Tag Archives: Minnimum temperatures on Barrier

The Weather and its Role in Captain F. Scott and his Companions’ Deaths, by Professor Krzysztof Sienicki

1 Apr



I have just had my attention drawn to this paper published in 2010 which suggests that Scott and ‘Birdie’ Bowers ‘doctored’ the minimum temperatures recorded on the Barrier between February 27 – March 19, 1912, so as to dramatise the weather conditions. Professor Sienicki suggests that the party made a deliberate decision to die, a decision made before food and food supplies were finished or the men’s strength exhausted.

The argument is based on his recording of minimum temperatures from 1985 -2009, by a neural network across the Barrier. These he compared with historical recordings made by expeditions in the early 1900s, including the Discovery and Nimrod expeditions. He found a relationship between the minimum temperatures at different locations at the Ross Ice Shelf, i.e. a gradient at one station was followed by a similar change at another station. For example, though recordings at  McMurdo  (near the sea), are about 20° higher than those deep on the Barrier, the essential pattern of  change, from early February till 19 March over the years1993-2009, mirrored each other significantly, so the particularly low temperatures recorded by Scott’s party, (and, furthermore, not recorded by other historical expeditions over this period), are significant, unique and, he concludes, questionable.

The technique is carefully validated and Professor Sienicki dismisses the suggestion that Scott’s thermometer malfunctioned. He concludes that Scott and Bowers distorted the temperature documentation to exaggerate the real weather conditions.

He then goes on to say that Leonard Huxley edited and arranged the first edition of Scott’s journals (which gave negative temperatures), and actually shows Scott’s recorded temperatures from November 3, 1911 till 25 February 1912. These reveal that Scott’s recordings in Fahrenheit were positive. Sienecki quotes Max Jones in saying that ‘an establishment conspiracy covered up Scott’s failings, creating a hero by the careful editing of his sledging journals….’ hardly the work of the long-dead Scott. Whether these changes (from positive to negative degrees Fahrenheit) were deliberate has been debated, but this is hardly down to Scott. Sienicky also quotes Susan Soloman, who says that the average temperature recorded by Scott were 10-20° below respective modern data, and that one year (1988) recorded a minimum temperatures close to the 1912 reported data. He confirms with his own data that 1988 was exceptionally cold, but states that Soloman has miscalculated the degree of severity. However, Sienecki’s confirmation of near surface temperatures close to that reported by Scott, does not convince him that the Scott party really experienced unusually low temperatures. To this it is reasonable to comment that it is impossible to say that they definitely did not.

Professor Sienicki has made an impressive study of long- term Barrier temperatures, but his conclusion that Scott and Bowers deliberately falsified their records is unproven.

The recent publication of Scott’s letter to Sir Francis Bridgeman saying that they could have got through ‘if they had neglected the sick’ (possibly true), gives further weight to the conclusion that dying, for whatever reason, was not part of Scott’s plan.