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Svalbard is an archipelago in the Arctic Oceanmarker north of mainland Europe, about midway between mainland Norwaymarker and the North Polemarker. It consists of a group of islands ranging from 74° to 81° north latitude, and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The archipelago is the northernmost part of Norway. Three islands are populated: Spitsbergenmarker, Bear Islandmarker and Hopenmarker. The largest settlement is Longyearbyenmarker. The Spitsbergen Treaty (1920) recognised Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard, and the 1925 Svalbard Act made Svalbard a full part of the Kingdom of Norwaymarker. The official language in Svalbard is Norwegian, though some areas do speak Russian.


The whaling station of the Amsterdam chamber of the Northern Company in Smeerenburg, by Cornelis de Man (1639), but based on a painting of a Dansk hvalfangststation (Danish whaling station) by A.B.R.
Speeck (1634), which represented the Danish station in Copenhagen Bay (Kobbefjorden).

Scandinavians may have discovered Svalbard as early as the 12th century. Traditional Norse accounts exist of a land known as Svalbarð—literally "cold shores". However, this might also have been Jan Mayenmarker, or a part of eastern Greenlandmarker. The Dutchmanmarker Willem Barents made the first indisputable discovery of Svalbard in 1596. The islands served as an international whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Greenland whale was extirpated from this region. From 1611 to the 1800s, whaling took place off the western coast of Spitsbergen by Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish ships. They also provided the headquarters for many Arctic exploration expeditions.

At the beginning of the 20th century, American, British, Swedish, Russian and Norwegian companies started coal mining. Norwaymarker's sovereignty was recognized by the Spitsbergen Treaty of 1920, with an addition that there would be no military use of Svalbard, and that the other nations retained the rights to their settlements; five years later Norway officially took over the territory. Some historians claim that Norway was given sovereignty as compensation for its Merchant Fleet losses during World War I, when the Norwegian Merchant fleet played an important role supplying the United Kingdom. Only Norwegian and Russian settlements survived World War II.

From the late 1940s to the early 1980s, the geology of the Svalbard archipelago was investigated by teams from the University of Cambridgemarker and other universities, led by Cambridge geologist W. Brian Harland. Many of the geographical features of the isles are named after the participants in these expeditions, or were given names by them linked to places in Cambridge. The name of the largest island in the archipelago, Spitsbergenmarker (Dutch for "jagged mountains") was formerly used to refer to the entire archipelago, while the main island was called West Spitsbergenmarker.


The Spitsbergen Treaty establishes full Norwegian sovereignty over the archipelago; unlike the Norwegian Antarctic Territory, Svalbard is therefore part of the Kingdom of Norway, and not a dependency. The power has some limitations in taxation, environmental conservation, non-discrimination and certain military activity. Under the terms of the treaty, citizens of signatory states have rights to exploit mineral deposits and other natural resources "on a footing of absolute equality". As a result, a permanent Russianmarker settlement, more or less autonomous, grew up at Barentsburgmarker. Another Russian settlement at Pyramidenmarker was abandoned by a Russian mining firm in January 1998.

Svalbard was made a part of Norway by the Svalbard Act of 1925. According to Per Sefland, Norway's governor of the archipelago, the treaty implies that "if you're able to find a job, you have the right, according to the treaty, to come here". The treaty also states, "The nationals of all the high contracting parties [signatories] shall have equal liberty of access and entry for any reason or object whatever to the waters, fjords and ports of the territories." Therefore, some immigrants who have been denied residence in EU countries have relocated to Svalbard.


Reaching Svalbard

Svalbard may be most conveniently reached by plane from Oslo or Tromsø usually costing between €300-€700. Svalbard Airportmarker is the only airport on the archipelago and is located in Longyearbyen.

Local travel

Northwestern Svalbard
There are no roads connecting the settlements on Svalbard. There are 50 km (30 mi) of road in and around Longyearbyen. During the summer, boats go to Barentsburg several times a week. The light-aircraft flights to Ny-Ålesund are primarily reserved for the researchers and employees working there. During the summer, boats are available to travel to Ny-Ålesund. There is an airport shuttle from Longyearbyen in connection with flight departures/arrivals, and several taxis are available in Longyearbyen.

Seed vault

The Norwegian government has, in cooperation with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, built a "doomsday" seed bank to store seeds from as many of the world's crop varieties and their botanical wild relatives as possible. The bank was created by hollowing out a 120-meter tunnel on Spitsbergenmarker cut into rock with a natural temperature of −6 ˚C, refrigerating it to −18 ˚C, and then storing seeds donated by the 1,400 crop repositories maintained by countries around the world. The vault has top security blast-proof doors and two airlocks. The number of seeds stored depends on the number of countries participating in the project. The point of this project is to prevent the diversity of agricultural crops currently stored (typically in the form of seed) in seed banks from becoming extinct as a result of accident, mismanagement, equipment failure, war or natural disaster, or due to a regional or global catastrophe.

Geography and ecology

Map of Svalbard

Svalbard consists of a group of islands in the Arctic Oceanmarker ranging from 76° to 81° North and 10° to 35° East, and forms the northernmost part of Norwaymarker and the northernmost lands of Europe. The islands cover an area of 61,022 km², of which about 60% (36,502 km²) is covered by glaciation. Three large islands dominate: Spitsbergenmarker (37,673 km² or 14,550 sq mi), Nordaustlandetmarker (14,443 km² or 5,576 sq mi) and Edgeøyamarker (5,074 km²or 1,959 sq mi). There is also the smaller Barentsøyamarker (1,288 km²), Kvitøyamarker (682 km²), Prins Karls Forlandmarker (English: Prince Charles Forelandmarker) (615 km²), Kongsøyamarker (191 km²), Bear Islandmarker (178 km²), Svenskøyamarker (137 km²), Wilhelmøyamarker (120 km²) and other smaller islands or skerries (621 km²).

In the night before 21 February 2008, Svalbard was hit by the strongest earthquake in recorded Norwegian history. The quake measured 6.2 on the Richter scale, and had its epicenter in Storfjorden, 140 km southeast of Longyearbyen. An even stronger quake, at 6.5 on the Richter scale, struck off the coast of Svalbard on 6 March 2009, no casualties or damage were reported.

Svalbard lies far north of the Arctic Circle. In Longyearbyen, the midnight sun lasts from April 20 to August 26, and polar night lasts from October 26 to February 15. From November 12 to the end of January there is civil polar night, a continuous period without any twilight bright enough to permit outdoor activities in the absence of artificial light. The only other non-Inuit or research settlement that has this phenomenon is Diksonmarker near the mouth of the Yenisey Rivermarker in Russiamarker.

In addition to humans, four predominantly terrestrial mammalian species inhabit the archipelago: the Arctic fox, the Svalbard reindeer (a distinct sub-species), polar bears and accidentally introduced southern vole, Microtus levis. The polar bear, found up to the extreme north of Svalbard, moreover, the sub-population of Ursus maritimus found here is a genetically distinct taxon of polar bears associated with the Barents Seamarker region. Since polar bears are common on Svalbard and hunt humans on occasion, people need to take precautions when outside the settlements: this includes carrying a rifle. Nevertheless, the law protects polar bears, forbidding anyone to harm or disturb them unless it is necessary to avert personal injury. A large number of aquatic mammalian species also inhabit the archipelago, including whales, dolphins, seals and walruses.

Svalbard is also a breeding ground for large numbers of seabirds, including Brunnich's and Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin, Little Auk, Fulmar and Black-legged Kittiwake. Other seabirds include Arctic Tern, four species of skua, and the elusive Ivory Gull. The Svalbard Ptarmigan, found on the larger islands, is the only land bird present for the entire year. Only two songbirds migrate to Svalbard to breed: the Snow Bunting and the Wheatear.

There is an astonishing variety of flowering plants on Svalbard. Although they are very small, these plants use the short period of 24-hour daylight to produce colourful blossoms. See also: Flowers of Svalbard.

Millions of years ago, Svalbard experienced much warmer climates and was forested, even though it was located at around the same latitude as at present. For a phase of several hundred thousand years at the boundary between the Paleocene and Eocene (55 million years ago), Svalbard experienced subtropical temperatures with palms and alligators. Although not generally as warm as this, Svalbard remained mild enough temperatures for forest through most of the Cretaceous and early Tertiary period up until at least 30 million years ago. In February 2008, the University of Oslo announced the discovery of the largest dinosaur-era marine reptile ever found — a pliosaur estimated to be almost 15 m (50 ft) long.

Svalbard is part of the High Arctic Large Igneous Province.

Orthographic projection centred over Svalbard


There are numerous fjords among the Svalbard islands; the five longest of which (measured from the head to open sea) are listed here:


Coastlines of the Svalbard islands (listed from largest island to smallest) show the extensive variability characteristic of glacial formation:


Although they are small when compared with the mountains of Norway, the elevation of the Svalbard island mountains accounts for much of the glacial erosion:




No roads link the settlements on the island; transportation includes boat, plane, helicopter, and snowmobile. The gateway to Svalbard is Svalbard Airportmarker, Longyearbyenmarker.


  • Cookery of Harlingen (Dutch settlement established in the 1630s in Houcker Bay or Virgohamna, abandoned sometime after 1662)
  • Copenhagen Bay, Danskøyamarker (Danish settlement established in 1631, abandoned in 1658)
  • Engelskbuktamarker (English settlement established around 1615, occupied until mid-century)
  • Gravneset (English settlement from 1614 to 1624 or 1625, after which time it was appropriated by the Dutch)
  • Grumantbyenmarker (Грумант) (Russian settlement, abandoned in 1961, revival of mining operations announced in 2003)
  • Gåshamna (Two English settlements, established sometime around 1618 and occupied until at least 1655)
  • Lægerneset (Dutch settlement appropriated by the English in 1615, occupied by the latter until the 1650s)
  • Port Louismarker (French settlement established in 1633, abandoned in 1638)
  • Pyramidenmarker (Пирамида) (Russian settlement, abandoned in 1998)
  • Smeerenburgmarker (Danish-Dutch settlement established in 1619 on the southeastern promontory of Amsterdam Island, abandoned around 1660)
  • Ytre Norskøyamarker (Dutch settlement possibly rivaling Smeerenburg in size; probably established by members of the Zeeland chamber in the 1620s or later, and abandoned in 1670)


The North Atlantic Current moderates Svalbard's arctic climate, keeping the surrounding waters open and navigable most of the year. The average summer temperature is around 5 °C (41 °F), while winter averages around −12 °C (10 °F). The western coast is considerably warmer and wetter than the east, due to the North Atlantic Drift. The interior fjord areas and valleys, sheltered by the mountains, have the warmest summers (average temperature of 6 °C (43 °F) in Longyearbyen in July) and little precipitation.

Due to its history of human occupation, Svalbard has one of the longest high-latitude meteorological records on earth. Computer models of global climate have long predicted enhanced greenhouse warming at such latitudes, so the Svalbard record is of particular interest. It shows an approximate 6 °C increase in 100 years, with 5 °C increase in the years following the end of the Little Ice Age. The summer temperatures have been very stable in the last 80 years with some variations in the winter temperatures.


Ecotourism in Svalbard
Economic activity centres on coal mining, supplemented by fishing and trapping. In the final decades of the 20th century, tourism, research, higher education, and some high-tech enterprises like satellite relay-stations grew significantly. A 200 nautical mile (370 km) Fisheries Protection Zone around Svalbard was established in 1977 pursuant to the Act of 17 December 1976 relating to the Economic Zone of Norway. Despite recent discussions, Russia and Norway dispute their maritime limits in the Barents Sea and Russia's fishing rights beyond Svalbard's territorial limits within the Svalbard Treaty zone.

The Svalbard Undersea Cable System which started operation in January 2004 provides dual 1440 km fiber optic lines from Svalbard to Harstadmarker via Andøymarker, needed for communicating with polar orbiting satellite stations on Svalbard, some owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administrationmarker (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), both United States government agencies.

The Norwegian state-owned coal company employs nearly 60% of the island's Norwegian population, runs many of the local services, and provides most of the local infrastructure. Coal production has increased significantly over the past 10 years, rising from less than 500,000 tons in 1994 to over 2,500,000 tons in 2004.

Exploration for oil and natural gas is underway.


Cableway from abandoned coal mine just south of Longyearbyen, Svalbard.
As of 2006, there are three operational coal mines in Svalbard. There are large mines in Sveagruva (production 1.9 million tonnes per year), and Barentsburg, while the small mine in Longyearbyenmarker is used mainly to supply the town's own power plant. The Ny Ålesund mine was closed down in 1963 after an explosion in 1962 when 21 lives were lost, and has since been converted to a scientific post.


Svalbard has a population of approximately 2,400 people as of 2005.

Approximately 55% of the people are Norwegian; 45% are Russian and Ukrainian. The official language of Svalbard is Norwegian but Russian is used in the settlements of these nations. Formerly, Russenorsk was the lingua franca of the entire Barents Seamarker region.The annual population growth is -0.02%.


The University Centre in Svalbardmarker (UNIS), established in 1993, is the world’s northernmost higher education institution. Located in Longyearbyen at 78° N, the university offers undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate courses to approximately 350 students each year in Arctic sciences.

Northern-mosts in Svalbard

Svalbard contains the northernmost instance of several institutions - including the world's northernmost consulate general (Russian - operated from Barentsburg), school, church, hospital, bank, newspaper, airport with scheduled airline service, movie theater, kebab shop, in-door swimming pool, and bust of Lenin.

Svalbard in popular culture

  • Svalbard is featured as the setting for major parts of the plot in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. A gateway was created there from which one could gain access to parallel universes. The Svalbard in the books is inhabited by a race of intelligent armored polar bears (Panserbjørne), ruled by Iofur Raknison (in the first book, Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the USmarker)) and Iorek Byrnison (in the subsequent books, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass). The bears can speak human language and are highly-skilled metal workers, making their armor from "sky iron", i.e., meteoric iron. Svalbard was featured in the 2007 film adaptation of The Golden Compass, as the "Kingdom of the Ice Bears".
  • The popular 1985 Norwegian film Orion's Belt takes place on Svalbard.
  • The Captain of the Polestar by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is set off Amsterdam Island at the North West of Svalbard.
  • The Solitude of Thomas Cave (2007) by Georgina Harding is set in seventeenth century Svalbard.

See also

The seed vault of Svalbard is featured prominently in "The Doomsday Key" by James Rollins re the popular Sigma Force series. {fiction- Hardcover 2009}


  2. Spitsbergen Treaty of 9 February 1920
  3. "Norway Reveals Design of Doomsday' Seed Vault"; Nature; Volume 445; 15 February 2007
  4. BBC News
  5. Work starts on Arctic seed vault, CNN
  6. Web publication of Statistics Norway, the official body for such data in Norway. Units provided are metric only; no unit conversions provided here.
  7. The percentage of Svalbard covered by glaciation varies by year; 59.8% is reported for 2005.
  8. Areas used differ slightly from those published by Areas are provided in both Metric and English units.
  9. Aftenposten
  10. Oysten Wiig and Kjell Isaksen Seasonal Distribution of Harbour Seals, Bearded Seals, White Whales and Polar Bears in the Barents Sea
  11. C. Michael Hogan (2008) polar bear: Ursus maritimus,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg
  12. Norwegian law on wild animals, §11
  13. Pliosaur discovered - Science daily
  14. Climate of Norway
  15. Norwegian meteorological updates of ice maps.
  16. MET weather statistics for Longyearbyen.,
  17. RealClimate
  18. For more temperature curves see [1]
  19. Store Norske - coal company information site

External links

General information

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