Norwegian explorer, oceanographer, and statesman who led the first expedition to cross the Greenland icecap. For his humanitarian work for casualties of World War I he received the 1922 Nobel Peace Prize.
Nansen studied zoology at Christiania (now Oslo) University and in 1883 was appointed curator of zoology at the Bergen Museum. In May 1888, Nansen and five companions made the first crossing of the Greenland interior and returned triumphantly to Norway in 1889. In the same year, Nansen was appointed curator of zoology at Oslo Museum. He devised a scheme to test his theory that the Arctic icepack flowed from Siberian waters over the polar region and down the eastern Greenland coast. His ship, Fram, was built to withstand the pressures of pack ice and on 24 June 1893 they set sail. By September Fram was enclosed by the ice and started its northwesterly drift. But it failed to pass near the Pole, and in March 1895, Nansen and Frederick Johansen left the Fram and headed northwards by dog-sledge. Although reaching a record latitude, they were forced to turn back on 8 April and spent the winter on Franz Joseph Land in an improvised shelter. In August 1896 they fortunately encountered the explorer Frederick Jackson and returned with him to Norway. The Fram meanwhile emerged from the ice in 1896 and returned home a few days after Nansen! Farthest North (2 vols, 1897) is Nansen's account of this epic journey.
Appointed professor of zoology at Christiania University in 1896, Nansen turned his attention to oceanography and became professor of the subject in 1908. He organized four oceanographic expeditions to the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans and in 1901 helped found the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea. He became increasingly involved in affairs of state and served as Norwegian minister in London (1906–08). From 1920 he headed the Norwegian delegation to the League of Nations and in the same year was appointed high commissioner responsible for the repatriation of 500 000 prisoners-of-war. The following year he headed an International Red Cross mission to relieve famine in the Soviet Union, and in 1922 introduced the ‘Nansen passport’, an identification card for stateless persons.