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Physiol Rev. 2012 Apr;92(2):521-36. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00031.2011.

100 years since Scott reached the pole: a century of learning about the physiological demands of Antarctica.

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University of Roehampton, Holybourne Ave., London SW15 4JD, UK.


The 1910-1913 Terra Nova Expedition to the Antarctic, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, was a venture of science and discovery. It is also a well-known story of heroism and tragedy since his quest to reach the South Pole and conduct research en route, while successful was also fateful. Although Scott and his four companions hauled their sledges to the Pole, they died on their return journey either directly or indirectly from the extreme physiological stresses they experienced. One hundred years on, our understanding of such stresses caused by Antarctic extremes and how the body reacts to severe exercise, malnutrition, hypothermia, high altitude, and sleep deprivation has greatly advanced. On the centenary of Scott's expedition to the bottom of the Earth, there is still controversy surrounding whether the deaths of those five men could have, or should have, been avoided. This paper reviews present-day knowledge related to the physiology of sustained man-hauling in Antarctica and contrasts this with the comparative ignorance about these issues around the turn of the 20th century. It closes by considering whether, with modern understanding about the effects of such a scenario on the human condition, Scott could have prepared and managed his team differently and so survived the epic 1,600-mile journey. The conclusion is that by carrying rations with a different composition of macromolecules, enabling greater calorific intake at similar overall weight, Scott might have secured the lives of some of the party, and it is also possible that enhanced levels of vitamin C in his rations, albeit difficult to achieve in 1911, could have significantly improved their survival chances. Nevertheless, even with today's knowledge, a repeat attempt at his expedition would by no means be bound to succeed.

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