Tuesday 21 November 2017

Wrong rations led to Scott's death

Captain Robert Falcon Scott died in his tent in March 1912
Captain Robert Falcon Scott died in his tent in March 1912

Captain Scott and other members of his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole were effectively killed by a slimming diet, research has shown.

The men expended more energy than Olympic athletes as they hand-hauled their supplies on sledges across hundreds of miles of ice and snow. Their rations were too high in protein and too low in fat, and simply did not deliver enough calories, say scientists. As a result, the polar explorers starved to death.

"There has been much speculation about what Scott died of," said lead researcher Dr Lewis Halsey, from the University of Roehampton in London. "Almost certainly his death was due to chronic and extreme emaciation."

Captain Robert Falcon Scott's disastrous attempt to be the first to the South Pole began in June 1910 as he set off from Cardiff in the whaling ship Terra Nova. Appalling conditions greeted the explorers in Antarctica, proving too much for the mechanical sledges, ponies and dogs they brought with them.

By January 1912 only Scott and four other members of his expedition remained. Without support, they were forced to haul their supplies across the Antarctic plateau by hand. On January 17 they reached the pole, only to find that a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen had beaten them there.

They now faced a return journey of 1,500 kilometres. In mid-February, team member Edgar Evans died. Then, in an act of heroism that has gone down in history, frost-bitten Lawrence Oates took his famous walk into a blizzard saying he "may be some time".

Scott and his last two companions, Edward Wilson and Henry Bowers, died in their tent on March 29, 1912. They were just 11 miles from a pre-arranged supply depot.

Dr Halsey's team examined the expedition in light of today's knowledge of nutrition and the effects of extreme exercise.

Scott's rations consisted of biscuits, pemmican (a concentrated fat and protein mixture), butter, sugar, chocolate, cereals and raisins, with initial supplements of pony meat. The study, to be presented this weekend at the annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology in Salzburg, Austria, suggests they were inadequate.

Each of the polar explorers were burning nearly 7,000 calories a day hauling their sledges, it is estimated. At the same time, they were consuming only around 4,400 calories. In comparison, elite cyclists covering 4,900 kilometres over six days burn around 6,500 calories per day. Scott and his men were therefore facing more physical punishment than most Olympic athletes in full training, but without sufficient fuel in the form of food.

Press Association

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