Otto Martin Torell was educated at Lund for the medical profession, but became interested in zoological and geological studies, and being of independent means he devoted himself to science.
He gave his attention first especially to the invertebrate fauna and the physical changes of pleistocene and recent times. He studied the glacial phenomena of Switzerland, Spitzbergen and Greenland, making two Arctic expeditions in company with Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. In 1866 he became professor of zoology and geology in the University at Lund, and in 1871 he was appointed chief of the Swedish Geological Survey. In the latter capacity he laboured until 1897. His published contributions, though of much interest and importance, were not large, but his influence in promoting a knowledge of geology in Sweden, was of great service. His Arctic experiences enabled him to interpret the method of origin of the drift deposits in northern Europe, and to show that they were largely of glacial or fluvio-glacial origin. In the English drifts he recognized many boulders of Scandinavian origin. He died on the 11th of September 1900. His publications include: Bidrag till Spitzbergens molluskfauna (1859); and memoirs to accompany several sheets of the Geological Survey map of Sweden.
He was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1870.