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Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld


Baron (Nils) Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld [IPA: ['nuːrdenʃɶld]], also known as A. E. Nordenskioeld (November 18 1832, Helsinki, Finland) — August 12 1901, Dalby, Skåne, Sweden) was a geologist, mineralogist and arctic explorer and a member of the prominent Finland-Swedish Nordenskiöld family of scientists. Born in the Grand Duchy of Finland at the time it was a part of the Russian Empire, he was later forced to live in political exile in Sweden because of his political activity. He is most remembered for the Vega expedition along the northern coast of Eurasia.

Nordenskiöld was born in Helsinki, the capital of Finland, but he spent his early youth on the family estate in Mäntsälä. He went to school in Porvoo, a small town on the south coast of Finland. He studied mathematics, chemistry, mineralogy, and geology and gained his masters degree in 1853 at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki, and published two years later his dissertation Om grafitens och chondroditens kristallformer (On the crystal forms of the graphite and chondrodite).

In 1856, Nordenskiöld was appointed Docent in Mineralogy at the university. However, for political reasons he had to flee in the following year to Sweden, where he was called to the office of Director of the Mineralogical Department of the Swedish Museum of Natural History and to a professorship in Mineralogy at the Swedish Academy of Sciences. He married in 1863 Anna Maria Mannerheim, the aunt of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim.

The A.E. Nordenskiöld Collection of maps is located at the University of Helsinki, and it is included in the Memory of the World Register of UNESCO.



Nordenskiöld's father, Nils Gustav Nordenskiöld, was a mineralogist and traveller. Nordenskiöld entered the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki in 1849 where he applied himself specially to chemistry and mineralogy. In 1853 he accompanied his father to the Ural Mountains and studied the iron and copper mines at Tagilsk; on his return he received minor appointments both at the university and the mining office.

Having studied for Runeberg he belonged to Liberal, anti-tsarist circles that agitated for Finland's liberation from Russia by the Swedes during the Crimean War; and an unguarded speech at a convivial entertainment in 1855 drew the attention of the Imperial Russian authorities to his political views, and led to a dismissal from the university.

He then visited Berlin, continuing his mineralogical studies, and in 1856 obtained a travelling stipend from the university in Helsinki and planned to expend it in geological research in Siberia and Kamchatka. Upon returning he took his master's and doctor's degree in 1857 as a scholar of chemistry and geology, specializing in iron and copper-mining. He then aroused the suspicion of the authorities again, so that he was forced to leave Finland, practically as a political refugee, and was deprived of the right of ever holding office in the university of Finland.

Settling in Stockholm

As Nordenskiöld spoke Swedish as his mother tongue, a natural place for him to settle was nearby Stockholm. He soon received an offer from Otto Torell, the geologist, to accompany him on an expedition to Spitsbergen. To the observations of Torell on glacial phenomena Nordenskiöld added the discovery at Bell Sound of remains of Tertiary plants, and on the return of the expedition he received the appointment of professor and curator of the mineralogical department of the Swedish Museum of Natural History (Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet).

Nordenskiöld's participation in three geological expeditions to Spitsbergen, followed by longer Arctic explorations in 1867, 1870, 1872 and 1875, led him to attempt the discovery of the long-sought Northeast Passage. This he accomplished in the voyage of the Vega, navigating for the first time the northern coasts of Europe and Asia. Starting from Karlskrona on June 22 1878, the Vega doubled Cape Chelyuskin in the following August, and after being frozen in at the end of September near the Bering Strait, completed the voyage successfully in the following summer. He edited a monumental record of the expedition in five volumes, and himself wrote a more popular summary in two volumes.

On his return to Sweden he received an enthusiastic welcome, and in April 1880 was made a baron and a commander of the Order of the North Star. In 1883, he visited the east coast of Greenland for the second time, and succeeded in taking his ship through the great ice barrier, a feat attempted in vain during more than three centuries. The captain on the Vega expedition, Louis Palander, was made a nobility at the same time, and took the name Palander af Vega.

In 1893, Baron Nordenskiöld was elected to the 12th chair of the Swedish Academy. The Nordenskiöld crater on Mars was named in his honor.

Adolf Erik was the father of Gustaf Nordenskiöld.



  • In 1858, 1861, and 1864 he went with expeditions to Spitsbergen, and in 1868 he went in a small vessel farther north than any vessel had ever been in the Eastern hemisphere. In 1861 he took part in Torell's second Spitsbergen expedition and in 1864 he led the expedition promoted by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
  • In 1870, he visited Greenland and in 1871 went again to Spitsbergen and stayed there all winter, nearly starving to death.
  • In the expeditions of 1872 and 1875, he headed a well-organized expedition in the iron steamer Sofia, and reached the highest northern latitude (+81° 42 min) then attained in the eastern hemisphere.
  • In 1875, he went to the Yenisei River in Siberia, in a small vessel, which he sent back while he went up the river and returned home by land. The next year he went to the United States and was a juror at the Centennial Exhibition.
  • In 1878 he sailed around the north coast of Asia, returning home by way of the Bering Strait, being the first to make the whole length of the Northeast passage. This he accomplished in the voyage of the Vega, navigating for the first time the northern coasts of Europe and Asia. Starting from Karlskrona on June 22 1878, the Vega doubled Cape Chelyuskin in the following August, and after being frozen in at the end of September near the Bering Strait, completed the voyage successfully in the following summer.

See also

  • Nordenskjold Archipelago, an island group in the Kara Sea, off the Siberian coast.
  • Laptev Sea


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
NAME Nordenskioeld, Nils Adolf Erik
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Nordenskioeld, A. E.
SHORT DESCRIPTION geologist, mineralogist and arctic explorer
DATE OF BIRTH November 18 1832
PLACE OF BIRTH Helsinki, Finland
DATE OF DEATH August 12 1901
PLACE OF DEATH Dalby, Skåne, Sweden
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Adolf_Erik_Nordenskiöld". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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