Julian Dowdeswell was able to attend the commissioning ceremony for HMS PROTECTOR, which replaces HMS ENDURANCE as the Royal Navy's ice patrol vessel in the Antarctic.

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Professor Julian Dowdeswell:

During April 2011, a three-person party from SPRI joined a group from the Institute of Geophysics at the University of Texas for a joint glaciology research project on the Greenland Ice Sheet. The Director was accompanied by Dr Poul Christoffersen, a Lecturer at SPRI, and Dr. Steven Palmer, who is a newly appointed Post-Doctoral Research Associate supported by the grant from the UK's Natural Environment Research Council that is funding the project. Our aim was to use a 60 MHz radar system to measure the ice thickness in the fast-flowing parts of several large drainage basins within the Greenland Ice Sheet. The airborne radar system used is designed to retrieve echoes from the ice-sheet bed even in areas of heavy surface crevassing. The data can then be processed further to extract quantitative measurements of the reflectivity of the ice-sheet bed, yielding information on the presence of water and, possibly, of subglacial lakes. The three drainage basins investigated in the 2011 field season were Sermeq Kujatdl and Rinks glaciers in West Greenland and Daugaard Jensen Glacier in East Greenland. These systems were selected because, first, they are major drainage basins within the ice sheet (between 10,000 and 100,000 km2 in area) which deliver large quantities of ice to the sea (about 10 to 20 cubic kilometres/year). Secondly, they represent different sub-environments within the ice sheet and its related climate and ocean setting.

Fishing boats

Fishing boats in the ice-infested harbour at Ilulissat in April 2011. (Photo: J.A. Dowdeswell)

The flying programme was highly successful, with all our key glacier targets surveyed in full despite very cold temperatures which posed problems for our instruments when the aircraft was on the ground. The collaboration with our colleagues from Texas was also both very productive and enjoyable. Ilulissat, where we were based and from where we flew the Basler aircraft on its radar missions, is a beautiful coastal village mainly linked to fishing and, today, to tourism. The area, which is adjacent to the well-known Jakobshavn or Ilulissat Glacier which produces large numbers of huge icebergs, is a World Heritage Site.

Basler DC-3

An ice-radar equipped Basler DC-3 operated by Kenn Borek Air at Ilulissat airport, West Greenland, during the SPRI field programme in April 2011. Note the red radar antennae beneath the wings. (Photo: J.A. Dowdeswell)

News from the Heritage collections, from the Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane:

SPRI staff were delighted by the news that the Polar Museum had made it to the shortlist of four for the Museum of the Year Award, with the Roman Baths Museum, Bath and the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Our thanks go to all who voted for us in the online poll.

The announcement of the Prize was made by Michael Portillo, Chairman of the Judges, at a gala evening, hosted by Tate Britain and attended by the Director and members of the museum team. The British Museum were worthy winners for their History of the World in 100 Objects project, and the Institute received the congratulations of the Art Fund for achieving a place in the finals. A very handsome testimonial now hangs in pride of place in the museum.

New acquisitions

The family of Henry J. L. Dunlop, chief engineer on Shackleton's Nimrod, have deposited his papers in the Archives. In addition, a number of artefacts used during the expedition have been lodged with the Museum. We are delighted by this generous gesture, which makes available for research materials that were hitherto unknown to the Institute.

In addition the papers of Edward Archibald McKenzie, leading stoker on Terra Nova, purchased last year at auction have finally made their way into the archives. It has taken almost a year to raise the purchase price and contributions towards this fund are still welcome. We are grateful to Bamford's in Derby for their assistance.

Scott 100 Plymouth

The Friends were out in force at the Scott 100 Conference in sunny Plymouth from 4-6 June, with Committee members and helpers running an outpost of the Museum shop. The display of Dafila Scott's paintings and prints from her recent voyage on HMS SCOTT as Friends' Artist in Residence were much appreciated and sold well in aid of the Friends, as did the hand-made jewellery shown by her sister, Nicola Starks. We thank them both for their generous assistance. It was wonderful to see so many Friends and supporters in attendance. A great time was had by all.

Other news - New Friends Committee member

We are delighted to welcome Bill Redway to the Committee as a co-opted member. Bill comes on board as Media and Marketing Coordinator, after a career in film-making.


See the Friends Events, Friends Lectures, SPRI Museum Events and SPRI Museum Exhibition pages for details.

The Quest for Frank Wild

This new book by Angie Butler will be launched in London on 2 August. Angie has kindly offered a £5 discount on the price of this volume to Friends purchasing it through the SPRI Shop before 30 September. Please contact Maria Pearman ( to place an order.

Quest for Frank Wild Book Cover

Cover of Angie's book 'The Quest for Frank Wild'

Orion Expedition Cruises Event at the Scott Polar Research Institute

A note from Natalie Read, Business Development Manager, Orion Expeditions

Thank you to all who attended our recent event at the Scott Polar Research Institute where we raised nearly £1,000 for this fantastic organisation. We hope you found the lecture by Dr David Wilson informative and interesting and that you feel enthused to book your place on our voyage to see this historic area of Antarctica. Orion Expeditions have two voyages which will include visits to the huts inhabited by Dr Wilson, Robert Falcon Scott & the rest of the expedition team – something that only 200 people get to experience a year. For more details of our cruises please call 02073997620 or visit the Orion Expeditions website. Orion will continue to make a contribution to the Friends for every booking made quoting 'Friends of SPRI'.


We are most grateful to Yale University Press for sponsoring this issue of Polar Bytes. Yale University Press website.

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Edited by Heather Lane & Celene Pickard