Ships full of men are history – at least in arctic marine research

When the first Fram-expedition returned to Norway in 1896, after three years frozen into the ice of the Arctic Ocean, a crew of 13 men was enthusiastically welcomed home and celebrated as heroes, above all the young Fridtjof Nansen. Hundred and twenty-five years after Fram, research vessels are exploring the Arctic Ocean on more regular basis, and onboard are men no longer among themselves. Women have become important contributors to the scientific exploration of the Arctic Ocean.

Read more about how difficult it was for women in Arctic science 80-years ago here. 

 … Or read about Bonnevie and Nansen by Inger Nordal (UiO) here

The Nansen Legacy project provides a good example
This research project follows in Fridtjof Nansen’s footsteps investigating the physical and living environment of the northern Barents Sea and adjacent Arctic Ocean. Of the 258 scientists, technicians and students involved in the project, 43% are women. Among the early career scientists of the project, women contribute entire 56%, showing that women are increasingly joining natural sciences and contribute to interdisciplinary research of the highest standards, also in arctic marine science.

Figur gender balance Lena Seuthe

Differences exist between different fields of science. While 60% of all scientists working in the project’s work packages on the living Barents Sea – such as marine biologists, ecologists, ecotoxicologists – are women, women only contribute 32% of all scientists in work packages more concerned with the physical environment, such as physical oceanographers, sea ice physicists, geologists and climate researchers.

The contribution of women is even less in a work package related to technology development, where women contribute scarce 12% of all involved scientists. But also here women recruitment increase. Of the ten early career scientists working on technology development, three are women. Among them Katalin Blix, postdoctoral fellow at UiT The Arctic University of Norway, who works with remote sensing and machine learning.

Female scientists are an integral part of the Nansen Legacy project, from the PhD to the leader level. Photos: Christian Morel /

Statistics on gender balance in Norwegian academic institutions show that women are the majority at the PhD level, but their contribution decreases the higher the position gets. The trends have improved over the past decades. Nansen Legacy PI, Professor Marit Reigstad from UiT The Arctic University of Norway, is happy that half of the postdoctoral fellows in the project are female. At the same time, as she is concerned about the recruitment of these young scientists into permanent positions.

“The career pathways to permanent academic positions are long, winding, and uncertain. For many women are the combined challenge of establishing a family and competing for research grants to establish a career with uncertain opportunities, just too much in the years after a post doc. Many talented female researchers therefor choose a career outside academia. We need both the male and female perspectives in science and must ensure balanced recruitment all the way to the top”, says Reigstad. 

Read also Addressing gender imbalance in science here

Marit Reigstad Foto Magne Velle

Prof. Marit Registad

The Nansen Legacy project shows that gender balance is possible also at higher levels. Not only does a woman lead the project, but also 42% of the work package leaders in the project are females. Among those, many with many years of experience in science and the Arctic like Randi Ingvaldsen, a physical oceanographer at the Institute of Marine Research and the board member Anita Evenset, head of department, Environmental R&D, Akvaplan-NIVA.

Listen to Randi Ingvaldsen at HavPod here

And read more about Anita Evensets work on Bjørnøya here

Female scientists have not only become an integral part of all research cruises to the Arctic, but lead large scientific endeavors. This is something the Norwegian society should welcome, like the once returning Fram.

Read more about the young female Nansen Legacy scientist: 

Kjersti Kaldhagen (UNIS) are investigating the Barents Sea in the winter prosess cruise on board R/V Kronprins Haakon right now

And see this picture story from Nadjedja Espinels (NPI) work on coperpods here

Natalie Summers (NTNU) Alger som gror og trives uten næring

Female scientists are an integral part of the Nansen Legacy project, from the PhD to the leader level. Photos: Christian Morel /