Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (July 16, 1872–June 18?, 1928) was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions. He led the Antarctic expedition of 1910–1912 which was the first to reach the South Pole.
Amundsen was born to a family of Norwegian shipowners and captains. Inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's crossing of Greenland in 1888 he decided on a life of exploration.
He joined the Belgian Antarctic Expedition (1897–1899) as second mate. Led by Adrien de Gerlache, their ship the Belgica became the first to winter in Antarctica. Also on board was an American doctor, Frederick Cook. Cook probably saved the crew from scurvy, an important lesson for Amundsen's future expeditions.
In 1903 Amundsen led the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, with six others in the ship Gjøa. They traveled via Baffin Bay, Lancaster and Peel Sounds , and James Ross and Rae Straits to spend two winters exploring over land and ice from the place today called Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, Canada.
During this time Amundsen studied the local Netsilik people in order to learn Arctic survival skills and soon adopted their dress. From them he learned to use sled dogs. Continuing to the south of Victoria Island, the ship cleared the Arctic Archipelago on August 17, 1905, but had to stop for the winter before going on to Nome on the Alaska Territory's Pacific coast. 500 miles (800 km) away, Eagle City, Alaska , had a telegraph station; Amundsen traveled there (and back) overland to wire a success message (collect) on December 5, 1905. Nome was reached in 1906. Due to water as shallow as 3 feet (1 m), a larger ship could never have used the route.
The South Pole
After the Northwest Passage Amundsen made plans to go to the North Pole. On hearing in 1909 that first Frederick Cook and then Robert Peary claimed the Pole, he changed his plans. Using Fridtjof Nansen's ship Fram ("Forward") he set out for Antarctica instead in 1910.
Amundsen told no one of his change of plans exept his brother Leon and the officer on board Fram. He was incorrectly afraid that Nansen would rescind use of Fram if he learned of the change. And he probably didn't want to alert Robert Falcon Scott that he would have a competitor for the pole. Since the original plan called for going around the horn to the Bering Strait he waited until Fram reached Madeira to let his crew know of the change. Every member agreed to continue. Leon made the news public on October 2.
On 14 January 1911 they arrived at the Ross Ice Shelf at a location known as the Bay of Whales. Amundsen set his base there and named it Framheim, literally, "Home of the Fram." It was 60 miles closer to the Pole than McMurdo Sound where the rival British expedition led by Scott stayed. But Scott had a route, discovered by Ernest Shackleton, up the Beardmore Glacier to the Antarctic Plateau. Amundsen would have to find his own path through the Trans-Antarctic Mountains.
During February and March Amundsen and his men laid supply depots at 80°, 81° and 82° South. This gave him experience of Antarctic conditions and their equipment. During the winter at Framheim they kept busy improving the equipment, particularly the sleds.
Amundsen began his drive for the pole on 20 October 1911, and along with Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, arrived at the Pole on 14 December 1911, 35 days before Scott. Amundsen named his camp at the South Pole Polheim, "Home of the Pole". Scott had the misfortune to find Amundsen's tent and his letter upon arrival. Amundsen's extensive experience, preparation, and use of the best sled dogs available paid off in the end. In contrast to the misfortunes of the Scott expedition, the Amundsen expedition proved rather smooth and uneventful.
As neither expedition carried the very bulky wireless telegraphy equipment which would then have been the only way to communicate directly from the Pole, Amundsen's success was not publicly announced until 7 March 1912. Amundsen recounted his journey in the book The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram", 1910–1912.
Detailed analysis of the data recorded in the expedition's diaries determined that members of the Amundsen expedition actually reached to within 200 meters of the precise mathematical point of the South Pole. In contrast, when Scott reached the Pole, analysis of his data showed that his expedition was no closer than 450 meters from the mathematical point.
In 1918 Amundsen began an expedition with a new ship Maud to explore the Northeast Passage. It did not meet its goals and was considered a failure. In 1925 with Lincoln Ellsworth and four others he flew to 87° 44' north in two airplanes. It was the northernmost latitude reached by airplane up to that time.
The following year Amundsen, Ellsworth and Italian aeronautical engineer Umberto Nobile made the first crossing of the Arctic in the airship Norge designed by Nobile. They left Spitzbergen May 11, 1926 and landed in Alaska two days later. Because the three previous claims to have arrived at the North Pole -- by Cook in 1908, Robert Peary in 1909, and Richard Byrd in 1926 (just a few days before Norge) -- are all either dubious or fraudulent, Amundsen and the crew of the Norge are the first verified explorers to have reached the North Pole.
Amundsen disappeared on June 18, 1928 while flying on a rescue mission for Nobile, whose next airship the Italia had crashed. Some weeks afterwards, pieces from the plane he was in, improvised into a liferaft, were found near the Tromsø coast. It is believed that the plane crashed and that Amundsen was killed in the crash, or died shortly afterwards. His body was never found.
The Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is named jointly after him and his rival.
Amundsen Sea, off the coast of Antarctica, is named for him.
A large crater covering the Moon's south pole is named Amundsen Crater after him.
The Norwegian Navy is building a class of Aegis frigates, one of which, the HNoMS Roald Amundsen , will be named after him.
- Roald Amundsen's Belgica Diary. The first Scientific Expedition to the Antarctic by Hugo Decleir Bluntisham Books, Erskine Press.
Last updated: 06-02-2005 01:32:26