Tag Archives: Amundsen

Scurvy and Exploration – Scott vs. Amundsen

The ship doctor did a presentation on scurvy and how most likely Robert Scott’s exploration team died from it.

I’ll start this off with the fact that Scott and Roald Amundsen were competing to try to make it to the South Pole first. The eventual result was that Amundsen made it first, leaving a note for Scott and his team. Scott did make it soon afterwards but never made it out.

Scott’s failure can be attributed partially due to their diet and partially due to the fact that they went to Antarctica, fully unprepared. They didn’t know how to ski but figured they would figure it out. They had never used dogs before but figured they would figure it out. They went to the most remote, coldest, driest place on earth and were just going to wing it.

Now back to their diet. Vitamin C is found in virtually all fresh food, including fresh meat, but it is easily inactivated by cooking, being exposed to air, and by copper (think pans and pots).

Scott had descriptions for scurvy in his journals so he knew about it and how nasty it could be.

In 1747, James Lind showed that citrus fruit prevented and cured scurvy. So the Royal Navy issued a teaspoon of lemon, then lime juice when they got the Caribbean properties.

Journeys became faster with steam ships, with very few cases reported afterwards. Limes have less than a quarter of the amount of Vitamin C. Additionally, copper piping and pots were used on Polar Expeditions. Early expeditions had a lot of problems. Scott even had to evacuate Ernest Shackleton to New Zealand in 1901. Shackleton never did forgive him for this, even though it saved his life.

Meanwhile, Amundsen’s team ate a Nordic diet of lots of fresh seal and penguin meat, with fresh and frozen Nordic cloudberries, which have more Vitamin C than lemons) and there were no cases of scurvy.

For more on explorers, check out this post.