Polar Explorers Died of Starvation
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Andrew McAlister
(mcalista) - F
Polar Explorers Died of Starvation on 07/05/2012 23:13:11 MDT Print View

A Slow Trek Towards Starvation: Scott's Polar Tragedy Revisited

ScienceDaily (June 29, 2012) — On the centenary of Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole, a study to be presented at the Society for Experimental Biology meeting on July 1 has shown that Scott's men starved to death because they were consuming far too few calories to fuel their daily exertion.

The researchers, environmental physiologist Dr Lewis Halsey of the University of Roehampton and polar explorer and physician Dr Mike Stroud, examined the voyage in light of today's knowledge of nutrition and how our bodies respond to extreme exercise, cold, and high altitude. They determined that their rations, which consisted of biscuits, pemmican, butter, sugar, chocolate, cereals and raisins, and were supplemented by pony meat at the start of the expedition, were inadequate.

Dr Lewis Halsey said, "There has been much speculation about what Scott died of. Almost certainly his death was due to chronic and extreme emaciation."

While consuming around 4,400 kcal/day, the men probably burnt nearly 7,000 kcal/day hauling their supplies on sledges across the ice and snow (based on data from Stroud's Antarctic crossing). For comparison, elite cyclists covering 4,900 km over 6 days use around 6,500 kcal/day. So Scott and his men were exhibiting daily activity levels considerably higher than most Olympic athletes in full training, but without consuming the enormous amount of food required to fuel such exertion.

In addition to the calorie deficit, the rations were too high in protein and low in fat to be optimal. Rations with more fat provide more energy for the same weight, which is a critical consideration when supplies must be carried. Although Scott made his rations more fat-rich than other polar rations had been, with 24% fat and 29% protein, today's adventurers eat up to 57% fat with 8% protein.

According to the study, other factors also worked against Scott's team. For instance, vitamins were not yet known about and there was some confusion at the time about which foods would prevent scurvy. While it is not clear whether the men developed scurvy, they probably did not consume enough vitamin C. On the other hand, the team did have a form of cocaine on hand, to help them keep going when they had run out of food.

a b
(Ice-axe)
Scurvy on 07/05/2012 23:48:42 MDT Print View

"They determined that their rations... consisted of biscuits, pemmican, butter, sugar, chocolate, cereals and raisins, and.. pony meat"

Complex Carbohydrate(Biscuits), Fat and Protein(Pemmican), Fat(Butter), simple carbohydrate(sugar), fat and simple carbohydrate (Chocolate), complex carbohydrate(cereal) and some protein with simple carbohydrate(raisins), fat and protein (pony meat).

Yeah.. don't see any Vitamin C anywhere in that diet.. but plenty of go power.

Scurvy?

Erik Danielsen
(er1kksen) - F

Locale: The Western Door
No? on 07/06/2012 09:30:03 MDT Print View

Pemmican does contain a useful amount of vitamin C in the raw muscle meat, and many pemmicans are made with the inclusion of berries. Between those and the raisins I don't see why they'd necessarily have to have suffered scurvy. A potential contributing factor, sure, but extreme calorie deficit and possibly the effects of a potent stimulant drug sound like just as significant factors.

Edited by er1kksen on 07/06/2012 09:33:18 MDT.

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Other factors on 07/06/2012 09:45:53 MDT Print View

Remember that the weather was uncommonly cold for that time of the year (maybe 20* F colder than usual, down to ~-40* F), with horrific windy conditions. Also, the 2 teams that headed back down before Scott took their alloted stove fuel from the depots. But there wasn't enough fuel remaining for Scott, possibly due to evaporation inside the partially filled containers. The extremely cold and windy conditions, along with the necessity of eating cold meals, no doubt contributed to the inability of Scott's team to maintain a reasonable level of fitness.

Jeremy B.
(requiem) - F - M

Locale: Northern California
Re: Scurvy on 07/06/2012 13:21:26 MDT Print View

There was some incidence, but from a quick perusal it doesn't seem to have been a significant issue. Keep in mind that this was a century after Trafalgar, when the Royal Navy first started issuing lemons, so they may have had some citrus at basecamp. Fresh pony meat also would have helped to a small extent.

The Scott expedition seems to be a good example of how small changes can add up to create a crisis. For example, the doomed team was only 11 miles short of the next supply depot, which had been placed 30 miles North of its planned location. Lt. Evans, sent back with a bad case of scurvy, apparently was unable to relay Scott's order for more dogs to be sent south to meet the party. (So in a way scurvy did help create a significant issue.) The wiki article gives the impression that many aspects (ski/binding design, pony selection) may not have been given sufficient attention in contrast to Amundsen's group, but I'd prefer to read more direct sources on the subject before sharing that conclusion. I think that had things gone only slightly differently (not taking an extra man on the final push, placing supplies where originally planned, had the dogs been sent South, etc.), they likely would have made it out.

Amounts: "The staple daily ration per man was 16 ounces (450 g) biscuit, 12 ounces (340 g) pemmican, 3 ounces (85 g) sugar, 2 ounces (57 g) butter, 0.7 ounces (20 g) tea and 0.57 ounces (16 g) cocoa."

Madeline T
(madscot13) - F
vitamin C on 07/17/2012 20:44:15 MDT Print View

If I remember correctly, from Ranulph Fiennes book race to the pole, the men relied on meat for their source of vitamin C. I think they got their meat from seals and horses with seals providing a large source of vitamin C.

Paul McLaughlin
(paul) - MLife
Re: Polar Explorers Died of Starvation on 07/17/2012 22:48:24 MDT Print View

A fairly recent book on the expedition shows through research on weather conditions that the weather was significantly worse than average that year, slowing their progress sunstantially, so much so that in an average year they almost certainly would have made it back alive - despite what we now know to be inadequate rations

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Polar Explorers Died of Starvation on 07/18/2012 01:11:37 MDT Print View

Dehydration and cooking both destroy Vitamin C, so it's not all that surprising that they got scurvy.

Laurie Ann March
(Laurie_Ann) - F

Locale: Ontario, Canada
Re: Polar Explorers Died of Starvation on 07/18/2012 07:22:33 MDT Print View

This is all very interesting. I think I'm going to have to buy a book or do some Google research and read more about the expedition.

Mary I did want to address the Vitamin C comment. While cooking and dehydration can destroy some Vitamin C, it doesn't destroy all of it if the time is limited. In 20 minutes of cooking you'll lose half the C and that's why in modern day we recommend the shorter cooking time for fruits and veggies and the reduced amount of water. Dehydration if done at 135°F or lower with modern dehydrators won't destroy all of the C but there will be a reduction. Same with Vitamin A. But back in the early 1900's we didn't know what we know today about everything from vitamin loss to glycemic index.

From what I gather from this discussion - and please correct me if I am mistaken... they were running out of fuel. With the extreme temps that would mean they wouldn't be able to thaw things like the pemmican to where it could be masticated or cook the frozen meat. Perhaps it was the fuel issue that was the biggest contributor?

Edited by Laurie_Ann on 07/18/2012 07:23:39 MDT.