The deaths in 1912 of Robert Falcon Scott and his companions just 170 miles away from base camp have been attributed to many things, but the freezing cold they had to endure was not one of them.
Meteorologists have found that the British explorers had to cope with temperatures on average between 10F and 20F (5.5C and 11C) lower than typical temperatures recorded in the region since 1985.
Near the end of February 1912, a month before Scott and his men perished, temperatures fell to minus 30F (minus 34C), well below average for an Antarctic summer. There was a strong wind blowing at the time: at 35mph it would have taken the temperature down to minus 45C (wind chill factor).
This may have been overlooked as a factor that prevented Scott's expedition returning safely, says Susan Solomon, from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, and Charles Stearns, from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Historians have put Scott's failure down to the poor health of his ponies, the failure to use sledge dogs, meagre transport supplies, lack of experience with skis and the decision to include five men in the party instead of four. A poor diet has also been cited.
Few scholars have linked the temperatures scrupulously recorded by Scott and his men during their 900-mile journey. "Only one year in the available 15 years of measurements from the location where Scott and his men perished displays persistent cold temperaturesclose to those reported in 1912," say Solomon and Stearns. "These remarkably cold temperatures likely contributed substantially to the exhaustion and frostbite [they] endured, and their deaths were therefore due, at least in part, to the unusual weather conditions."
Scott succeeded in reaching the South Pole but the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen beat him by a month.
Diaries from Scott and his companions reveal they particularly feared cold nights because their reindeer hide sleeping bags would fill with ice.Reuse content