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Fridtjof Wedel-Jarlsberg Nansen (10 October 1861 – 13 May 1930) was a Norwegianmarker explorer, scientist and diplomat. Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for his work as a League of Nations High Commissioner.

Fridtjof Nansen was born at Store Frøen, near Oslo in 1861, the son of a prosperous lawyer. As a young man, he was an expert skater, swimmer and skier, excelling in drawing and sciences at school. He studied Zoology at the University of Oslomarker. Nansen initially started out as a pioneer sports skier, and soon became interested in Arctic exploration. He led the first crossing of Greenlandmarker by ski, and achieved great success with his Arctic expedition aboard Frammarker. He later became noted as a zoologist and oceanographer, and was a pioneer of the neuron theory. He was also a distinguished diplomat, eventually becoming Commissioner of refugees for the League of Nations. He was married to Eva Nansen (died 1907) and was the father of noted architect and humanist Odd Nansen and the grandfather of Eigil Nansen.

First crossing of Greenland

Nansen made his first voyage to Greenlandmarker waters in a sealing ship in 1882. In 1883 he became inspired to attempt a crossing of Greenlandmarker by ski after hearing of Nordenskiöld's expedition of the same year. Nansen's plan was to cross the island from east to west, which would require navigating through an almost impenetrable barrier of pack ice to land a ship on the east coast.

Financed by State Councillor Augustinus Gamel, a Danish businessman, and Eigil Knuth's grandfather, Nansen assembled a team in 1888 consisting of Otto Sverdrup, Olaf Dietrichson, Kristian Kristiansen Trana, Samuel Balto and Ole Nielsen Ravna. They hired the Norwegian sealing ship Jason from Christen Christensen and set sail from Icelandmarker on 5 June 1888. On 17 June, the Jason dropped them off in two boats, 35 miles from land opposite Sermilikfjord. From this point until 10 August, the men sailed and rowed approximately 150 miles up the east coast in order to locate a suitable landing place.

The crossing by ski took 41 days, ending near Godhan Fjord on the west coast.

Fram expedition to the Arctic

In 1893, Nansen sailed to the Arctic in the Frammarker (a purpose-built, round-hulled ship later used by Roald Amundsen to transport his expedition to Antarcticamarker) which was deliberately allowed to drift north through the sea ice, a journey that took more than three years. Nansen's theory was premised on an article written by a Professor Mohn, in which the professor conjectured that articles determined to be from the Jeannette which foundered northeast of the New Siberian Islandsmarker and found on the southwest coast of Greenland must have drifted across the Polar Sea. In the introduction to Farthest North, Nansen said "It immediately occurred to me that here lay the route ready at hand" across the Polar Sea. Nansen conjectured the Polar current's warm water "could hardly have been other than the Gulf Stream""> </ PG 235<>ref> and was the agent behind the movement of the ice. During this first crossing of the Arctic Oceanmarker the expedition became the first to discover the existence of a deep polar basin.

When, after more than one year in the ice it became apparent that Fram would not reach the North Polemarker, Nansen, accompanied by Hjalmar Johansen (1867–1913), continued north on foot when the Fram reached 84° 4´ N. The theory that the currents would carry the Fram over the north pole were proved incorrect. Nansen reasoned this was caused due to the Earth's rotation which resulted in polar drift. This was a daring decision, as it meant leaving the ship not to return, and a return journey over drifting ice to the nearest known land some five hundred miles south of the point where they started. Nansen and Johansen started north on 14 March 1895 with three sledges, two kayaks and twenty-eight dogs. On 8 April 1895, they reached 86° 14´ N, the highest latitude then attained. The two men then turned around and started back. Their watches stopped during a twelve hour trek, however, and they were thus unable to correctly reckon their position, and did not find the land they expected at 83°N (it did not exist). In June 1895, they had to use their kayaks to cross open leads of water and on 24 July they came across a series of islands. Here they built a hut of moss, stones, and walrus hides, and wintered, surviving on walrus blubber and polar bear meat. In May of the following year (1896), they started off again for Spitsbergenmarker. After travelling for a month, not knowing where they were, they happened upon the British Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition (led by Frederick George Jackson) whose party were wintering on the island. Jackson informed them that they were in fact on Franz Josef Landmarker. Finally, Nansen and Johansen made it back to Vardømarker in the north of Norway.

The BBC made a documentary of Nansen's arctic expedition, entitled "The Ice King", which was first shown in autumn 2008.

He was the first to note and describe dead water.

Fridtjof Nansen

Academic career and scientific works

Nansen was a professor of zoology and later oceanography at the Royal Frederick Universitymarker in Oslomarker and contributed with groundbreaking works in the fields of neurology and fluid dynamics.

Nansen was one of the founders of the neuron theory stating that the neural network consists of individual cells communicating with each other. He set out to study the nervous system of invertebrates and soon he became preoccupied with the question of how nerve cells communicated with each other. At that time, there was a major discussion whether the nervous system was a continuous structure of interconnected cells like the circulatory system (reticular theory) or if it consisted of separate neurons as key elements (the neuron doctrine).

It was a clever choice to look at this basic features of the nervous system in model organisms with a lucid nervous system, however his microscope could not tell him the answers without utilizing the newest technology developed by the nobel laureate Camillo Golgi. In February 1886 he took off to Italy, to Pavia, to work with Golgi. After mastering the technique during his short stay, he continued his explorations of the nervous system at the Dohrn's marine biological station in Naples, where he examinined seaborne life forms. Some believe Nansen was the first investigator to apply the Golgi technique to invertebrate chordates.

His work developed in line with and supported the work of contemporary scientists such as His and Forel, in showing that nerve cells all were enclosed by membranes, implying that nerve cells are discontinuous. He published these major contributions to the currently well accepted neuronal theory of the brain in German and English in established international journals, but it was not until he translated these papers into Norwegian that he received his doctorate degree in 1887 in Oslo. In this, he not only became the godfather of Norwegian (Scandic) neuroscience, he also became an early proponent of the neuronal theory, originally put forth by Ramón y Cajal, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Golgi in 1906.

Nansen did extensive research into the behavior and origin of ocean currents, following his experiences from the Fram expedition. He was, together with the Swedishmarker mathematician V. Walfrid Ekman, deeply involved in the discovery of how currents are generated from the interaction between planetary rotation (Coriolis acceleration) and frictional forces (i.e. wind stress on sea surface) and the formulation of the theory of the Ekman spiral that explains the phenomenon. An important consequence of this theory is known as Ekman transport, a widely used and very important concept in Biological, Chemical and Physical Oceanography. He also invented a bottle for collection of water samples from various depths known as the Nansen bottle that, further developed by Shale Niskin, is still in use.

Diplomatic and political career

Before the dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden on 7 June 1905, Nansen had been a devoted republican, along with other prominent Norwegians like the authors Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Arne Garborg. However, after hearing compelling arguments from Sigurd Ibsen and others, Nansen changed his position (as did Bjørnson and Garborg) and was thereafter influential in convincing Prince Carl of Denmark that he should accept the position as king of Norway. In a referendum where the Norwegian electorate chose between a monarchy and a republic, Nansen campaigned for monarchy, certain it was the right thing for Norway, although the general view was that Nansen would be elected President if Norwegians chose republican rule. Carl was crowned as King Haakon VII after the referendum results indicated Norwegians' strong preference for monarchy.

Following Norway's independence, Nansen was appointed as the Norwegian envoy in Londonmarker (1906-08), becoming a close friend of King Edward VII and assuring support from Britain in the campaign for an international guarantee of Norwegian territorial integrity. He participated in the negotiations of the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement in 1919.

In the period between the wars, Nansen's admirers made an unsuccessful effort to make him Prime Minister in a broad government based on all the non-socialist parties. This was proposed to counter the growth of the Norwegian Labour Party. The rejection of this attempt to establish a Nansen government also marked Norway's final transition into the parliamentary system. In 1925 Nansen was willingly put forward, along with Christian Michelsen, as co-founder of Fedrelandslaget (The Fatherland Society), an anti-socialist political organisation that folded at the outbreak of the Second World War. At this time Nansen was clearly sceptical towards the party system. In a 1928 speech he attacked the political parties in general. Nansen told the listeners; "It's my conviction that the party system has become a real danger to the Norwegian society. [...] The Party-fences are putrefied. Try them and they will break at the first try". In this speech he was also sceptical towards the established full-time politicians as well. He said "The people will get the government they deserve, and if the government is weak, it is because the people are weak. But the politicians will understand when they see what the voters wants. [...] And if they don't, well, then we just throw them away".

League of Nations

Nansen in 1930
After World War I, Nansen became involved in the League of Nations as High Commissioner for several initiatives, including the organization of war prisoner exchanges and help for Russian refugees, during which campaign he created the Nansen passport for refugees.

In 1917 and 1918, Nansen was in Washington D.C., where he convinced the allies to allow essential food supplies to be brought through their blockade. In 1920, the League of Nations asked Nansen to aid the return of prisoners of war, most of whom were in Russia. With limited funds Nansen brought 450,000 prisoners of war home within a year and a half. In 1921, he was asked by the League of Nations to administer the newly-formed High Commission for Refugees. Nansen created the “Nansen passport” for refugees, which eventually became recognised by fifty-two governments. In December 1920, together with Lord Robert Cecil, Nansen lobbied, unsuccessfully, for Georgiamarker’s admission to the League of Nations.

In 1921 the Red Cross asked Nansen, to organize a relief program for the millions of Russians dying in the Russian Famine of 1921-1922. Western nations suspected that the Russian famine was created by government mismanagement of the economy and it was hard to obtain funding, but Nansen found enough supplies to help between 7,000,000 and 22,000,000 Russians. In his work to help the Russians he was also aided by Vidkun Quisling. For the next few years, Nansen undertook further humanitarian work, and in 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He was involved in the negotiations that lead to the Treaty of Lausanne, which settled the partitioning conflict of the remaining Anatoliamarker and East Thrace parts of the Ottoman Empire. In the latter half of the 1920s he worked to solve the crisis. The conflict was created by the European imperialistic powers, which followed a classic divide and conquer strategy amongst ethnic groups to carve up the Ottoman empire gradually over a few decades from North Africa and all the way to Persia. He is regarded as both a true humanitarian and a hero.

In 1896, he was awarded the Grand Cross of The Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav and in 1925, he received the Order's Collar.

The Nansen Academy was founded in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1938. It was given the Nansen name by his family to work for democracy and the human ideals in a time of dictatorships in Europe. Its work to increase dialogue in war zones and for peace education continues today.

Posthumous honours

See also

Nansen Street Belfast United Kingdom


  1. Mowat, Farley (1967). The Polar Passion: The Quest for the North Pole. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd, p. 199.
  2. Mowat, Farley (1967). The Polar Passion: The Quest for the North Pole. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd, p. 206.
  3. Mowat, Farley (1967). The Polar Passion: The Quest for the North Pole. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd, p. 205.
  4. Mowat, Farley (1967). The Polar Passion: The Quest for the North Pole. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd, p. 222.
  5. Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1922, p. xx-xxiii
  6. 'The Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement, March 1921 by M. V. Glenny, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 5, No. 2. (1970), pp. 63-82.
  7. Nansens speech in Tønsberg 1928. From the university of Bergen
  8. Nichol, James P. (1995), Diplomacy in the former Soviet Republics, p. 138. Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0275951928
  9. Clark, B. (2006). "Twice a Stranger". London: Granta Books.
  10. The Nobel institute on Nansen
  11. EGS on their Nansen medal
  12. NERSC home page on Nansen
  13. Centre for Development Co-operation in Fisheries page on the Nansen Programme
  14. Kongsberg municipality on naming Nansen street (Norwegian)
  15. Press release on street in Kosovo
  16. Oslo municipality on the square (Norwegian)

Further reading

by Nansen
  • Nansen, F. (1999). Farthest North. New York: Modern Library. (English translation of Nansen's own account of the Fram journey.)
  • Nansen, Fridtjof (1911). In Northern Mists. Arctic Exploration in Early Times . London: Heinemann. 2 vols.
  • Nansen, Fridtjof (1895). The First Crossing of Greenland.Longmans Green.
by others

External links

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