Fridtjof Nansen

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Fridtjof Nansen
BirthplaceStore Frøen, Christiania, Norway
Scientist, explorer, humanitarian
EducationThe Royal Frederick University

Nansen, Fridtjof

(frĭt`yôf nän`sən), 1861–1930, Norwegian arctic explorer, scientist, statesman, and humanitarian. The diversity of Nansen's interests is shown in his writings, which include Eskimo Life (1893), Closing-Nets for Vertical Hauls and for Vertical Towing (1915), Russia & Peace (1923), and Armenia and the Near East (1928).

Arctic Expeditions

He made his first trip to the Arctic on a sealer in 1882 and upon his return became curator of the natural history collection of the Bergen Museum. In 1888, with a party of five, he made a memorable journey across Greenland on skis, described in his First Crossing of Greenland (1890).

Conceiving a startling and much-derided plan for reaching the North Pole by drifting in the ice across the polar basin, he sailed to the Arctic in 1893 in the Fram, especially designed to resist crushing by ice. The Fram was anchored in the ice pack at lat. 83°59'N, drifted northward to 85°57', and later (1896) returned safely (although without having reached the pole) to Norway, as Nansen had predicted, by way of Spitsbergen. In the meantime, Nansen had left the ship in 1895 and with F. H. Johansen set forth to complete the journey to the pole by sledge. They were, however, turned back by ice conditions at lat. 86°14'N, the northernmost point to have been reached at that time.

When they were wintering (1895–96) on Franz Josef Land (now often called Fridtjof Nansen Land), members of the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition (see Jackson, Frederick GeorgeJackson, Frederick George,
1860–1938, British arctic explorer. He explored (1893–94) the tundra in arctic Russia and in Lapland, and he commanded (1894–97) the Jackson-Harmsworth expedition that explored Franz Josef Land.
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) chanced upon them and sent them home in one of their ships. Nansen's arrival in Norway was followed eight days later by that of the Fram, under Otto SverdrupSverdrup, Otto
, 1855–1930, Norwegian arctic explorer. A companion of Fridtjof Nansen on the voyage across Greenland in 1888 and on Nansen's later (1893–96) polar expedition, Sverdrup was leader of an arctic expedition (1898–1902) that attempted to reach the
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. Although neither he nor his ship had reached the North Pole, his expedition gave the world much new valuable information about the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic and made Nansen internationally famous. He had proved that a frozen sea lay around the Pole and filled the polar basin (see Arctic OceanArctic Ocean,
the smallest ocean, c.5,400,000 sq mi (13,986,000 sq km), located entirely within the Arctic Circle and occupying the region around the North Pole. Oceanography and Environment
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With his highly detailed information on oceanography, meteorology, diet, and nutrition, Nansen had laid the basis for all future arctic work. Farthest North, his account of this brilliant exploit, appeared in English translation in 1897, and the expedition's scientific material was published as The Norwegian North Polar Expedition (ed. by Nansen, 6 vol., 1900–1906). The Nansen Fund for scientific research was established in his honor. At the university in Christiania (now Oslo), he became professor of zoology (1897) and of oceanography (1908).

Career as a Statesman and Humanitarian

Nansen's career as a statesman began in 1905, when he worked for the peaceful separation of Norway from Sweden; his efforts were rewarded by his appointment as Norway's first minister to Great Britain (1906–8). In 1901 he had become director of an international commission to study the sea, and he made (1910–14) several scientific journeys, mainly in the N Atlantic.

In the years after World War I he added to his role of great explorer that of great humanitarian, becoming internationally renowned for his service to famine-stricken Russia as well as for his work in the repatriation of war prisoners. Appointed (1921) as League of Nations high commissioner for refugees, Nansen received the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize, and the League honored him by creating (1931) the Nansen International Office for Refugees, which won the 1938 Nobel Peace Prize. As a memorial to his father, Odd Nansen founded (1937) the Nansen Help to supplement the work of the Nansen International Office.


See biographies by his daughter, Liv (Nansen) Hoyer (1955), E. Shackleton (1959), J. M. Scott (1971), and R. Huntford (1999); P. Vogt et al., Nansen: Explorer, Scientist, Humanitarian (1962).

Nansen, Fridtjof


Born Oct. 10, 1861, on the country estate of Store-Fr0en, near Christiania, present-day Oslo; died May 13, 1930, on the country estate of Lysaker, near Oslo. Norwegian explorer, oceanographer, and public figure.

From 1880 to 1882, Nansen studied at the University of Christiania, where he was appointed a professor of zoology in 1897. He became an honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences in 1898. In 1888 he was the first to cross southern Greenland on skis, establishing the total glaciation of its interior regions. In 1890 he proposed a plan for reaching the north pole by a ship that would drift with the ice. In the summer of 1893, Nansen left Norway on the Fram, constructed especially for this purpose. In September the Fram began its drift northwest of the Novosibirskie Islands, completing its journey in 1896 at Spitsbergen. In 1895, Nansen, accompanied by F. H. Johansen, left the Fram and set out for the north pole. At 86° 14’ N he was forced to return to Franz Josef Land. After spending the winter on Jackson Island, he returned to Norway on the ship used by F. Jackson’s British expedition in the summer of 1896. The Fram reached Norway shortly thereafter. Oceanographic and meteorological observations conducted during the Fram’s drift refuted the idea that the waters of the Arctic Ocean were shallow. The data collected established the structure and origin of the ocean’s water masses, and showed the influence of the earth’s daily rotation on ice movement. In 1900, Nansen participated in an expedition to study currents in the Arctic Ocean. In 1902 he founded the Central Oceanographic Laboratory in Christiania, and he helped organize the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea in Copenhagen. He developed a method, originally proposed by M. V. Lomonosov and S. O. Makarov, for determining current speeds from a drifting ship. He designed a bathometer and a precision areometer. In 1913 he sailed along the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the mouth of the Enisei River, and then traveled overland through the southern part of eastern Siberia and the Far East.

After World War I, Nansen was high commissioner of the League of Nations for repatriating prisoners of war. He was one of the organizers of relief to the population of the famine-stricken Volga region in 1921, and from 1925 to 1929 he headed the commission for the repatriation of Armenian refugees to Soviet Armenia. A number of geographic features in the arctic and Antarctica have been named in honor of Nansen, including an island and cape in Franz Josef Land, a strait between Grant Land and the Sverdrup Islands in the Canadian arctic, and a depression in the Arctic basin. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for humanitarian work.


The Norwegian North Polar Expedition 1893–1896: Scientific Results, vols. 1–6. London-New York, 1900–06.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–5. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937–40.
V stranu budushchego. St. Petersburg, 1915.
”Fram” ν Poliarnom more. Moscow, 1956.


Zubov, N. N. V tsentre Arktiki: Ocherki po istorii issledovanii i fizicheskoi
geografii Tsentral’noi Arktiki. Moscow-Leningrad, 1948. Talanov, A. Nansen. Moscow, 1960.
Nansen Hø yer, L. Kniga ob otse. Leningrad, 1971. (Translated from Norwegian.)

Fridtjof Nansen


a mountain massif in the Queen Maud Range, Antarctica, near the southern extremity of the Ross Ice Shelf. Elevation, 4,180 m. The massif was discovered in 1911 by R. Amundsen’s Norwegian antarctic expedition and is named in honor of F. Nansen.