A celebration of Fridtjof Nansen at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival

150 years after Fridtjof Nansen’s  birth, environmental scientists Mark Brandon and Mark Maslin join Geir Hestmark and John Grue from the Norwegian Academy of Sciences to celebrate the life of a truly astonishing man. The event will take place at the Times Cheltenham Science Festival on12 June 2011 at 18:45. Professor Nils Christian Stenseth, Vice President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, will give the open speech.

Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen was a Norwegian polar explorer, oceanographer, diplomat an athlete. In fact the range of his accomplishments is quite extraordinary. He proved that the ice drifted across the Arctic Ocean by sealing his ship in the ice and tracking its movement; he trekked across Greenland, burning his boats so that they had no choice but to go on; and he had a deep compassion for his fellow human beings, saving countless thousands through his humanitarian work that won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

John Grue

John Grue, Professor of Hydrodynamics at University of Oslo, and elected member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

The Polar Adventurer and Oceanographer Fridtjof Nansen

From his youth, Nansen had a keen interest in natural science. He chose zoology as his subject because that allowed him to combine science with a  life in contact with nature. Later in his life, Nansen regretted, however, that he hadn't chosen physics instead, and he regretted that he hadn't got a more solid education in mathematics and physics! However, it was his choice of zoology that brought him to the Arctic.  20 years old he went with a seal hunter where his goal was to study the catch. On this journey he encountered the ice pack which was drifting with the current along East Greenland. He was stunned by the view, the wilderness and the charm of the Arctic scenery. He became attracted by this nature. He felt himself comfortable in the Polar surroundings.

With his writing and action, Nansen became an international leader in all of his activity. His science showed a deep intuition, and he was more accurate than anybody else. By his unique vision, he immediately spotted a straight line to a global goal or a global understanding.

Only a small incitement would trigger Nansen to make plans for the expeditions to Greenland and with the Fram; in fact, he was eager to resign from his office positions. The wreckage of the Jeannette which was found drifting on an ice floe at the south tip of Greenland, suggested an ice drift across the Polar Ocean. Nansen wanted to prove this.

On the Polar Expedition Nansen became an oceanographer. He showed that the Polar basin was 4000 m deep. The science history of internal waves began with the Fram. Nansen explained dead water, measured dense bottom water, understood its contribution to the global ocean currents, explained the right-drift of the ice bergs set in motion by the wind, by the Earth's rotation, studied reflectivity of the snow, and more.
In all of his life he worked by improving the recording techniques of the
salinity and temperature of the ocean, and developed the 'Nansen-bottle', which has been in use until today.

Geir Hestmark 
Foto: UiO

Geir Hestmark, biologist, historian and philosopher of science have written extensively on Nansen and Norwegian polar research, and is
currently professor of biology at University of Oslo and member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

Fridtjof Nansen and the Geology of the Arctic

Fridtjof  Nansen, polar explorer, scientist, and humanitarian, worked on the geology of the Arctic for a period of almost forty years. On his first major expedition - the first crossing of Greenland in 1888 - questions regarding the nature and causes of ice ages were the central scientific concerns. On Nansen's second major expedition  - the Fram expedition 1893-96 - he studied the fomation of the continental margins of the Arctic Ocean, and collected fossil faunas and floras from Franz Josef Land and Siberia. During the drift in the ice, Lt. Scott-Hansen on the Fram made pioneer measurements of gravity at sea. In his geological works Nansen always addressed the fundamental issues. His main geological interests were in geomorphology (valley and fiord formation, formation of coastal platforms and continental margins), the theory of isostasy and the structure of the earth's crust, ice ages, and climatic change. Scandinavian geologists were the main scientific supporters of
Nansen's expeditions, and contemporary problems of geology featured
large in the scientific rationale of his expeditions.


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