Otto Sverdrup, 1898-1902

otto_svedrup.jpgOtto Sverdrup was one of the three great Norwegian polar explorers next to Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. Sverdrup had joined Nansen on both his crossing of Greenland in 1898 and as Captain of the famous Norwegian expedition vessel Fram during Nansen’s failed North Pole expedition between 1893 and 1996. In 1898, Fram was commissioned to Sverdrup with the goal of a circumnavigation of Greenland through Smith Sound and Nares Straight. Due to heavy ice conditions in the Nares straight, Sverdrup and the fifteen other expedition members had to abandon their goal. Sverdrup instead decided to explore the west coast of Ellesmere Island and spent the next four years in the High Arctic.

Sverdrup’s achievements during these years can only be described as extraordinary. After four years of dogsled excursions, Sverdrup and his men had discovered and named several islands that were previously unknown to the western world. These islands included Axel Heiberg Island, Ellef and Amund Ringnes Islands and Prince Christian Island. In addition, Sverdrup chartered the entire western coast of Ellesmere Island with the exception of Greely and Tanquary fiords. In total Sverdrup charted 260,000 square kilometers, which was more than any polar expedition at the time. Sverdrup’s maps were of such a good quality that they were used by Canadian authorities until the mid 1950s when aerial photographs replaced them. Much of Sverdrup’s success was due to his focus on having small groups of men on the excursions assisted by skis in combination with dogsleds. Like Peary, Sverdrup adopted Inuit and Inughuit technology but he did not hire Inughuit on the expedition.

T. C. Fairley, Sverdrup’s Arctic Adventures. London, 1959.
Thorleif Tobias Thorleifsson, “Norway must really drop their absurd claims such as that to the Otto Sverdrup Islands.” Bi-polar international diplomacy: The Sverdrup Island Question, 1902-1930. Simon Fraser University, 2006.


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