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Polar Medal for David Meldrum of SAMS

In 2011 David Meldrum was awarded the Polar Medal for services to polar research.

Mr David Meldrum has been exploring and working in both polar regions on the land, on the sea and in the air for over forty years. During that period he has achieved some exceptional accomplishments in both new discoveries and new technologies. Much of his professional work has opened our knowledge of, and ability to measure and monitor, the polar regions to the extent that entirely new fields of research now exist due to his polar service.

His first experience of operating in the polar regions was gained in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a member, and as a leader, of mountaineering and geological expeditions in Greenland. In 1967 he was part of the St Andrews mountaineering expedition to Upernivik Island, West Greenland, where the team, led by Philip Gribbon, made eighteen first ascents with David personally making six of those. He returned ten years later to explore and map further unclimbed peaks in West Greenland. In 1968 he led a St Andrews geological expedition to the western coast of Ubekendt Ejland, Greenland, to study tertiary intrusions at 26 separate sites and in 1970 joined a Cambridge geological expedition, led by Dr Peter Friend, mapping Devonian sediments in parts of the Caledonian sedimentary sequence in central east Greenland. Further exploration of Greenland occurred in 1973 as a member of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland expedition conducting seismic surveys and gravimetry.

In the early 1970s David was employed by the Scott Polar Research Institute as a physicist working on ice-penetrating Radio Echo Sounding technologies. He was highly influential in developing the early prototypes into the next generation of instrumentation. David liaised closely with Danish colleagues at the Electromagnetics Institute of the Technical University of Denmark applying his electronic expertise to the design of the 60Hz and 300MHz radar sounders. These sounders were flown in US Navy C-130 aircraft as part of a joint research programme with the US National Science Foundation. David was in charge of the installation and operation of the sounders in Antarctica, liaising with the US National Science Foundation and with Lockheed on the aerial installation on the C-130.

David was involved in fieldwork during the 1974-75, 1977-78 and 1978-79 Antarctic seasons. One of his colleagues from that time was Professor David Drewry who remarked: ‘he was an outstanding companion in the field; focused energetic, adaptable, hardworking and great fun.’ The Radio Echo Sounding programme, at its completion, had covered an area of the Antarctic Ice Sheet equivalent in area to that of the USA - with a grid of flight lines that revealed for the first time the details of the ice sheet - its internal layering, the presence of liquid water in lakes at its bed, including the discovery of Lake Vostok, and the configuration of the land surface beneath the ice. This was a truly pioneering and innovative programme whose success owed a great deal to David's skill, expertise and dedication in the field.

David moved to Scotland in 1978 to join the Technology Development Group at the Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory in Oban, now the Scottish Association for Marine Science. Here he was engaged in among other things the development of measuring, monitoring and communications technologies to study the Polar oceans. His skills have been put to use in measuring the dynamics and drift rates of sea ice, stress and strain measurements and the growth-melt cycles of ice. His technical innovation in developing drifting buoy technology is of arguably of the greatest international significance. In the early 1990s he pioneered the use of the fledgling GPS satellite navigation system for polar oceanography combining a GPS receiver and Argos transmitter for the first time to receive accurate buoy positions from anywhere on the globe. Further technical developments provided many significant advances in polar technology included exploiting the emerging satellite telemetry systems such as Iridium and Orbcomm to allow not just position but high bandwidth sensor data such as tilt, strain, acceleration and conductivity to be measured remotely. His innovations include the development of two-way communication with the sensors and he implemented the development of intelligent systems to adapt sampling regimes to the prevailing conditions. This has increased the value of the measured data to users and significantly increased the endurance of the buoys through reduced power consumption.

He is undoubtedly the leading designer of the modern smart, low cost communication units for use in the polar regions. These continue to be deployed in both polar oceans to collect and transmit ice, ocean and meteorological data to worldwide data centres for research use and for incorporation into operational forecasting models. His prowess in this field has led him to be technical co-ordinator and later Chair of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and World Meteorological Organisation (IOC/WMO) Data Buoy Co-operation Panel and vice chair of the IOC/WMO Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology Observations Programme Area, with special responsibility for the Polar Regions. David’s team and his instrumentation have been deployed in both Polar Regions and in all seasons. In February 1983 he was a member of Marginal Ice Zone expedition in the Bering Sea. At the time it was the first experiment of its kind to take place during the Arctic winter to study the processes which control interactions between the atmosphere, ice, and oceans in the Arctic marginal ice zones. During that expedition, David was responsible for measurements of bottom ablation of sea ice. More recently he has been involved in the development and deployment of fully automated drifting buoys to measure the growth-melt characteristics of sea ice. As part of this work he has undertaken ship-based expeditions to both the Beaufort and Weddell Seas.

It is clear that the range and depth of David’s experience and expertise in both Polar Regions mark him out as having made a hugely significant contribution to knowledge. This has been through classical expeditions, technological innovation and a legacy of data collection that will continue to reveal the secrets of the Polar Regions for decades to come.

Duration of periods of polar service and the season [summer (S) and winter (W)].

Year / season of expeditionExpedition durationExpedition area
1967 (S) 8 weeks West Greenland
1968 (S) 8 weeks West Greenland
1970 (S) 8 weeks East Greenland
1973 (S) 8 weeks West Greenland
1974-5 (S) 10 weeks Antarctica
1977 (S) 6 weeks West Greenland
1977-8 (S) 8 weeks Antarctica
1978-9 (S) 8 weeks Antarctica
1983 (W) 6 weeks Bering Straits
2008 (S) 7 weeks Beaufort Sea
2010 (S) 8 weeks Weddell Sea

Total Qualifying Polar Service: 21 months

David's humble response to this recognition: 'Who deserves a medal for having a great time, when most people have to endure being shot at.'

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