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Northeast Passage

Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld
Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld
Did you know that… ?
  • ... an island group, bay and cape in the Kara Sea, and a cape and glacier in Greenland are named after Nordenskiöld?
  • ... what Nordenskiöld accomplished had been unsuccessfully attempted by seafarers like Cabot, Barents, Hudson, Willoughby, Chichagov and Payer?
  • ... the Swedish explorer received medals from many geographical societies and was knighted for his work?
  • ... the newspaper magnate Gordon Bennett sent a rescue expedition after Nordenskiöld's ice-bound party, but they did not meet?
  • The expedition started in June of 1878 and returned to Sweden in April of 1880.
  • The steamship Vega, which he used on this trip, displaced 300 tons.
  • Vega was a small whaling ship driven by a steam engine.
  • Nordenskiöld mapped the northern Siberian coast and took more than 5,000 depth soundings over the course of his journey.
  • He brought back a rich record of oceanography, meteorology, biology and ethnography. Besides this famous trip, he also headed two research trips to Spitsbergen, where he undertook geological researches of the islands and discovered their rich coal deposits. He also lived for a long time in Greenland.

In 1875, Nordenskiöld set out on his first polar expedition in the steamship Proven, which left Swedish Tromsø on June 22nd and sailed through the gates of the Jugorský strait to the mouth of the Yenisei River. After this success, he repeated the feat the following year. He became very familiar with the icy conditions around Novaya Zemlya and the Kara Sea. Here he discovered Sibiryakov Island. On the basis of experience gained from these trips, he planned an assault on the Northeast Passage. At the end of June, 1878, he sailed from Tromsø in the 300-ton steamship Vega and the supply ship Lena. He sailed through the gates of the Jugorský strait to the Kara Sea and on August 19th managed to round Cape Chelyuskin from the west. At the end of August, he reached the mouth of the Lena River, where he left his supply ship and continued on with just the Vega. In August, east of the Kolyma River he encountered sea ice, and on September 28th, his shop froze in the ice in Kolyuchinskaya Bay on the Chukotka Peninsula, not far from the Bering Strait. Close, but still short of his goal, Nordenskiöld and his crew were forced to winter over there. During the ten-month stay, he embarked on sled trips into the interior and devoted himself to ethnographic studies of Chukchi. In summer 1879 the ice finally released the ship and they continued on through the Bering Strait. In doing so, he became the first explorer to make the important journey through the Northeast Passage. The expedition returned to Sweden April 24th 1880.