Scott Polar Research Institute

The Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) is a centre for research into the polar regions and glaciology worldwide. It is a sub-department of the Department of Geography in the University of Cambridge, located on Lensfield Road in the south of Cambridge (52°11′54.40″N 0°07′34.45″E / 52.1984444°N 0.1262361°E).

SPRI was founded by Frank Debenham in 1920 as the national memorial to Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his companions, who died on their return journey from the South Pole in 1912. It investigates issues relevant to the Arctic and Antarctic in the environmental sciences, social sciences and humanities. The Institute is home the Polar Museum and has some 60 personnel, consisting of academic, library and support staff plus postgraduate students, associates and fellows attached to research programmes.[1] The Institute also hosts the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

Scott Polar Research Institute
The Scott Polar Research Institute - - 1624418
DirectorProfessor Julian A. Dowdeswell
United Kingdom

(52°11′54.40″N 0°07′34.45″E / 52.1984444°N 0.1262361°E)


SPRI has several research groups. Notable researchers that have been based at the Institute include current Director, Julian Dowdeswell, British diplomat Bryan Roberts, and glaciologist Elizabeth Morris.

Glaciology and Climate Change Group

This group's work involves quantifying the state of the cryosphere using remote sensing by satellites, plus accurate field measurements and computer simulations, to understand the processes in detail. In particular, the group has been able to observe the melting of the Larsen Ice Shelf, the rapid retreat of ice in western Antarctica, and increased summer melting in northern Canada. This work has contributed greatly to understanding climate change.

Glacimarine Environments Group

This group's work focuses on the dynamics of ice-sheets and delivery of sediment to the marine environment. The group uses geophysical and geological evidence gathered by icebreakers in the polar seas.

Polar Landscape and Remote Sensing Group

This group's work focuses on the processes which modify the polar and sub-polar environments, such as Arctic vegetation, and snow and ice cover. Improving techniques for measuring vegetation from satellite data is an important part of the work.

Polar Social Science and Humanities Group

This is an interdisciplinary group covering the anthropology, history and art of the Arctic. Its work includes looking at politics and environmental management in the polar regions, with particular expertise in the religion, culture and politics of the Russian North.

The Polar Museum

The Polar Museum
Memorial Hall in the Polar Museum, Scott Polar Research Institute
The Polar Museum, Scott Polar Research Institute
TypeUniversity Museum
AccreditationArts Council England accredited
CollectionsObjects, art, archive and picture library holdings related to polar research and exploration
Visitors52,392 (2017)
DirectorProfessor Julian Dowdeswell
CuratorCharlotte Connelly
ArchitectSir Herbert Baker
OwnerUniversity of Cambridge
University of Cambridge Museums

SPRI operates the Polar Museum, which presents a range of objects, artworks, documents and photographs from the Institute's extensive polar collections. The collections include material related to polar history, exploration, science, art and Arctic cultures.[2][3][4]

In 2010 the renovated Polar Museum opened its doors to the public; the reopening was met with widespread acclaim and the museum was shortlisted for the Art Fund's Museum of the Year prize in 2011.[5] The museum welcomed 52,392 visitors in 2017.[6] It contains displays of Arctic art and artefacts, material from the nineteenth century search for the Northwest Passage, the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration (including the last letters of Captain Scott) and contemporary research and policy relating to the polar regions.

As well as permanent exhibits, the museum regularly hosts special exhibitions. The museum is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10:00 – 16:00, and admission is free.[7]

The museum is one of the eight museums and botanic garden which make up the University of Cambridge Museums consortium.[8]

Key objects in the Polar Museum collection

Important material representing a wide of range of people concerned with the polar regions is cared for by the Scott Polar Research Institute and on display in the Polar Museum includes:

  • A folding camera used by Robert Falcon Scott at the South Pole, 1912, on the British Antarctic Expedition 1910–13 (Terra Nova).[9]
  • A reindeer-skin sleeping bag used by Captain Lawrence Oates during the journey to the South Pole on the British Antarctic Expedition 1910–13 (Terra Nova). The bag was found on 12 November 1912 by the search party looking for the polar party.[10]
  • A sextant used for navigation by Captain Frank Worsley on the James Caird during the Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–16 (Endurance).[11]

Key artists represented in the Polar Museum collections

The wide ranging collections include art and photographic works by several notable artists and photographers, including:

The Institute is actively adding to its collection of contemporary polar art through its artist in residence scheme, managed by the Friends of SPRI, which enables an artist to travel to the Antarctic and the Arctic each year.[12]

Library and Collections

The Scott Polar Research Institute houses the world's most comprehensive polar library and archives.[13] The Institute's Thomas H. Manning Archive contains an unparalleled collection of manuscript material relating to the polar regions, research and exploration. For scientists and scholars, the library offers a collection developed since the 1920s covering all subjects relating to the Arctic, the Antarctic, and to ice and snow wherever found. For industry, it is a prime information source on such subjects as exploration and exploitation of natural resources and on the environmental implications of such activities in the polar regions; on the design of ice-strengthened shipping and selection of sea routes; and on problems of construction and transportation in cold environments. The library also offers an unrivalled resource for the needs of international relations and strategic defence.

The Picture Library contains a photograph collection from both the Arctic and Antarctic, mainly depicting the history of exploration in the polar regions, including much material from the expeditions of Scott and Shackleton. Its Thomas H. Manning Polar Archives are named in honour of the British-Canadian Arctic researcher, a university alumnus.[14] Its work includes an oral history programme which interviews people who have worked in the polar regions over the years. Due to high demand, the Polar Archives runs a booking scheme for anyone wishing to consult material.[15]

The most recent addition to the library is the Shackleton Memorial Library, which in 1999 won a regional award from the Royal Institute of British Architects.[16] This part of the building holds much of the library's Antarctic collection, as well as some of its subject-based material.

The library is part of the Inspire Libraries scheme[17] and is open to anyone with a polar interest to use for reference work and research.


Directors of the Scott Polar Research Institute

Building and Garden

The Grade II listed main building (1933–34) is by Sir Herbert Baker. The small halls have shallow domed ceilings painted with the aspect of the globe from north and south poles, by MacDonald Gill.[18] The small gardens are home to a range of sculptures and historic artefacts relating to the polar regions.


The statue of 'Youth' (1920) by Kathleen Scott for which A. W. Lawrence was the model

DSCN1748-whaling-harpoon-gun statue orcing-pot

Whaling harpoon gun, Inuksuk and flensing pot

Monument to those who lost their lives in Antarctica in pursuit of science

monument of British oak to those who lost their lives in Antarctica in pursuit of science.

See also


  1. ^ Welcome to SPRI Scott Polar Research Institute. Accessed 28 December 2007.
  2. ^ "Museum Catalogue". Scott Polar Research Institute – Museum Collections. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  3. ^ "Picture Library Catalogue". Scott Polar Research Institute – Picture Library Collections. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  4. ^ "Archive Catalogue". Scott Polar Research Institute – Archive Collections. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  5. ^ Fund, Art. "Getting to know... The Polar Museum". Art Fund. Retrieved 28 April 2018.
  6. ^ "ALVA – Association of Leading Visitor Attractions". Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  7. ^ Museum Polar Museum. Accessed 9 June 2010.
  8. ^ McPhee, Jo (6 August 2013). "Our Museums". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  9. ^ "Museum catalogue – Antarctic Collection – Camera". Scott Polar Research Institute. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  10. ^ "Museum catalogue – Antarctic Collection – Sleeping bag". Scott Polar Research Institute. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  11. ^ "Museum catalogue – Antarctic Collection – Sextant". Scott Polar Research Institute. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  12. ^ "Artists in Residence". Scott Polar Research Institute. Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  13. ^ "Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge » Library". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  14. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. (25 November 1998). "Thomas Manning, 86, Explorer Known as Lone Wolf of Arctic". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 April 2009.
  15. ^ "Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge » Polar Archives". Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  16. ^ The Shackleton Memorial Library Scott Polar Research Institute. Accessed 28 December 2007.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Historic England. "Scott Polar Research Institute  (Grade II) (1268369)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 29 December 2017.

External links

Beau Riffenburgh

Beau Riffenburgh (born 1955) is an author and historian specializing in polar exploration. He is also an American Football coach and author of books on football history.

Bernard Stonehouse

Dr Bernard Stonehouse (1 May 1926 – 12 November 2014) was a British scientist who specialised in polar research and popular science.

Brian Roberts (polar expert)

Brian Birley Roberts (23 October 1912 – 9 October 1978) was a British polar expert, ornithologist and diplomat who played a key role in the development of the Antarctic Treaty System.

Charles Swithinbank

Charles Winthrop Molesworth Swithinbank (17 November 1926 – 27 May 2014) was a British glaciologist and expert in the polar regions who has six places in the Antarctic named after him.

He was born in Pegu, Burma, the son of Bernard Swithinbank of the Indian Civil Service, and educated at Bryanston School. He served for two years with the Royal Navy before going up to Pembroke College, Oxford to read Geography in 1946, graduating DPhil in 1955.

Having developed an interest in glaciology he became a research fellow at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, studying the distribution of sea ice and its effect on shipping in the Canadian Arctic, which involved the first hand observation of sea ice conditions from aboard the icebreaker Labrador in the Baffin Island region.

In 1959 he moved to the University of Michigan to take up an appointment as a research associate and lecturer, spending three summers in the Antarctic investigating the glaciers which feed the Ross Ice Shelf in New Zealand’s Ross Dependency. He then returned to Britain to take up a further research appointment at the Scott Polar Research Institute, spending two summers and a winter in the Antarctic as the British representative at the Soviet Novolazarevskaya ice shelf station.

He worked at the Scott Polar Research Institute until 1976, from 1971 as chief glaciologist and from 1974 as head of the Earth Sciences Division of the British Antarctic Survey. During this period he revisited the Antarctic in the summer of 1967-68 and took part as sea ice specialist in the transit of Canada’s Northwest Passage by the supertanker Manhattan in 1969, and in the return passage to the North Pole by the nuclear submarine Dreadnought in 1971.

In 1976 he joined the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. Every other season he spent several months in the Antarctic, primarily directing low level radio echo-sounding flights to measure the thickness of the ice within the British Antarctic Territory.

After his retirement from the Survey in 1986 he joined up with two pilots to locate suitable landing strips in Antarctica to enable flights to be inaugurated for the benefit of mountaineers, skiers and other tourists.

He died in 2014. He had married Mary Fellows (née Stewart), with whom he had a son and a daughter.

David Drewry

David John Drewry (born 22 September 1947, in Grimsby) is a glaciologist and geophysicist who was described in the conferring of an honorary degree by Anglia Ruskin University in 1998 as having an "outstanding reputation as an eminent scientist of international repute". Drewry has also received several awards for his work. Since 1 July 2015 he is the Vice-President of the European University Association.

Edward Adrian Wilson

Edward Adrian Wilson FZS ("Uncle Bill") (23 July 1872 – 29 March 1912) was an English physician, polar explorer, natural historian, painter and ornithologist.

Elizabeth Morris

Elizabeth Mary Morris, OBE (born 7 September 1946), also known as Liz Morris, is a glaciologist and Senior Associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. She has been a visiting professor at the University of Reading since 1995. Formerly head of the ice and climate division at the British Antarctic Survey, from 1986 to 1999, and president of the International Glaciological Society, from 2002 to 2005. She was awarded the Polar Medal in 2003 for her services to Antarctic science.

Frank Debenham

Frank Debenham, OBE (26 December 1883 – 23 November 1965) was Emeritus Professor of Geography at the Department of Geography, Cambridge University and first director of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

Henry Robertson Bowers

Lieutenant Henry Robertson "Birdie" Bowers (29 July 1883 – 29 March 1912) was one of Robert Falcon Scott's polar party on the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition (1910–1913), all of whom died during their return from the South Pole.

Herbert Ponting

Herbert George Ponting, FRGS (21 March 1870 – 7 February 1935) was a professional photographer. He is best known as the expedition photographer and cinematographer for Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova Expedition to the Ross Sea and South Pole (1910–1913). In this role, he captured some of the most enduring images of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Institute Ice Stream

The Institute Ice Stream (82°S 75°W) is an ice stream flowing north into the Ronne Ice Shelf, Antarctica, southeast of Hercules Inlet. The feature was traversed by the United States Antarctic Research Program (USARP) Ellsworth–Byrd Seismic Party, 1958–59, and the USARP – University of Wisconsin Seismic Party, 1963–64. It was delineated by the Scott Polar Research Institute – National Science Foundation – Technical University of Denmark airborne radio echo sounding program, 1967–79, and in association with Foundation Ice Stream and Support Force Glacier, named after the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England.

James Wordie

Sir James Mann Wordie CBE FRSE LLD (26 April 1889 – 16 January 1962) was a Scottish polar explorer and geologist.

John Heap (geographer)

John Arnfield Heap, CMG (5 February 1932 – 8 March 2006) was an English polar scientist who helped protect Antarctica from exploitation. His son, Tom Heap, is the BBC's Rural Affairs Correspondent and presenter of BBC One's Countryfile programme and a reporter for the same channel's Panorama programme and BBC Radio 4's Costing the Earth programme.

John Rymill

John Riddoch Rymill (13 March 1905 – 7 September 1968) was an Australian polar explorer, who had the rare second clasp added to his Polar Medal.

Julian A. Dowdeswell

Julian A. Dowdeswell (born 18 November 1957) is a British glaciologist and is the Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute and a Professor of Physical Geography in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge.

Kathleen Scott

Kathleen Scott, Baroness Kennet, FRBS (27 March 1878 – 25 July 1947) was a British sculptor. She was the wife of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the mother of Sir Peter Scott, the painter and ornithologist. By her second marriage, to Edward Hilton Young, she became Baroness Kennet, and mother to the writer and politician Wayland Hilton Young.

Launcelot Fleming

William Launcelot Scott Fleming (7 August 1906 – 30 July 1990) was a British Anglican bishop. He was the Bishop of Portsmouth and later the Bishop of Norwich. He was also noted as a geologist and explorer.

Piers Vitebsky

Piers Vitebsky is an anthropologist and is the Head of Social Science at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, England.

Polar Record

Polar Record is a quarterly peer-reviewed academic journal covering all aspects of Arctic and Antarctic exploration and research. It is managed by the Scott Polar Research Institute and published by Cambridge University Press. The journal was established in 1931 and the editor-in-chief is Ian R. Stone (Scott Polar Research Institute).

faculties, and
Student life

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.