A fatal miscalculation
Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16
An important factor in the failure of Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole was an error in estimating the energy expenditure of his men. Scott provided rations of 4,400 calories a day when his men were expending on average 7,000 calories hauling their equipment. The calculations Scott had based his rationing on were derived from men working at sea level and he made no correction for the increased rates of respiration his men would experience at altitude. It is thought his team experienced a calorie deficit and lost around 1.5 kg of body mass per week. At the time of his death, it is estimated that Scott had lost 40% of his body mass. Scott’s team had packed rations with a high proportion of protein (29%), for example pemmican (a food made from dried meat, fat and berries) and biscuits, but it is now argued that the slow plodding motion of sledge hauling is better supported by high-fat rations. A typical contemporary Antarctic ration contains 57% fat and only 8% protein.