Bernt Johannes Birkeland


Born: 1879, Kristiansand, Norway
Died: 1955, Norway

Birkeland was originally intended to be the meteorologist on board Fram during the planned operation across the Arctic Ocean. In the absence of an oceanographer, Birkeland was also for a time expected to be responsible for the oceanographic work on board. He had worked for several years at the Meteorological Institute in Kristiania (Oslo) and, like the terrestrial magnetism specialist and doctor Harry Edmonds, was to join the expedition in San Francisco on its way north.

Birkeland told the newspapers that he planned to make measurements of air pressure, temperature and humidity at different heights, and also to make measurements of atmospheric electricity and to photograph the northern lights. In early 1910, Birkeland was in Alta, on Norway’s northern coast, to assist Professor Carl Størmer in studying and photographing the aurora.

Birkeland, however, withdrew from the Fram expedition before departure, not long before the expedition’s new plan to head for the South Pole was announced to the crew and the rest of the world. It was thought after the Fram expedition that Birkeland would join Amundsen for the postponed voyage across the Arctic Ocean, but when this finally happened with Maud in 1918, Birkeland was not involved.

Birkeland was employed as director of the Meteorological Observatory in Bergen, and later head of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute’s climate department in Oslo. Together with Theodor Hesselberg, Birkeland contributed to some of the first observations and surveys of global warming in the 20th century.

Both the National Library of Norway and the State Archives in Bergen hold letters related to Birkeland’s participation in Amundsen’s voyages.

Portrait photo taken in connection with the Fram expedition. Photo: Anders Beer Wilse, Follo museum, MiA.