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Otto Sverdrup, Arctic Explorer

Portrait of Otto Sverdrup     Otto Sverdrup (pronounced sver´droop) was born on October 31, 1854 on farm named Hårstad near Bindal, Norway.

    He began his maritime career at the age of 17, working on ships owned by an uncle. By the age of 23 he was captain of the steamboat Trio, and at about the same time met explorer Fridtjof Nansen. In 1888 he joined his first Arctic exploration party, Nansen's very difficult journey across the Greenland ice cap. His personal accomplishments on that journey led to him being hired as captain of the Fram (which he had helped design and rig) for Nansen's 1893-1896 attempt to reach the North Pole. Though unsuccessful, they did attain a new "furthest north" record.

    In 1898 he headed north with the Fram again, this time with the aim of getting as far north as possible up the west coast of Greenland, then circumnavigating the island by dog sled. Extensive ice made that unattainable, so Sverdrup headed west into what is now Canada's Arctic Archipelago, returning to Oslo in 1902.

    Among the significant achievements of that expedition were the first exploration and mapping of the south and west coasts of Ellesmere Island, and the discovery and naming of Axel Heiberg Island, the Ringnes Islands, the Sverdrup Islands and many other locations. A total of 260,000 square kilometers was charted - more than any other polar exploration.

    His two-volume Nyt Land: Fire Aar i Arktiske Egne, published in 1903, described his 1898-1902 voyage. It was translated and published in English the following year as New Land: Four Years in the Arctic Regions. In 1959, a popular-press adaptation of the 1904 issue, entitled Sverdrup's Arctic Adventures, was published.

    In 1914 he returned to the Arctic, undertaking a successful search-and-rescue mission in the Kara Sea, and in 1928 he was involved in the search for the Italian explorer Umberto Nobile's and his balloon Italia. Otto Sverdrup died on November 26, 1930.

Portrait of Otto Sverdrup on jet tail     Sverdrup is surprisingly little known outside his native country. Most of the Web sites about him are in Norwegian, and most of the English-language sites are full of errors even in the most basic facts such as his birth and death dates.

    An indication of the high esteem in which Sverdrup is held in Norway can be seen by the fact that Norwegian Air Shuttle has honoured their native son by painting a huge portrait of him on the tail of one of their Boeing 737-300 jets, registration LN-KKH (seen to the right).

Otto Sverdrup Links

Otto Sverdrup Postage Stamps
On March 26, 2004, Norway, Greenland and Canada jointly issued a series of stamps and related products to honour the explorer.

The portrait is from a postage stamp designed by Martin Mörk