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Flag of Norway
(In Detail)
Official language Norwegian
Capital Longyearbyen
King Harald V
Governor Sven Ole Fagernæs
 - Total
Ranked 122nd
62,049 km²
 - Total (2004)
 - Density
Ranked 230th
Currency Norwegian krone
Time zone
 - in summer
National anthem Ja, vi elsker dette landet
Internet TLD .no (.sj allocated but not used [1])
Calling Code 47

Svalbard, part of the Kingdom of Norway, lies in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Europe. It consists of a group of islands ranging from 74° to 81° North, and 10° to 34° East; it is the northernmost possession of the Kingdom of Norway. Three islands are populated: Spitsbergen, Bjørnøya and Hopen.



Main article: History of Svalbard

Vikings and/or Russians may have discovered Svalbard as early as the 12th century. Traditional Norse accounts exist of a land known as Svalbard — literally "cold edge". But the Dutchman Willem Barents made the first indisputable discovery of Svalbard in 1596. From 1612 to 1720 whaling took place off the western coast of Spitsbergen, by Danish, Dutch, English, French and Norwegian ships. It's estimated that the Dutch alone took 60,000 whales. They also provided the headquarters for many Arctic exploration expeditions. Comprehensive geological mapping of the archipelago was conducted by teams from Cambridge and other universities, led primarily by W. Brian Harland from the 1940s to 1980s.

The largest island in the archipelago is called Spitsbergen (Jagged peaks); the name is commonly but inaccurately used to refer to the whole archipelago.


Main article: Government of Svalbard

By the terms of the Svalbard Treaty of February 9, 1920, international diplomacy recognized Norwegian sovereignty and designated the area as demilitarized. Norway took over administration of Svalbard in 1925. However, under the terms of this unique treaty, citizens of various other countries have rights to exploit mineral deposits and other natural resources "on a footing of absolute equality". As a result, a permanent Russian settlement, more or less autonomous, grew up at Barentsburg. The Russians abandoned another settlement at Pyramiden in 2000. At one time, the Russian (or Soviet) population of Svalbard considerably exceeded the Norwegian population, although this no longer applies.

An appointed Norwegian governor, the sysselmann, based in the town of Longyearbyen, administers the territory. The callsign for each amateur radio station starts with JW.


Main article: Geography of Svalbard
Picture overlooking Longyearbyen
Picture overlooking Longyearbyen

Svalbard consists of a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean; ranging from 74° to 81° North, and 10° to 34° East, it forms the northernmost part of Norway and the northernmost lands of Europe. The islands cover an area of 62,050 km². Three large islands dominate: Spitsbergen (39,000 km²), Nordaustlandet, (Northeast Land), (14,600 km²) and Edgeøya (Edge Island) (5,000 km²). There is also the smaller Barentsøya (Barents Island).

60% of Svalbard is covered by glaciation and snowfields. However, the North Atlantic Current moderates the Arctic climate (see also Geography of Norway), keeping the surrounding waters open and navigable most of the year. Svalbard lies far north of the Arctic Circle. In Longyearbyen, the midnight sun lasts from April 20 to August 23, and perpetual darkness lasts from October 26 to February 15.

Svalbard serves as the breeding ground for large numbers of seabirds, including Brunnich's and Black Guillemot, Puffin, Little Auk, Fulmar and 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 landbird present for the entire year. Only two songbirds migrate to Svalbard to breed: the Snow Bunting and the Wheatear.

Four mammal species inhabit the archipelago: the Svalbard field mouse Microtus epiroticus, the Arctic fox, the Svalbard reindeer (a distinct sub-species), and polar bears. Since polar bears occur very commonly on Svalbard, all 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.

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.

Map of Svalbard
Map of Svalbard


No roads link the settlements on the island; transportation mechanisms include boat, plane, helicopter, and snowmobile.


Main article: Economy of 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 have grown significantly. Norway claims an exclusive fishing zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km); Russia does not recognize this.

The Svalbard Undersea Cable System which started operation in January 2004 provides dual 1,440 km fiber optic lines from Svalbard to Harstad via Andøy, needed for communicating with polar orbiting satellite stations on Svalbard, some owned by NASA and NOAA.

The Norwegian state-owned coal company employs nearly 60% of the Norwegian population on the island, runs many of the local services, and provides most of the local infrastructure.

Coal Mining in Svalbard

Main article: Coal Mining in Svalbard

The first modern coal mine was opened in 1906 when the Artic Coal Company (ACC) set up camp. The settlement that grew up around the mine was named after the American owner of ACC, John Munroe Longyear. However ACC sold out to the Store Norske Spitsbergen Kull Compani (SNSK) in 1916, and over the next few years two other Norwegian companies set up operations on the southernmost island, Bjørnøya, and the Kings Bay Kull Compani opened a mine in Ny Ålesund.

Mining came to a halt during WWII, and the islands were evacuated on the 3rd of September 1941. However the Germans did bomb Longyearbarn and the Barentsburg settlement in September 1943 and the settlement of Sveagruva the year after.

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.


Main article: Demographics of Svalbard

Svalbard has a population of approximately 2,800 people. 60% of the people are Norwegian; 40% are Russian and Ukrainian. The official language of Svalbard is Norwegian, although Russian is used in the Russian settlements.


Main article: Culture of Svalbard

External links

Overseas territories of Norway
Bouvet Island | Jan Mayen | Queen Maud Land | Peter I Island | Svalbard

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