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EAF-Nansen Programme

The Fridtjof Nansen story

Dr Fridtjof Nansen

Today we would like to share with you the story of an incredible man whose name will recur several times in this blog: Dr Fridtjof Nansen.

Trying to simplify, we can say Nansen was an explorer, author, athlete, diplomat, oceanographer, statesman, and a Nobel Peace laureate. In addition, he saved the lives of thousands of people through his humanitarian work after the First World War.

Dr Fridtjof Nansen was born on 10 October 1861 in Christiania (now called Oslo). In 1880, he entered the University choosing zoology as his main subject. In the spring and summer of 1881, he took part in an expedition on board the sealer Viking to the Arctic Ocean. On board the Viking he was in charge of taking notes on winds, ice movements, ocean currents, and animal life. This early experience had a strong influence on Nansen’s later career.

After completing his studies and after few years working at the Bergen Museum, Nansen started to plan his ambitious and original project to cross the Greenland icecap on skis.

27-year-old Nansen leads the team on skis crossing Greenland.
Expedition members after Fram's return to Christiania.

In 1888, together with five companions, the 27-year-old Nansen led the team to succeed despite great difficulties with temperatures that fell to forty-five degrees below zero and climbs up to 9000 feet above sea level. He and his expedition members returned home as national heroes.

The knowledge acquired in the Greenland expedition lead Nansen to another brilliant and unconventional intuition.

The idea was to sail a ship as far east as possible, off the coast to Siberia, and allow the vessel to be frozen in, in the hope that the ship would drift westwards towards the Pole and to Greenland.

The Norwegians believed in the new young hero.  For three years Nansen collaborated in the design and construction process of the vessel and the result was the “Fram” (meaning Forward) a solid vessel supremely fitted to its tasks. 

The three-layered hull was immensely strong and conceived to “float” on the ice pack instead of being crushed by the ice pressure.

Again, Nansen and his comrades arrived in Oslo in 1869 after a series of triumphant receptions in every Norwegian port.

To this day, “Fram”, is the only wooden ship that has reached the furthest North and furthest South latitudes.

Nansen reversing bottel

In the course of the explorations Nansen also invented the “Nansen reversing bottle”, an instrument to collect water samples and measure water temperature at various water depths.

He played a key role in the establishment of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

In 1922, Fridtjof Nansen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian efforts in the wake of the First World War.

Through Nansen’s initiative, an international agreement was signed in Geneva in 1922 introducing the identification card known as the “Nansen passport”, an internationally recognized refugee travel documents issued by the League of Nations to stateless refugees.

In 1931 the Nansen International Office for Refugees was established in Geneva.

Nansen Quote: The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer.

14 March 1895. Nansen prepares to leave his ship to begin the sledge journey to the North Pole.


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