Where should Captain Scott's support parties have turned back?
Conference poster, 2017
Polar exploration in the heroic age was to a large extent a question of logistics. As long as the explorer had the necessary means in terms of men, draught animals, food, fuel, and other supplies to reach some distant goal and come back alive, while at the same time being able to avoid incidents such as scurvy, serious frostbite, or falling into crevasses, he (there were very few female explorers at the time) succeeded more often than not. In his South Pole attempt during the Terra Nova Expedition, Captain Scott based his approach in advanced logistics ideas whose validity and applicability can be discussed regardless of the fact that Scott and his polar party perished on their return journey primarily due to unforeseeably poor weather conditions. Scott’s basic approach was to use horses and dog teams to lay depots on the Ross Ice Shelf and advance the actual starting point for the three man-hauling groups to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier, with the idea that two of the groups would turn back after two and four weeks, after depositing supplies for the final polar party to rely on during the return journey. In this paper, we apply the logic of the mathematical ‘jeep problem’ to derive the theoretically optimal points at which the support parties should have turned back. The results show that, according to this model, Scott took both his support parties along too far, especially the last support party under Lieutenant Evans. However, as discussed in the paper, the model is not fully applicable to the practice of Scott’s situation, and there were both benefits and drawbacks to him keeping his support parties around for longer.
Terra Nova Expedition