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Polar Bytes 64 - July 2012

Polar Bytes 64 - July 2012

From the Chairman, Nick Lambert

Dear Friends,

Writing this note for Polar Bytes whilst on a car journey with the rain lashing down, a nasty crosswind and water sluicing through the wheel arches it's not difficult to imagine being back at sea transiting Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula! The Peninsula is of course the region from which HMS PROTECTOR has returned following her inaugural deployment as the Royal Navy's Ice Patrol Ship. I was privileged to visit the ship in Antigua (someone has to do it!) in May when she was conducting multibeam surveys in the approaches to St John's Harbour and the waters around Montserrat on her way back to the UK via the Caribbean, USA and Canada (someone has to do that too!). I'm pleased to report that her ship's company was in fine fettle and that her surveying capability is very impressive. I strongly recommend that you seize the opportunity to visit her when she visits Ipswich on 12 August. First come, first served! (Further details are on the back page of this PB).

Antarctica's waters are some of the most challenging in the world and many areas are extremely poorly surveyed so PROTECTOR's work is vital for updating the UK Hydrographic Office's charts and publications of the region. We have also recently completed a crowd-sourcing trial (see Wiki if you're not sure about crowd-sourcing) onboard National Geographic Explorer (Captain Leif Skogg) gathering the ship's single beam echo sounder data in conjunction with other stakeholders including the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, Caris (a cartographic software company) and Survice (a 'black box' hardware provider). This is an exciting development that will enable us to gather the sounding data of participating ships (primarily cruise ships) and to use it to provide new navigational products for the most visited parts of the Peninsula. These are early days and I'll be sure to update you as the trial progresses.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, SPRI and the Friends are as busy as ever. The Spring lecture series went ahead as usual in Cambridge and I wish to draw your attention to the sterling work of our Secretary, Celene Pickard, whose enthusiastic and flawless organisation of a unique lecture package in a joint venture with the Stevenage and Knebworth Arts Group has generated great interest in the Institute and the work of the Friends beyond our traditional stamping grounds. Very well done indeed, Celene - we thank you for your innovation and hard work in establishing what we hope will be a model for similar programmes in other towns and cities. Our thanks are also due to Celene and Heather for arranging the TE Lawrence Society visit, which is enthusiastically described elsewhere in this PB. Preparations for the Summer Lunch later this month are well in hand with some exciting speakers as are our plans for the AGM in the autumn. Your committee continues to beaver away quietly in the background and will report on our plans at the AGM. I could go on but, as space is short, I won't. Enjoy this edition of PB and I look forward to seeing many of you at the Summer Lunch. Please see the final page of the newsletter for details of how to take part in the Friends' visit to HMS PROTECTOR on 12 August. Place are limited, so make your booking soon! I look forward to seeing you there, too.

From the Institute

A few words from the Director, Professor Julian Dowdeswell:

I trust that those Friends who attended St. Paul's Cathedral on the one-hundredth anniversary of Captain Scott's last diary entry were as moved as I was by the Service of Commemoration. The service was a very powerful occasion and served to remind us of both the achievements and the sacrifice of Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans. At the same time, Scott's diary was on exhibition in the Institute as part of the centenary celebrations, together with the excellent exhibition 'These Rough Notes'. The diary was open at his last words: 'For God's sake look after our people'.

Qaanaaq village

Late evening sun over the village of Qaanaaq in North-West Greenland, with Herbert Island in the background. (Photo: © J.A. Dowdeswell)

Early May saw me in North-West Greenland with scientific colleagues from SPRI and the University of Texas at Austin, together with a flight crew and engineer from the air company Kenn Borek. Our aim was to conduct a series of airborne geophysical measurements over the fast-flowing ice streams and outlet glaciers that drain the little-studied northern sector of the Greenland Ice Sheet. A 60 MHz radar was used to measure ice thickness and the characteristics of the ice-sheet bed and a laser system acquired high-accuracy data on ice-surface elevations. These data will help us to understand both the reasons why these glaciers flow at up to several kilometres per year, and also how their elevation is changing in response to climatic warming.

Throughout these airborne operations we were based at the isolated settlement of Qaanaaq on the coast of North-West Greenland. There is only a single commercial fight each week in and out of the village, and even this is highly weather-dependent. In May, sea ice still covers the adjacent fjord and the Inuit are involved in dog sledging across its huge expanse, hunting at the sea-ice edge before it breaks up in early summer.

Qaanaaq sledge dogs

Sledge dogs on the sea ice close to Qaanaaq in North-West Greenland (Photo: © J.A. Dowdeswell)

Obituary - Barbara Lempriere Debenham

(9 November 1917 – 19 April 2012)

In her long life Barbara or Ba as she was almost universally known played many roles on many different stages. Ba was the eldest of the five children of Frank and Dorothy Debenham. Professionally, she was a senior secretary and, after the Perse School and secretarial college in Cambridge, she started work for the then Professor of Geography at Cambridge University, which sounds very grand for a first job but actually the Professor was her father, Frank Debenham. She enjoyed a couple of years in this role before joining the Foreign Office. In her administrative capacity, she soon found herself seconded to work for the chief executive at Bletchley Park, known at the time as Station X, before moving to SOE in London for most of the rest of the war. Quite by chance, Audrey, Ba's sister also found herself at Bletchley Park, later working first in Hut 11 and later on the Bombe in Hut 7.

After the war, Ba returned to the FO and went to Singapore before moving to Uganda where she enjoyed a happy career until well after Ugandan independence in 1962. As history relates, Milton Obote and Idi Amin between them turned Uganda into a military dictatorship within 7 years and Ba moved to Nairobi where she worked for the Dept of Forestry until she became ill and decided to return to Britain in 1971.

In the UK at that time postal strikes, union unrest, public sector discontent and other uncertainties filled the headlines. However, Ba found a job in Hertfordshire and moved there with her mother until, sadly, Dorothy died in an accident in 1973.

Barbara Debenham

Barbara Debenham meeting HRH The Duke of Edinburgh at the Pole Day celebrations in Cambridge, January 2012 (Photo: Nigel Luckhurst)

By this time Ba was also resuming her interest in the affairs of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge where she was a founder member of the Friends of the Institute. Ba's research efforts and editorial activities continued until the late 1990s when she edited her father's publication In the Arctic: Tales told at tea-time and also helped with publication of The Quiet Land, Deb's Antarctic diaries.

Ba moved to Loddon, south of Norwich, where she lived for some 18 years, being active locally both in the church and elsewhere and making many friends in the area, before a final move to Cambridge to reconnect with her friends there. In time, living by herself became difficult and she moved to the first of several residential homes.

She was ever ready to enjoy life to the full and her great sense of humour was always a feature of any conversation with her. A particular excitement in her last days was her presence at the South Pole Day celebrations in Cambridge in January this year. Here she was introduced to HRH the Prince Philip amongst others and much enjoyed the formal commemorative dinner in College surroundings at Corpus Christi. We shall all miss her.

Robin Back

T.E. Lawrence Society Visit

In the centenary year of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's epic journey to reach the South Pole, the Scott Polar Research Institute welcomed more than 20 members of the T.E. Lawrence Society on Saturday 12th May.

Lawrence Society

(Photo: © Mike Hamilton Scott)

If members had been pondering possible links between the worlds of Lawrence and Scott, then their curiosity was soon satisfied, as waiting to greet them, arms outstretched, outside the building was the very fine (and eye-catching) nude statue entitled These Had Most To Give sculpted by Scott's widow Kathleen, for which the model was Lawrence's younger brother, Arnold. How Kathleen came to sculpt both Lawrence himself in 1921, then the 22-year-old Arnold the following year, was described in issue 97 of the T.E. Lawrence Society newsletter by Alison Jolley, a member of the society and also a Friend of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

Moving into the Institute's lecture theatre, members then heard a talk from Alison which she began by describing how Kathleen had evidently remained in touch with the Lawrence family for many years, even for a short time sharing a cottage with Lawrence's mother, Sarah, with whom she evidently did not get on well, as revealed in some rather intriguing entries in Kathleen's diaries. Alison then moved on to talk about another of the links between 'sand' and 'snow' as she described the life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a young Oxford graduate taken on as an 'adaptable helper' on Scott's expedition, who in later life met and gained the admiration of Lawrence based on his book about the events leading up to the tragic deaths of the Pole party, The Worst Journey in the World.

Drawing parallels with Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Alison described how Cherry was driven to write what he called 'a sincere personal confession' partly by the guilt he felt over having failed to save the lives of his friends, which was to bring on severe episodes of depression for the rest of his life. Describing Cherry as the 'Lawrence of Antarctica', Alison said it was, in fact, George Bernard Shaw who first made the connection between the men, calling them 'two men of action who wrote great books' in his 1927 Spectator review of Lawrence's Revolt in the Desert.

In fact, Shaw and his wife Charlotte had been influential in shaping the final versions of both men's books, having been approached by Lawrence in 1922 to read the Oxford Text of Seven Pillars, while having met Cherry around a decade earlier due to Shaw's Corner abutting Cherry's own estate at Lamer Park in Hertfordshire.

Lawrence and Cherry met in around 1925, with Cherry paying 30 guineas the following year for the Subscriber's Edition of Seven Pillars. Reading Shaw's praise for the two men in the 1927 Spectator review, Lawrence wrote to Cherry from Karachi: 'If our sexes had been different (one of us, I mean) we could have pulled off a eugenist's dream. As it is there's only a mutual admiration available.'

After Lawrence's death in 1935, Cherry contributed an essay to T.E. Lawrence by his Friends, the collection of reminiscences put together by Arnold Lawrence, drawing on his Antarctic experiences to write what has been described as an 'acute appreciation of Lawrence's uncomfortable psychology'.

After a pleasant buffet lunch in the Polar Museum, where members were able to view many fascinating artefacts from Scott's expeditions, all gathered outside to admire the statue of Arnold Lawrence and to hear from the Keeper of Collections, Heather Lane, how it was presented by Lady Scott on the opening of the building in 1934 - much to the probable embarrassment of Arnold when he became the Laurence Professor of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge University and found his naked form displayed to his students. Heather also led members on a tour of the library, showing the most recent acquisition – a collection of photographs taken by Scott on his Pole journey – and astonishing the gathering by describing the Institute's quest to include every article ever published on the polar regions in its bibliographic records.

Lawrence Society

(Photo: © Mike Hamilton Scott)

The society offers its grateful thanks to Heather Lane, Dr Peter Clarkson, Emeritus Associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute, and Celene Pickard, PA to the Friends of SPRI, for organising the event, to those Friends who joined us for the day, and especially to those who travelled from Belgium and the USA for the event.

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

Edge of Beyond

(Photo: Kay Smith © SPRI)

We have been delighted by the enthusiastic response to our latest exhibition, which has been both a critical and commercial success. Over a hundred guests attended the opening reception for The Edge of Beyond on 14 May, where artist Dafila Scott spoke about the inspiration for her paintings and thanked the Friends for sponsoring her visit to the Antarctic as Artist in Residence on board HMS SCOTT, named for her grandfather.

Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Programme Countdown Begins!
A word from the Programme Manager, Chris Hill, BAS

Chris Hill

Chris Hill

In just a few months the time will come for the Subglacial Lake Ellsworth science and engineering team to head south to an extremely remote Antarctic fieldwork site in West Antarctica. It is this year's Antarctic season that will see the team begin their quest to penetrate and sample Lake Ellsworth – an ancient subglacial lake hidden beneath more than 3km of ice and has never before been accessed.

The Subglacial Lake Ellsworth Programme is an extraordinary research project at the frontier of exploration, which will yield new knowledge about the evolution of life on Earth and other planets, and will provide vital clues about the Earth's past climate. A British engineering team will undertake this ambitious scientific mission to collect water and sediment samples from the lake in December 2012.

Chris Hill

A schematic of the Lake Ellsworth field work site (not to scale) (British Antarctic Survey)

For years scientists have speculated that new and unique forms of microbial life could have evolved in the cold, pitch black and isolated environments found in subglacial lakes. Sediments on the lake bed are likely to reveal vital clues about the history of life in the lake and the ancient history of the WAIS, including past collapse.

There is much still to do before the drilling season and the teams from British Antarctic Survey (BAS), National Oceanography Centre (NOC - Southampton) and eight UK Universities are working hard to prepare the equipment for sterile packaging in time to meet the August shipping deadline.

Lake Ellsworth Site

Lake Ellsworth site. This is the hot-water drilling equipment left on the ice in December 2011. It will remain on site until the field team go back in November 2012. (Photo: Rod Strachan, British Antarctic Survey)

All the equipment going south for this programme of science and engineering is bespoke and has been developed over the past three years. This includes a powerful percussion corer designed to sample sediment from the lake bed, which could provide important information about the history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and what this might mean for its future stability and consequences for potential sea-level rise. The corer was designed by BAS engineers and has been built in Austria by experienced corer specialists. It was tested in a local Austrian lake last month and is now fully functional, and has been shipped back to the UK to undergo rigorous cleaning at the labs in Southampton.

The water sampling probe designed and built at NOC will undergo full system tests later this month before completion. It will also undergo the meticulous cleaning process required before being packaged in a bespoke sterile container to be shipped south. There are more than 3,000 individual parts on the probe alone and every single component must be hand-cleaned to the highest standards, which compare to those set by NASA when preparing equipment for space exploration. This is to preserve the pristine conditions of the lake and validity of the samples retrieved.


Testing the percussion sediment corer in the lab in Austria (British Antarctic Survey)

A team of 12 scientists, engineers and support staff will travel to the Lake Ellsworth site in November where the hot-water drilling equipment has already been delivered. This system was originally designed by BAS researchers in the late 1970s, which has been adapted and developed over the years to deliver increased capacity. It has undergone another re-design by the Ellsworth team to cope with the amplified scale of drilling required to bore through 3km of ice into this lake.

Three days of hot-water drilling will begin in December, with the first lake and sediment samples expected to be brought to the surface before Christmas. Field preparations and training for the field team are well underway and everyone is feeling a mixture of excitement and anticipation for the season ahead.

To follow the progress of the team as they undertake this fascinating challenge
Visit our website
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Any enquiries about membership (including subscription rates and renewals) should be sent to Ann Bean ( A very warm welcome is extended to all new members.

We are sad to note also the passing of Friends, Mr Eric Chinn and Mr Ronald Skeates.

Polar eBytes

If you haven't already added your name to our email list, please let Celene Pickard have details at You can also choose to receive future issues of Polar Bytes via email.


We thank 'The Marine Quarterly' for generously sponsoring this edition of Polar Bytes.

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Edited by Heather Lane & Celene Pickard