From Antarctica to Alaska, from Spitzbergen to Siberia
Annual Fellows Lecture
Antarctica – Nature, Discovery and Prospects provided the focus for the annual St. Cuthbert’s Society Fellows Lecture, delivered in the New Elvet lecture rooms, University of Durham, in December 2008.
Professor Bill Block, now Emeritus Fellow with the Biological Sciences Division of the British Antarctic Survey, provided an overview of the continent. This encompassed its geography, geological origins in Gondwana and its biology, with particular reference to the Southern Ocean and the importance of ice on land and sea.
An undergraduate and graduate of St. Cuthbert’s and, since 2007, a Distinguished Fellow of the Society, Professor Block covered the ecological contrasts of the terrestrial and marine environments, the changing climate, and the people and politics of the region. He gave an account of the major voyages and expeditions of discovery over the past 200 years, highlighting the main exploration phases. He summarised current scientific research, aspects of conservation and tourism and future issues and concerns. Audience questions focused on the fragility of the Antarctic environment, climate change and ozone thinning.
Bill Block was a member of the Society from 1956 to 1963, graduating in zoology and completing his PhD in animal ecology. The latter involved studying the population ecology of soil mites in the Moor House National Nature Reserve in the northern Pennines, supervised by Professor J B Cragg and Dr J C Coulson.
He played in the Society hockey team which won the Durham Colleges Trophy in 1959; and for the University’s reserve team (1958-60). He married May Watt, who was at St. Mary’s College and they have three grown up children. Bill maintains contact with several zoologists from his Durham period and is a keen member of St. Cuthbert’s Refounders Group.
Bill Block’s career embraces 13 years at universities, lecturing and researching, followed by 21 years as head of a research team within the British Antarctic Survey, which encompassed 10 visits to Antarctica plus field work in Alaska, Siberia, Japan and Spitzbergen.
To put it mildly, Bill’s c.v. is extensive. As demonstrator, lecturer, researcher and in various professorial capacities since 1963, he has enjoyed appointments and short term assignments in the Universities of East Africa, Cambridge, Leicester (nine years lecturing in zoology), Alaska, Otago (New Zealand), Victoria (British Columbia), Hokkaido (Japan), Birmingham, Dundee and East Anglia. He is a Chartered Biologist (CBiol), Fellow of the Institute of Biology (FIBiol) and holds MA and DSc dgrees from the Universities of Cambridge and Durham respectively.
His university activities have been closely bound up with the Natural Environment Research Council’s British Antarctic Survey, based at Cambridge. Responsibilties have included heading the Terrestrial Biology Section, vice-chairmanship of the BAS Whitley Committee and leading the BAS Survival Strategies Programme. His research interests have focused on the ecophysiology of cold adapted insects and other arthropods with 160 published papers and 88 other publications.
During the past 12 years, Bill has been nominally retired but writing and publishing scientific material, working as an Antarctic expedition guide/lecturer and tutoring in the University of the Third Age in Cambridge. He co-ordinates the Polar Study Group and runs the ‘Antarctic in a Nutshell’ course.