Roald Amundsen (1872-1928), Norwegian polar explorer, who was the first to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage (1903-1906) in the Arctic and the first to reach the South Pole (December 14, 1911) in Antarctica.
Amundsen was born in Borge, near Oslo, and was the son of a shipowner. He briefly studied medicine before going to sea at the age of 20 aboard an Arctic sealing vessel. In 1897 he joined the crew of the Belgica as a member of the Belgian Antarctic expedition led by Adrien de Gerlache, the first to winter in Antarctica. Trapped in the ice for 13 months, Amundsen and the ship’s doctor, Frederick Cook, fed the crew on seal meat to prevent scurvy.
|II||FIRST TRANSIT OF THE NORTHWEST PASSAGE|
After returning to Norway, Amundsen purchased a small sloop, the Gjöa, and set out with a crew of seven in June 1903 to the Arctic. His primary goal was to find the Northwest Passage, a northern sea route linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Amundsen sailed up the west coast of Greenland, via Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound, and through the many small islands of the Canadian Arctic to King William Island. There he spent two winters calculating the exact position of the north magnetic pole, which changes over time and had moved since James Clark Ross first located it in 1831. He also discovered some of the remains of an 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin. It was the first discovery of any remnant of the expedition, which had seemingly vanished, and finally showed that Franklin and his men had perished after their ships became stuck in the ice.
By the summer of 1905 Amundsen had reached the mouth of the Mackenzie River, near the border between Canada and Alaska. When the Gjöa became ice-bound, he traveled 800 km (500 mi) overland to the telegraph at Fort Eagle, Alaska, to announce the first successful voyage through the Northwest Passage in a single vessel. He returned to his vessel, and reached San Francisco in October 1906, where he presented the Gjöa to the city. The achievement, which had eluded explorers for centuries, made Amundsen a world-famous explorer.
|III||FIRST TO REACH THE SOUTH POLE|
Amundsen had just announced his intention to use the Fram, a sturdy ship designed by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, for an Arctic expedition and attempt on the North Pole when he heard that American explorer Robert Peary had reached it first. He decided instead to go for the unconquered South Pole and set sail in August 1910. British explorer Robert Scott, who had already announced his plans to make an attempt on the South Pole, received news of Amundsen’s plan by telegraph in Melbourne, Australia, on his voyage to Antarctica.
Amundsen established his base camp at Framheim, in the Bay of Whales at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, some 95 km (60 mi) closer to the Pole than Scott’s camp at McMurdo Sound. Amundsen wintered there, preparing for the journey. His first attempt on the South Pole in September 1911 failed due to bad weather, but on October 20 he set out with four men, using sledges and 52 dogs. They reached the South Pole on December 14, 1911, becoming the first to claim this feat. They spent three days in the vicinity of the pole taking measurements to confirm their position, and left at the pole a marker flag and letters to the king of Norway and to Scott. They returned to the Bay of Whales 99 days after they had first set out.
Amundsen’s success was due primarily to his extensive experience in polar conditions, his meticulous planning and attention to minute details, and his ability to endure great physical stress. Amundsen also had more favorable weather conditions during the journey than his ill-fated rival Scott, whose five-man team perished on their return from the pole. Amundsen’s use of dogs for hauling the sledges and as food contrasted sharply with Scott’s expedition, which man-hauled the sledges, thus slowing their progress as well as fatally weakening them.
Amundsen was still making plans for another Arctic expedition when World War I began in 1914. Eventually, despite the threat of German submarines, he set out in July 1918 in the Maud, voyaging along the Arctic coasts of northern Norway and Russia and reaching Nome, Alaska, by the spring of 1920. This made him only the second person to navigate the Northeast Passage.
In the following years Amundsen became interested in the use of air transport for polar travel. In May 1926 he embarked on a flight in an Italian dirigible balloon, the Norge, accompanied by its designer and pilot Umberto Nobile and the American aviator Lincoln Ellsworth. They succeeded in crossing the North Pole during a flight of more than 70 hours from the Svalbard islands to Teller, Alaska. American aviators Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett claimed to have flown over the North Pole a few days earlier. However, Byrd’s diary, which came to light in 1996, suggests that they may have turned back a considerable distance before reaching the pole. In any case, the Norge was the first to cross from Europe to North America via the North Pole.
Nobile and Amundsen subsequently quarreled, each claiming that the credit for the flight belonged to his respective country. In 1928, however, when Nobile’s airship Italia was wrecked during a polar flight, Amundsen, who had retired, volunteered to search for him. Nobile was eventually rescued, but Amundsen was last heard from on June 28, 1928, a few hours after he and five others had left Tromsø, Norway, by airplane. The remains of the airplane were found near Tromsø on August 31.
|V||WRITINGS ON EXPLORATION|
For most of his life Amundsen was a well-known lecturer and magazine writer. His books include North West Passage (1908), The South Pole (1912), The North East Passage (1918-1920), Our Polar Flight (with Lincoln Ellsworth, 1925), First Crossing of the Polar Sea (with Lincoln Ellsworth, 1927), and My Life as an Explorer (1927).