print logo

Researching the Arctic

Holtedahls research group onboard "Blaafjeld" during the Novaya Zemlya expedition in 1921

This page in Norwegian

Norway has long traditions in Arctic and polar research, and scientists from the University of Oslo were among the pioneers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Geographically, this research has mainly been confined to the Svalbard archipelago and Norwegian Arctic waters.  The natural sciences have traditionally been and still are the main scientific disciplines within polar research. This type of research has a prominent place in most countries, including Norway.

The Natural History Museum and its precursors have conducted comprehensive research within various disciplines in Svalbard and other Arctic regions, and its scientific collections comprise a large number of samples from the Arctic. Many of the samples originate from the well-known Norwegian polar expeditions, including the Fram-, Gjøa-, and Maud-expeditions, and later on from fieldwork conducted by the museum,s own scientists.

The geologist Baltazar Mathias Keilhau from the University of Oslo was the first Norwegian scientist who carried out scientific field work in Svalbard during the first geological to the archipelago in 1827. He collected important geological, paleontological and botanical samples that still are parts of the collections at the Natural History Museum.

The geologist Adolf Hoel was the leading Svalbard researcher in the first half of the 20th century. He conducted geological fieldwork in Svalbard every summer during the period 1907-1926 and made a comprehensive mapping of the geology of Svalbard.  In 1911 he started his long-term career at the University of Oslo. Besides his work as an associate professor at the university, he was instrumental in the establishment in 1928 of Norges Svalbard- og Ishavsundersøkelser (Norway´s Svalbard and Arctic Ocean Research Survey), which he headed until 1945.

Hanna Resvoll-Holmsens "Svalbards flora" from 1927

Olaf Holtedahl (professor in geology from 1920) was the other Norwegian pioneer in Arctic geology. He participated in expeditions to Svalbard in 1909-11 and was the leader of the well-known Norwegian geology expedition to Novaya Zemlya in1921.

Among the pioneers in Svalbard within the field of paleontology were Johan A. Kiær, Anatol Heintz and his daughter Natascha Heintz. The Arctic activities of the museum have contributed to the study of early fishes (Devonian), Ordovician trilobites, radiolarians and paleogeography, as well as late- Paleozoic bryozoans and conodonts. During the last decade, a large group of scientists from the museum, headed by Jørn H. Hurum, has conducted comprehensive fieldwork and excavations of vertebrate fossils from the upper Jurassic period in Svalbard.

During the 19th century, most biological work in Svalbard was conducted by Swedish scientists. In 1907, however, Hanna Diset (later Resvoll-Holmsen) started her botanical field investigations in Svalbard. She was the first Norwegian female polar scientist, and she was later appointed as an associate professor in plant geography at the University of Oslo. In 1927, she published  "Svalbards flora" (The Flora of Svalbard), which became the standard reference work on Svalbard plants for the next 40 years. Hanne Resvoll-Holmsen was also a pioneer in nature conservancy issues, and her botanical studies were used as important background material for the establishment of plant protection areas and hunting ban on reindeer in Svalbard in the 1920-ies and 1930-ies.

The Natural History Museum has in recent years continued the university’s long traditions of research in the Arctic and participates presently in a whole range of natural science projects in Arctic regions.

Three polar bears feasting off a beached whale in Van Keulen fjord, 2006. Photo: Hans Arne Nakrem

Published Apr 20, 2010 02:00 PM - Last modified Mar 1, 2012 11:24 AM