Scott and his team were woefully undernourished on their expedition to the South Pole. Polar explorers like Scott knew that they would face the challenge of not being able to carry enough food for the whole trip, and Scott tried to solve it using two methods:
- First, Scott spent a long period of time setting up depots at various stages along the route which contained food, fuel, and other supplies.
- Second, Scott went forward to the Pole with a large support team that combined the use of animals and many men. This way, the most food could be taken the farthest distance. Along the way, the animals would be sacrificed as needed, but much more food could be hauled.
At a final stage, Scott and a much smaller team would break away from the support group and continue on to the South Pole. This life threatening journey just became even more treacherous.
The Body Can't Compete
Scott and his sledge team were burning about 7,000 calories per day but only consuming 4,500 calories from their rations. When climbing the Austral Plateau, his team was burning 11,000 calories per day. Consequently, he was losing about 1.5Kg (3.3lbs) every week in body mass. He was on a starvation diet and there was nothing he could do about it.
And that is the nature of any man hauling trip to the South Pole: the traveler has to get to the Pole and back to a depot before the act of traveling starves him or her to death. But it's not just starvation that you have to worry about, disease and injury are other factors.
So where does thermogenesis fit into all of this? Thermogenesis is the process of heat production in the body, and is automated by the body to maintain a stable core temperature. Most of the heat production in the body comes from the liver and kidneys - the organs that metabolize most of what we consume. As Scott and his team were making their way home from the South Pole, their body mass had dropped by 40%. At the start, Scott's body was making up for the calorie deficit by consuming fat. When his body fat ran out, his body began converting muscle into energy. The more he walked, the weaker he became, and the harder it became to walk. During his final moments in life, his body most likely began converting his vital organs into an energy source in a last ditch effort to regulate his body temperature.
It was just too much. With no muscle or fat to insulate his body, the cold was creeping inwards. His limbs became colder and ice crystals formed in the blood vessels, shattering them and swelling his feet and hands. This was frostbite.
When Scott finally died with his two close friends, Wilson and Bowers, he had pushed his body to the ultimate limits any man could. He died 11 miles away from his depot. A mere day's travel. Physiologists believe he could have made it home alive. His failure to survive is currently regarded as a result of several decision making failures, rather than a lack of knowledge, whereas at the time people believed his death was caused by his struggle with nature and the cold blizzards of the Antarctic.
I dare anyone playing Antarctic Simulator 1914: Heroes of the Antarctic to do better.
Below you should see a graph of the history of the use of the word thermogenesis.