Born at Store Frĝen, Oslo, he made his first voyage to Greenland waters in a sealing ship 1882, and in 1888-89 succeeded in crossing the Greenland icefield on skis from East to West. In 1893, he sailed to the Arctic in the Fram (a purpose-built, round-hulled ship later used by Roald Amundsen to transport his expedition to the Antarctica,) which was deliberately allowed to drift north through the ice, a journey that took more than three years. When it was apparent that Fram would not reach the North Pole, Nansen, accompanied by Hjalmar Johansen (1867-1923), continued north on foot and reached 86° 14´ N, the highest latitude then attained. The two men were forced to spend the winter, surviving on walrus blubber and polar bear meat, on Frans Josef's Land, where they eventually connected with a British expedition.
Nansen was professor of zoology and oceanography at the University of Christiania (now Oslo) and Norwegian ambassador in London 1906-08. After World War I, Nansen became League of Nations high commissioner for refugees, in which capacity he originated the Nansen passport for refugees. For this work he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1923.