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A dangerous race: two daring teams dash to a frozen finish line.


One hundred years ago this summer, a great race began. In 1910, British explorer Robert Scott and Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen each set sail for the frozen continent of Antarctica. Their goal? To become the first person to reach the South Pole and plant his country's flag there.

Race to the End of the Earth, a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, brings the explorers' journeys alive. Ross MacPhee, curator of the exhibition, talked with Science World about how each man prepared for the race to the pole---and how the seemingly smallest of choices made a big difference in who made it back home alive.

In this race, the outcome depended on much more than just speed. The explorers needed to drag supplies from their base camps across 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) of ice and back again. Temperatures in Antarctica stay cold all year. An already chilly summer, with temperatures around 0[degrees]C (32[degrees]F), swiftly changes to a bone-chilling winter, with thermometers at the pole often registering -60[degrees]C (-76[degrees]F). If the men did not properly prepare for these harsh conditions, they could easily lose not only the race but their lives.

Here is how the two teams' daring journeys compared.


Besides wanting to reach the South Pole first, Scott wanted to make scientific discoveries. "He had many scientists with him, and this is what marks his expedition as quite different from anything that went before," says MacPhee.

Amundsen's team, on the other hand, was made up of hardy adventurers who could drive dogsleds and make just about anything they might need with their own hands. His team had only one goal: Reach the South Pole first.


Both teams packed dried meat, butter, sugar, raisins, and cocoa. The explorers didn't realize that this diet was inadequate. It lacked important vitamins from fresh food that protect against disease. If they followed this menu for too long, they would risk scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C in which teeth loosen, joints bleed, and fatigue takes over.



To make the journey and reach their destination, both teams needed a way to transport life-saving food, shelter, and clothes. Scott doubted that dogs could be relied on, so he brought only a few with him. Instead, he thought ponies and motorized sleds would do a better job of hauling his team's gear. When the ponies could no longer handle the terrain, and the motors on the sleds broke down, the men would take over, harnessing themselves to the sledges and pulling everything behind them.


Amundsen used only dogs to pull his sleds. He knew from previous experience in the Arctic that they were well suited to the task.


To keep warm in Antarctica's very cold weather, furs were the best choice available a century ago. But furs have a major drawback: They trap sweat. "If you're wearing furs in extremely cold temperatures and you're doing a lot of activity, you're going to sweat," says MacPhee. "As soon as you stop doing that activity, you're going to turn into an ice cube."


Since Scott's men planned on pulling sleds for much of the way, they decided against fur. Instead, they wore breathable wool clothing.

Amundsen's men, on the other hand, counted on dogs to do their hauling for them. So they wore warm furs for most of their journey.


Scott's ponies struggled in the ice and snow and his men had to travel on foot sooner than expected. That slowed the team down. Scott and his men finally reached the South Pole in January 1912--but it wasn't soon enough. When they reached the pole, the team found Amundsen's Norwegian flag already flying there. Amundsen's dogsleds had raced across the continent, reaching the pole by mid-December.

Amundsen and his men quickly turned around and made it back to their base camp before the height of the summer was over, meaning they traveled during fairly mild temperatures. Their quick journey also allowed them to reach more-nutritious food before their meager diet could sicken them.



Scott and his final team were still on their way back when summer ended and harsh weather struck. Weakened by their diet, the team strained to drag their sledges through bitter cold. None of them survived the journey.

Amundsen won the race to the South Pole. But Scott's expedition reached his other goal: His scientists, who stayed behind at base camp so they could perform research while the rest of the team headed for the pole, observed the geological features of the landscape, collected animal specimens, and measured Antarctic weather. This research paved the way for future discoveries on the continent. "Every scientist who works in Antarctica today owes Scott a debt," says MacPhee.


nuts & bolts


Because Earth rotates on a tilted axis, seasons in the Southern Hemisphere run opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. Scott and Amundsen reached Antarctica in January 1911, during the austral summer, when Earth's South Pole is tilted toward the sun. They set up base camps where they'd spend the winter. That way, the team members who were headed for the pole could make their dash as soon as Antarctica's spring began in October.



June 3, 1910: Amunsden leaves Oslo, Norway.



July 15, 1910: Scott's crew sets sail from Cardiff, Wales.


The movie camera used by the Scott party's official photographer.



January 4, 1911: Scott arrives in Antarctica.

January 14, 1911: Amundsen arrives in Antarctica.


Team member on Scott's Antarctic expedition.



October 24, 1911: Amundsen leaves for Pole. November 1, 1911: Scott's party leaves for Pole. December 14, 1911: Amundsen arrives at the South Pole.


January 17, 1912: Scott arrives at the South Pole. January 27, 1912: Amundsen returns safely to base camp.



March 29, 1912: Scott's final diary entry, The last members of his party are believed to have died soon afterward,

check it out

Since the scientists on Scott's expedition first explored the continent, we've learned more about Antarctica. We now know that male emperor penguins lose almost half their weight while incubating an egg through the dark winter, and that some of the meteorites found on the continent are pieces of the moon and Mars. There might even be hardy microbes living in the under-ice lakes like Lake Vostok. You can learn more about Antarctica by asking your teacher or by visiting the American Museum of Natural History online at or seeing Race to the End of the Earth (May 29 to January 2, 2011).

A Dangerous Race



* Where is the South Pole'?

* Who was the first person to reach the South Pole?

* What do you think some challenges would be to visiting the South Pole?


* Antarctica is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent. It receives so little precipitation that Antarctica is considered a desert!

* Antarctica was not discovered until the early 1800s. At that time, explorers named the volcanoes and described the region's penguins and seals.


* The article lists many of the things that both parties took on their trip to the South Pole. If you were going to re-create the historic race to the South Pole today, what would you take? Think carefully about what you would really need and how you would transport your supplies.


HISTORY/COMPUTERS: While Amundsen was the first to reach the South Pole, there were many other intrepid adventurers who explored Antarctica before Amundsen and Scott. Pick an Antarctic adventurer and research his/her contributions to exploring the southernmost continent. Then make a PowerPoint presentation about your findings. Here is a good place to start your research: /polarscientist/timeline/HistoryIndex.htm.


You can access these Web links at

* Learn more about the southernmost continent at this Web site full of information, interactive quizzes, and more: www,uk.

* Take a tour of Antarctica with this interactive map that has videos, pictures, and stories about Antarctic animals, sights, and explorers: http://ngm, /ngm/antarctica/index,html.

DIRECTIONS: Answer the following questions in complete sentences on a separate sheet of paper.

1. What was the name of the leader of the British team that began its race to the South Pole 100 years ago? The name of the leader of the Norwegian team?

2. When did the race to the South Pole begin? What season was it in the Southern Hemisphere at that time?

3. Which team reached the South Pole first? Give two reasons for their achievement.

4. In your own words, explain what austral summer means.

5. Even though Scott did not win the race to the South Pole, do you think his journey was a success? Why or why not?

1. Robert Scott was the leader of the British team that began its race to the South Pole 100 years ago. Roald Amundsen was the leader of the Norwegian team.

2. The race began when Amundsen left Norway on June 3, 1910. Although it was summer in Norway when they left, it was winter in the Southern Hemisphere.

3. Answers will vary but may include: Amundsen's team won. One reason for this is that they used sled dogs, which were better on the icy terrain than Scott's ponies and motorized sleds. This allowed Amundsen's team to travel faster and return more quickly than Scott's team. Amundsen's team also wore furs, which kept them warm on the long journey.

4. Answers will vary but should include: The austral summer occurs in January when the South Pole is tilted toward the sun. This is opposite of the North, which is experiencing winter then.

5. Answers will vary.
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Author:Adams, Jacqueline
Publication:Science World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 8, 2010
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