Nansen's expedition to the Arctic with the Fram

Nansen 1890
This is Fridtjof Nansen before his Fram expedition, in ca. 1890. Photo: Henry van Der Weyde. Nasjonalbiblioteket

The Float Your Boat project was inspired by Norwegian explorer and scientist Fridtjof Nansen. If you don't know about his Fram expedition, keep on reading...

This Transpolar Drift we talked about - the ocean current flowing from east to west in the Arctic Ocean, from the Siberian coast over the North Pole towards the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard - has not been known for a very long time. In the 1880's, researchers discussed the possibility that the water in the Arctic Ocean is moving in that direction. The meteorologist Henrik Mohn from Norway developed the theory that transpolar drift is real, but he had no proof.

So, in 1893, Fridtjof Nansen set sail for the Arctic Ocean to find proof - by freezing the custom-built ship Fram into the Arctic sea ice. His plan was to drift with the sea ice from the Siberian coast across the North Pole towards the Fram Strait. There, he hoped to be released again from the sea ice, by melting. In case you didn't know - the Fram Strait was named after that ship! 

Route Nansen Fram
Nansen's route and the route of the Fram. Source: Popular Science Monthly Volume 57, unknown author, 1900. Wikimedia Commons

Nansen's plan involved years of planning, and the expedition finally began in 1893. Nansen and his crew of like-minded men sailed from Norway towards the Arctic. You can follow their route on the map.

They sailed along the coast of Siberia, until they turned northwards, heading for the North Pole. At around 80 degrees North, they hit sea ice and were then frozen in place in September 1893. That's when the slow part of their journey began. They drifted about one and a half kilometers every day, and Nansen realized they would not reach the North Pole, they were drifting too far south of it. So he actually left behind his crew and ship in 1895, to reach the North Pole with dog sleds and skis, together with Hjalmar Johansen. They ultimately had to turn south again, and made it to Franz Josef Land safely. Their route is indicated with the bold dashed line from where the dashed line splits in two. The thin dashed line indicates the Fram's drift path. While Nansen and Johansen walked on the sea ice to reach the North Pole, the Fram kept drifting approximately where Nansen predicted it to drift. One and a half years later, the ship was released from the tight grip of the sea ice, and the crew was excited to finally reach land after about three long years onboard! They left the sea ice behind just northwest of Svalbard, very close to where Nansen predicted they would end up.

Fram in ice
This is the Fram frozen into the Arctic sea ice, in March 1894. Photo: Fridtjof Nansen. Nasjonalbiblioteket

This massive undertaking organized and conducted by Fridtjof Nansen proved that the transpolar drift theory is correct!