The Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center was established in 1986 as a non-profit research foundation. According to its bylaws “The Foundation’s goal is to perform interdisciplinary research and development with focus on remote sensing and modelling with respect to scientific problems within the natural sciences.” The Center is a national environmental research institute with basic funding from the Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment.

The Nansen Center generate interdisciplinary scientific expertise in Earth system environmental and climate research, satellite remote sensing, modelling and data assimilation. Its research foci are in Earth sciences, particularly covering topics such as physical and biology oceanography, meteorology, sea ice/cryosphere studies, hydrology and climate studies, including remote sensing in all these themes. The Center has been leading, both at national and international level, in the early developments of satellite oceanography for marine and polar research. Research staffs are members of several scientific advisory groups and committees of the major space agencies and national and international committies.

The Nansen Center is one of four partners in the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research (BCCR) that was awarded the status as a Norwegian centre of excellence (SFF) between 2002 to 2012 coordinated by the University of Bergen also in coorperation with Institute of Marine Research and Uni Research. The Nansen Center is also a founding partner of the national Centre for Climate Dynamics (SKD) and the Hjort Centre for Marine Ecosystem Dynamics, both located in Bergen.

The Nansen Center has the following organizational structure per 2017;