Spitzbergen (archipelago)

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Hiorthfjellet, 928 m high, opposite the main town of Longyearbyen
Hiorthfjellet, 928 m high, opposite the main town of Longyearbyen
Waters Arctic Ocean
Geographical location 77 ° 50 ′  N , 19 ° 50 ′  E Coordinates: 77 ° 50 ′  N , 19 ° 50 ′  E
Spitzbergen (archipelago) (Arctic)
Spitzbergen (archipelago)
Number of islands over 400 islands and skerries
Main island Spitsbergen
Total land area 61,022 km²
Residents 2428 (April 7, 2020)
Map of Svalbard
Map of Svalbard

Svalbard is a group of islands belonging to Norway in the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean . In Norwegian parlance, the archipelago has been called Svalbard (German: “Cool Coast”) since the Svalbard Treaty of 1920 . This name is not common in German usage and the archipelago is commonly called Spitzbergen , which is also the name of the main island of the archipelago .

Svalbard was settled from around 1900 primarily because of the exploitation of its rich coal deposits . More recently, Spitzbergen has been considered the “largest laboratory in the world” for Arctic research , which also includes a launch site for research rockets ( SvalRak ). The archipelago is a demilitarized zone according to the Svalbard Treaty.


The over 400 islands and skerries are north of the Arctic Circle between 74 and 81 degrees north latitude and between 10 and 35 degrees east longitude . There are supposed to be a few more islands, but their existence has not yet been proven at a given position . They may have been confused with other islands due to a lack of orientation aids or covered by a glacier.

The largest islands are Spitzbergen ( Norwegian Spitsbergen ), Nordostland ( Nordaustlandet ), Barentsøya , Edgeøya and Prins Karls Forland , which are comparatively close to each other and extend over a total of 450 km (243 nm) north-south and 330 km (178 nm) extend in a west-east direction.

Rossøya (far left) is north of Vesle Tavleøya and is Spitzbergen's northernmost island

The Svalbard archipelago also includes Bear Island ( Bjørnøya ), 240 km (130 nm) south, and the islands of Hopen , King Karl Land ( Kong Karls Land ) to the east and Kvitøya in the extreme northeast . The archipelago of the Siebeninseln ( Sjuøyane ) lies north of the northeast , to which Rossøya, the northernmost island of Svalbard, belongs.

The archipelago forms the north-eastern end of the Greenland Sea , the northern part of the European North Sea and the north-western part of the Barents Sea . In the north lies the Arctic Ocean . Greenland and Norway are each more than 600 km (325 nm) and the North Pole over 1000 km (590 nm) away. In the east lies the Russian Victoria Island 190 km (100 nm) from Nordaustlandet and 65 km (35 nm) from Kvitøya . After a further 170 km (90 nm) the Russian archipelago Franz-Josef-Land begins , south of it lies the double island of Nowaya Zemlya .

While the coasts of Svalbard are usually ice-free in summer, the pack ice can reach as far as the southern tip of the archipelago in winter.

The highest point in Svalbard is the Newtontoppen with a height of 1713 meters, closely followed by the Perriertoppen with 1712 meters, the Ceresfjellet with 1675 meters, the Chadwickryggen with 1640 meters and the Galileotoppen with 1637 meters. All five mountains are located in the northeast of the main island Spitsbergen in the Ny-Friesland area .

The coasts of the islands are very rugged and interspersed with fjords . The boat is an important means of transport, especially in summer when the marshy tundra cannot be crossed by land. More than 60 percent of the land area of ​​Svalbard is covered by glaciers . One of them, the Austfonna , is the largest glacier in Europe by area.

Coast of the island of Prins Karls Forland

The archipelago is exposed to tectonic activity that occasionally leads to minor earthquakes. On March 6, 2009, the strongest earthquake so far occurred with a magnitude of 6.5 on the Richter scale . This earthquake was also the strongest in Norway since records began (about 100 years).

Some of the rock formations on the archipelago were formed near the South Pole more than 600 million years ago.


Svalbard climate diagram

The climate around Svalbard is arctic . It is cool all year round with regular but little rainfall. The coastal regions are only free of snow for about six weeks in summer , the fjords only freeze over temporarily in winter. With cool summers, the winters are very mild despite the northern location, as the West Spitsbergen Current , an extension of the Gulf Stream , transports relatively warm water into the Arctic Ocean along the west coast . It is the main reason that the archipelago is habitable at all.

In summer, which begins sunny at the beginning of June and ends in September with fog, rain and snow, temperatures are between −2  ° C and 17 ° C. Winter is between −25 ° C and 5 ° C and there is frequent snowfall and fog. The annual average temperature is −6.7 ° C.

Average monthly temperatures and rainfall for Longyearbyen Airport
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Temperature ( ° C ) −15.3 −16.2 −15.7 −12.2 −4.1 2.0 5.9 4.7 0.3 −5.5 −10.3 −13.4 O −6.6
Precipitation ( mm ) 15th 19th 23 11 6th 10 18th 23 20th 14th 15th 16 Σ 190
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Source: Norwegian Meteorological Institute eKlima , values ​​for normal period 1961–1990

Svalbard is located far north of the Arctic Circle . In Longyearbyen, the polar night lasts from October 26th to February 16th. From mid-November to the end of January the sun stays more than six degrees below the horizon, so there is not even twilight . In summer, the sun does not set from April 20th to August 26th. The annual hours of sunshine are 1150 hours, most of which fall between May and July.

Effects of global warming

The climate crisis has resulted in noticeable climatic changes on Svalbard. Between 1970 and 2020, the average temperature on Svalbard rose by 4 degrees Celsius, and by 7 degrees in the winter months. On July 25, 2020, a new record temperature of 21.7 degrees Celsius was measured for the Svalbard archipelago, which is also the highest temperature ever recorded in the European part of the Arctic; In addition, temperatures above 20 degrees were measured four days in a row in July 2020. As in large parts of the Arctic, the dreaded ice-albedo feedback can also be determined on Svalbard: The substantial ice melt transforms ice surfaces into open water, the dark surface of which absorbs more solar energy instead of reflecting back light ice; as a result, these waters warm up and further ice in the area melts faster and faster, creating more open waters, etc. By the end of the century, a temperature increase of between 7 and 10 degrees is expected on Svalbard.


"Applies to the whole of Spitsbergen" - polar bear warning sign

Only the Svalbard reindeer , the polar bear and the arctic fox are found in larger land mammals . The polar bear, whose population in the area of ​​the archipelago is estimated at around 3500 animals, is actually a maritime animal, as it mainly resides on the surrounding sea ice. It wanders along the coast with the pack ice border, as this is where its preferred prey, the seals , can be found. Nevertheless, the predator can be expected to appear anywhere on the island anytime. This is also shown by the appearance of a polar bear in the Nybyen district in June 2010. To protect cruise tourists, there are polar bear guards who accompany the cruisers on shore excursions. The polar bears on Svalbard have been under protection all year round since 1973. It is forbidden to attract or actively seek out polar bears.

The reindeer subspecies living here , the Svalbard reindeer , are smaller than their relatives in other parts of the Arctic. It only occurs on the Svalbard archipelago. The arctic fox is the smallest of the common mammals. Because of the white arctic fox fur , it was hunted intensively with traps for a while.

In the course of the establishment of farms to supply the Soviet population with food, the Eastern European field mouse was introduced from Ukraine and has established itself. Musk ox were introduced in 1925, 1926, and 1929 and did well initially but died out again in 1985. Attempts to settle the mountain hare went similarly .

Other land mammals are very rare or absent. The field mouse has already been sighted around Longyearbyen, and it was probably brought in by ships.

Big-billed mummies ( Uria lomvia ) on the bird cliffs of Stappen on Bear Island

The number of marine mammals was significantly higher before large-scale whaling began . For a long time large fishing fleets on the road, the only bowhead whales and right whales , and later several rorquals hunted. Narwhals have always been few in the area and the number of beluga whales that were caught in the fjords of the archipelago in the 19th century has now decimated. The same is true, to a greater extent, for walruses , which have been completely driven off the western coasts. Other seals that occur in Svalbard are the harp seal , the ringed seal , the bearded seal , and also isolated the hooded seal .

The bird world is poor in species, only 30 breed on the islands. The most common are the alkenbirds , which breed in huge colonies. These include the thick-billed murre , the black guillemot , the little auk (about 1 million breeding pairs), the puffins and the guillemots . There are also different species of gulls ( kittiwake , common seagull , ivory gull , etc.), all four European skuas , the fulmar , different limescoles (most commonly the sandpiper ), the arctic tern , Thor's grouse and the red-throated diver . To duck birds that breed -footed goose , the brent goose , the barnacle goose , the eider and rarely the King Eider on Spitsbergen. In the interior of the country there is the Ptarmigan , the only species of bird that also spends the winter here. The snow bunting is the only songbird that inhabits the archipelago.

The following bird species, almost all of which also breed here, occur in the archipelago:

Countless small crustaceans live in freshwater pools, whereby the species Lepidurus (Apus) glacialis , which is reminiscent of tadpoles, is particularly striking.


Blooming tundra vegetation on Svalbard: Square heather ( Cassiope tetragona )

The flora is typical of the local tundra vegetation . Most of the 130 flowering plants found here can also be found in the Scandinavian mountains and on Novaya Zemlya . There are saxifrage species , cinquefoil , white silver arum and many meadow plants such as grasses , dandelions and cotton grass . There are several species of willow, of which only the polar willow ( Salix polaris ) is common. In addition, the rare dwarf birch ( Betula nana ) is the only "tree" that, like all types of willow, only crawls on the ground and cannot even be called a bush.

Mosses form coherent blankets in many places, which reach significant dimensions in the inland depressions. The richest vegetation can be found along the fjords , which are often free of clouds, so that the sunlight reaches the ground for a long time. The surrounding sea is rich in algae , which live under the ice cover even in polar winter. Brown algae , which can be up to three meters long, are particularly noticeable . Diatoms and chandelier algae ( Charophyceae ) live in freshwater pools . Snow algae live on the snow and color it green or red. This coloration occurs especially in the summer near bird colonies, as the animals' droppings provide nitrogen .

A large amount of driftwood washes up on the coasts, which consists mainly of conifers that were transported to the Arctic Ocean by the Siberian currents .


The Norwegian capital of the archipelago is Longyearbyen on the island of Svalbard. The university UNIS is also located there . There is also the Russian settlement of Barentsburg . Ny-Ålesund is a Norwegian international research center. Mine workers work in Svea , but as commuters they have no permanent residence there. There is also a Polish research station on Hornsund . Other scientists and technicians look after the meteorological station and the radio transmitter in Herwighamna on Bear Island . The Russian coal mine in Pyramiden was closed in 1998, the settlement itself (at peak times up to 1000 inhabitants) was abandoned in 2000. The former Soviet settlement of Grumant was also abandoned . Today Svalbard has a total of about 2700 permanent residents, resulting in a population density of about 0.04 inhabitants per km². The inhabitants are distributed like this:


Discovery of Svalbard

Svalbard map from 1758

As early as 1194, Svalbardi fundinn ("found the cold coast") was mentioned in Norwegian writings . It is believed that this meant Svalbard, but it could also have been Jan Mayen or Greenland . The real discoverer is Willem Barents , who sighted the archipelago on June 19, 1596 while he was looking for the Northeast Passage . The discovery of this passage would have opened up new routes east for the emerging colonial nation of the Netherlands that were not controlled by Spain or Portugal . The place Barentsburg and the Barents Sea are named after Barents . He himself named the country after the pointed mountains on the west coast. Spitsbergen is now the name of the largest island in the archipelago, but it is also used in German for the entire archipelago.

Barents then drove further east, but was forced to winter on Novaya Zemlya by the emerging ice . That was the earliest recorded wintering so far north. Barents himself died there in the spring of 1597 before his crew was rescued.

The whaling season

Barents and after him Henry Hudson (1607) found enormous amounts of whales , particularly of Greenland whales , seals and walruses before. In the following period, therefore, numerous fishing expeditions were carried out, which led to a very rapid decimation of the whale and walrus stocks. These have not recovered significantly to this day. Whale products, especially the whale oil obtained from the bubbler , were in great demand in Europe, which was just about to become a world power. The exploitation of the Arctic Ocean, especially by England, France and the Netherlands, enabled them to improve their position vis-à-vis Spain and Portugal, which drew their wealth from the overseas colonies. Due to the rich hunting yield from the area around Spitsbergen, the search for the sea road to the east became less and less priority.

In the beginning there were often disputes between the ships of the different countries. As a result, it was decided in 1619 to divide the ports between the nations. British fishing vessels mainly traveled west of Svalbard towards the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. For example, in 1788 there were 255 British fishing vessels. Between 1669 and 1778 14,167 Dutch ships traveled to the archipelago, which together caught 57,590 whales. The Dutch capital was Smeerenburg .

While whaling was concentrated on the coastal areas and the fjords of Svalbard until the middle of the 17th century, it then moved to the open sea, as the yields in the area near the shore had already decreased noticeably. The coast was still home to a few ports where the ships met and the graves for those who did not survive the adventure in the North Atlantic. Many of these graves can still be found on the banks of the river today, and the skeletons are still quite well preserved because of the permafrost . The kilns, on the other hand, were torn down or disintegrated, and the equipment that was still usable was transported away.

Fox and seal hunting

After whaling had to be stopped quite abruptly in the middle of the 18th century because the yields failed, the archipelago temporarily lost practically all importance. Before that, Svalbard was only a sideline as a starting point for whaling, as, as mentioned, hunting was carried out in the open sea and the animals were often processed at sea. Only a few Russian pomors remained on Svalbard. These hunted beluga whales, polar bears, arctic foxes, walruses and seals, with whose skins they traded, especially in the first half of the 18th century under the protectorate of Tsar Peter the Great . The Russian fur hunters were the first to systematically winter on Svalbard and thus in the long polar night. Only for 1795/96 are there first reports of a Norwegian wintering, which was, however, also accompanied by Russians. Further winter activities by Norwegian hunters apparently did not resume until 1822. A total of 21 hibernations were counted up to 1892, but only 14 of them were voluntary. In addition to the fox, reindeer and polar bear skins, the walrus was the main target of the hunters. After 1892, until the evacuation of Svalbard in the course of the Second World War , wintering increased significantly, although the yields from the skins were significantly lower than those from the seal hunt. Presumably, however, the expected reputation that was bestowed upon you by wintering was sufficient compensation for it.

The time of the natural sciences

Spitzbergen 1872, midnight sun, photo: Wilhelm Burger , during the Wilczek expedition

During the period up to around 1900, scientific expeditions dominated, especially for cartographic purposes (see also the section on the history of the cartography of Spitsbergen below ). Slowly the awareness developed that the polar regions are central to understanding fundamental physical, biological and geological processes on earth. The research was particularly concerned with meteorology , geomagnetism and auroras . The First International Polar Year took place in 1882/83, during which eleven nations established a total of fourteen research stations, twelve of them in the Arctic . The research station on Spitsbergen was the Swedish meteorologist Nils Ekholm passed and was in the already ten years earlier at the suggestion of Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld of the Swedish mining company AB Isfjorden built svenskhuset tragedy (Sweden House) at Cape Thordsen on Isfjorden . The data collected there during the winter was very valuable for research. The research team did not have any problems worth mentioning, which was not a matter of course for a wintering expedition in the 19th century. One example is the tragedy that took place in Svenskhuset in the winter of 1872/1873. 17 Norwegian seal hunters had died of lead poisoning from eating canned food, a research expedition in 2008 proved.

German expedition travelers of this time included Karl Graf von Waldburg-Zeil in 1870, accompanied by Theodor von Heuglin , who carried out important basic research for the cartography of this region and for nautical science, which provided extensive information about the current and ice conditions in this part of the North Sea .

In 1897, Salomon August Andrée started a balloon expedition north from the island of Danskøya . This expedition was less scientifically ambitious than it was driven by the desire to reach the North Pole. The attempt failed, the three participants were killed during their march back over the pack ice on the island of Kvitøya , where they were only discovered in 1930.

In 1912, the German shipping company Norddeutscher Lloyd staked out land in the north-western area of ​​Spitsbergen in order to use it for tourist purposes for its polar voyages with passenger ships that have been taking place since 1908. The beginning of the First World War in August 1914 made the project obsolete.

Mining period

Longyearbyen , summer 2007

At the turn of the century, Svalbard became economically interesting again, as extensive coal deposits were found , which were also very easy to mine, as the seams partially penetrated to the surface.

John Munroe Longyear established the first permanent mining settlement in 1906. It was later named Longyear-City after him , from which Longyearbyen in Norwegian became, today's capital of the archipelago. In the period between 1900 and 1920, several mining companies sprang up in Norway and other countries that opened, or at least intended to, coal mines on Svalbard. Svalbard was considered a no-mans country , the usual procedure, how to cut a piece of the pie, was to stake out your own claim . However, there were no precise rules about it, which is why there were often disputes. Replacing third-party claim labels with one's own was common. The Spitzbergen Museum in Longyearbyen has a sizable collection of such old claim annexation signs. Most of the mining companies founded during this period only existed for a very short time. They were either taken over by other companies or went bankrupt because mining was not economical. For example, the English company The Spitsbergen Coal and Trading Company began mining in Advent City , where mining was abandoned a few years later. All the material (including the houses) was moved a few kilometers south to Hiorthamn , where A / S De Norske Kulfelter Spitsbergen was operating. This company in turn was later sold to Norske Kulfelter AS .

Abandoned buildings of the abandoned Russian settlement of Grumant
The quayside of the ghost town Pyramiden

In 1916 the Norwegian Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani took over the mining facilities and coal deposits in and around Longyearbyen from the Det Norske Spitsbergensyndikat , which had recently acquired the facilities from the American The Arctic Coal Company from John Longyear. Today it is the largest mining company in Svalbard and is owned by the Norwegian state. The Russian company Trust Arktikugol also mines coal in Barentsburg . The third mining company still in existence at that time is Kings Bay A / S, which today only provides the infrastructure for research in Ny-Ålesund , but no longer operates any mining itself. The largest mine on Svalbard is in Svea , originally a Swedish foundation that was later taken over by Store Norske. The Pyramiden settlement , in which the Russians have been mining coal since 1926, is also founded by Sweden . Since the mining industry was given up there in 1998, Pyramiden has been a ghost town . The Russian Grumant , the largest settlement on Svalbard in 1951/1952, is also abandoned today.

In 1920 the Svalbard Treaty was concluded, which in particular formally regulated the territorial claims. In 1925 Norway obtained sovereignty over Svalbard based on this treaty , but must grant the same rights to all citizens of the signatory countries who want to settle on Svalbard. Nor is Norway allowed to make a profit from taxes levied on Svalbard, which is why income taxes are very low and there are no sales taxes or taxes on tobacco products and alcohol at all. The prices for food and living space are still comparably high because of the transport costs.

Furthermore, Svalbard was and is the starting point for trips to the North Pole. Max Raebel visited the archipelago in 1908 and carried out geological, botanical, meteorological and geographical investigations; it was here in 1910 that he met Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin , who was planning a polar expedition with an airship . Only Roald Amundsen reached with an airship of Ny-Alesund from then in 1926, probably the first geographic north pole of the earth, 14 years after he had already conquered the South Pole.

The dramatic search and rescue operation after the North Pole expedition led by Umberto Nobile with the airship Italia in May 1928 made the archipelago known worldwide. Amundsen, who had also taken part in the search - although Nobile had started the expedition alone because he had fallen out with Amundsen - was subsequently killed in a plane crash near Bear Island .

Second World War

After the German attack on the Soviet Union , Spitsbergen was evacuated by the Allies in August 1941 and the infrastructure of Longyearbyen and Barentsburg was destroyed by Canadian units of the Royal Engineers during Operation Gauntlet . Already mined coal supplies (about 400,000 tons) and all fuels were set on fire so that they could not fall into the hands of the enemy.

From September 1941, Wehrmacht weather troops from the Navy and Air Force operated in the Lilliehöökfjord on West Spitsbergen, such as the Knospe company , to carry out weather observations for the strategically important access to the Russian Arctic Ocean as well as for weather forecasting in Central Europe. For the purpose of collecting data, the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine also set up automatic weather stations that independently recorded the weather situation and sent their results to the Wehrmacht's weather services. The WFL 21 weather station of the Kriegsmarine, code name Gustav , was located in the northwest of the island of Spitsbergen on the Billefjord. U 737 , which was used against the allied northern sea convoys, was entrusted with the deployment of weather radios, automatic stations that could independently collect and pass on weather data. Under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Paul Brasack, U 737 also attacked allied weather observation facilities on Svalbard. The air force facility, known as the toad , was set up in the center of the island, on the southern coast of Van Mijenfjord .

On May 14, 1942, a Norwegian unit landed and reoccupied Longyearbyen for the remainder of the war. On September 8, 1943, a German battle group consisting of the battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst and nine destroyers with embarked infantry destroyed the settlements during Operation Sicily . There were dead and injured, and Longyearbyen was almost completely destroyed.

In September 1944, the Haudegen company set up a naval weather station under the direction of meteorologist Wilhelm Dege . After the end of the war, it was only possible to locate it in northeastern land in September 1945 and to disband it by the Norwegians.

All remnants of human culture from the time before 1946 are classified as cultural monuments and are subject to monument protection . They must not be changed. This applies, for example, to the remains of mine railways and huts that can be found in the abandoned mining settlements.

Every now and then, old ammunition and landmines from the time of the Second World War are still found, which are then removed by the Norwegian ordnance disposal service.

Post-war and modern

Svalbard was demilitarized after 1945, but still significant as it is close to the GIUK gap . The SOSUS sonar system was installed in this geographical gap for the reconnaissance of Russian submarines .

After the war, several mining pits resumed work, notably those in Longyearbyen, Sveagruva, Barentsburg, Pyramiden, Grumant and Ny-Ålesund. In 1962 Grumant was given up, soon after the Kings Bay affair the mining in Ny-Ålesund too. After all, Pyramiden has also been abandoned except for a few tourist guides since 1998.

Longyearbyen Airport opened in 1975

The biggest change in the way of life on Svalbard was the opening of the international airport in Longyearbyen in 1975, with which the archipelago was accessible from the mainland all year round, which significantly reduced the seclusion, especially during the winter months. The journey from Tromsø now only takes a good two hours instead of several days by ship as it used to be. As a result, the number of tourists in particular has increased significantly. Today, alongside research and mining, these are the main source of income for the people of Svalbard.

To maintain Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard, the Norwegian coast guard patrols around the archipelago with the KV Svalbard . The state-owned Russian mining company Arktikugol has stationed its own Mil Mi-8 helicopter in Barentsburg for connection and supply flights, which can only be used for internal flights.

Tensions in Svalbard are sometimes caused by Russian violations of the current agreements - in April 2016, Chechen special forces , who were under the direct command of Ramzan Akhmatovich Kadyrov , used Longyearbyen airport after a training exercise near the Russian research camp Barneo at the North Pole. Kadyrov personally greeted the returnees from his Spetsnaz at Grozny Airport . Dmitri Rogozin was banned from entering the EU in 2015 when he landed on the island.

History of the cartography of Svalbard

Topographic map of Svalbard

In the case of the Old Norse name "Svalbard", which has been attested since 1194 at the latest , which means "cold coast", it is not certain that the archipelago was referred to. It could also have been East Greenland or Jan Mayen .

When he discovered the land, Willem Barents named Spitsbergen after its pointed mountains, Dutch spitse mountains , hence the original Dutch name Spitsbergen , as it is also used in the Spitsbergen Treaty . To do this, he laid down eight other names for parts of the islands. Barent's discovery was the starting point for the so-called "whaling period" on Svalbard, which lasted from about 1600 to 1710. This period was dominated by Danish and English activities. Giles & Rep published the first map of Svalbard in 1710, which fully traced the coastlines. For the time being, Svalbard served primarily as a starting point for whaling , making the coastline particularly central for cartography. The map also contained a number of place names, which were chosen very arbitrarily. The names attributed to all sorts of things:

  • Countries and territories from the homeland of the hunters
  • Landmarks for navigation, ports
  • Landforms
  • people
  • plants
  • Religion, saints
  • Animals

Many of these names were written in the respective languages ​​of the whalers, which later led to intentional or unintentional translations into other languages ​​(mainly Norwegian). Errors or misunderstandings arose, so that the derived names were given a new meaning.

After whaling practically came to a standstill after 1710, as the bowhead whale was almost extinct, Svalbard remained largely uninhabited until 1858. Except for a few Russian hunters who hunted foxes, reindeer, walruses, seals and polar bears on the islands, the interest of the people in the archipelago was low. Correspondingly, no new field names have survived from this time. Some English, French or Swedish expeditions fell into this period, but their aftereffects were also very small.

The year 1858 marks an important milestone in the history of the discovery of Svalbard. From this date onwards there were almost constant expeditions to the archipelago, with a purely scientific background. Almost all European countries organized or participated in such expeditions, including Norway, Sweden, Germany, England, Switzerland, Austria, Monaco and Scotland.

Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld

The newly created maps also contain new names, but these are not uniform between the different cartographers and are often distorted by translation errors. The first to try to clear up these inconsistencies was Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld . His most important map of Svalbard was published in 1875. In gratitude for support or participation in the expedition, he began to form new names from the personal names of these supporters, which many other explorers after him did the same.

August Petermann also appeared as a cartographer of Spitsbergen . After he had supported the German colonization in Africa, he initiated two Arctic expeditions, which in 1868 and 1870 led by Carl Koldewey first to Spitzbergen and then to East Greenland . Petermann also used names of German explorers of Africa for his maps. His publications appeared around 1870.

After the turn of the century, various journeys took place, which primarily or exclusively aimed at cartography. One of the most important supporters of these projects was Albert I of Monaco , who himself traveled to Svalbard in 1899. In 1906/1907 he financed the expedition of Gunnar Isachsen , who later toured the archipelago several times. Even Adolf Hoel made a significant contribution to the cartography of Spitsbergen during his travels.

Other important cartographers in Svalbard are Sir William Martin Conway , who drew detailed maps of the interior for the first time, which led to the introduction of numerous new names, and Gerard De Geer . The latter tried to establish rules for naming geographical points that were as consistent as possible. Contiguous names should be used for contiguous areas (e.g. the first names of a royal family), names in the native language should be preferred to avoid incorrect translations (if necessary with Latinized transcription). He also deliberately avoided long, complicated names, as these were abbreviated and thus falsified in everyday use. Overly generic names should be avoided entirely, such as animal species for geographical names (names that were already common, such as Bjørnøya - bear island - remained of course). De Geer and Isachsen influenced each other in their cartography, but Isachsen prefers to use French names, De Geer English. This resulted in illogical name combinations caused by translation errors such as Mt Vortefjell ( fjell is the Norwegian word for mountain ) or Glacier Verdebræ ( bræ means glacier in Norwegian).

The most complete maps of this last important period of discovery were published around 1923. This year, the Junkers-Spitzbergen expedition , which was responsible for the first aerial photographs of the archipelago, demonstrated the advantages of land photography from the air.


Svalbard is headed directly by a representative of the Norwegian government. This bears the title Sysselmann and is also the chief of police, assistant judge and holder of other official functions. He is also supposed to ensure the rights and obligations that Norway has under the Svalbard Treaty. Since the end of the 20th century, self-government has been strengthened by the population in several political advances. In October 2007, elections for a local parliament took place in Svalbard for the first time. For the history of the independence of the administration see the history section in the article Longyearbyen .

The sovereign rights within the 200-mile zone are claimed by Norway, which is, however, controversial, also because mineral resources are suspected in the Arctic. Several other countries claim mining rights in the Arctic Ocean .

The landing in 2015 of the Russian Vice Prime Minister Rogozin, who was on European sanction lists as a result of the annexation of Crimea, and of a Russian troop carrier in 2016 was seen as a provocation.


Svalbard is connected to Norway and other countries through the international airport in Longyearbyen, which opened in 1975 . During the polar night, the five weekly flights to and from Tromsø are effectively the only connection to the mainland. The largest employer in the archipelago, the Norwegian mining company Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani , has two aircraft of its own that are used for transports between Sveagruva and Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund . Various research and tourist ships also come to the ports in the summer. There are paved paths only in the immediate vicinity of the villages. Transports are carried out by plane, ship, motor sled or dog sled . The license plate number of the few motor vehicles on Svalbard begins with ZN .

Longyearbyen has the only bank in the archipelago, which is also the northernmost bank in the world. On December 21, 2018, the first bank robbery in the Arctic took place by an unemployed Russian citizen, he stole 9,000 euros, but was unable to leave the island unseen, and was transferred to a Norwegian court in Tromsø.

A 20 Gbit / s underwater cable , the Svalbard Undersea Cable System , was laid from the Norwegian mainland for the extensive research projects on Spitzbergen, mainly the UNIS and the satellite stations in the area around Longyearbyen . This means that fast internet connections are available in all larger Svalbard settlements.

Svalbard and Jan Mayen have their own country-specific top-level domain (ccTLD) .sj . It is not currently in use, but is reserved for potential future use. It is administered by the company UNINETT Norid AS , which is also responsible for the Norwegian domain .no and the domain of Bouvetinsel .bv .


Mining memorial in the Russian settlement of Barentsburg

Since Norway is not allowed to receive any income from Spitzbergen due to the Sèvres Treaty of February 9, 1920, the taxes collected remain on the archipelago. As a result, the tax level is very low compared to other Norwegian areas. The income tax is below 20%, there is no sales tax at all. However, this is compensated by the fact that many products, especially fresh produce such as vegetables and fruit, are significantly more expensive than on the mainland due to the high transport costs.

In addition, the treaty stipulates that while the islands are part of Norway , all contracting parties have the right to exploit the mineral resources - these issues had become acute with the discovery of coal deposits . Of the 39 countries that signed the Svalbard Treaty that came into force on June 30, 1925, only Norway and Russia ( Arktikugol ) make use of this right today. The coal production is measured in the world market price is relatively expensive and therefore uneconomical.

Today the population (mainly Norwegians and Russians ) of the sparsely populated island work in research, tourism or mining , mainly in the cities of Longyearbyen , Sveagruva and Barentsburg . The three villages are not connected to each other by roads or paths.

There is also a rocket launch site ( SvalRak ) on Spitzbergen . There are also numerous satellite ground stations, especially for polar earth observation satellites ( SVALSAT and TUBSAT ground stations in Longyearbyen , BIRD ground station in Ny-Ålesund ).

Plant seed bank

Entrance to the SGSV

A plant seed bank was inaugurated on February 26, 2008 , which was established by the Norwegian government with the support of the EU , the Nordic Gene Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust ( GCDT ). The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is an international organization for the worldwide conservation of crops , which is supposed to help to ensure the nutrition of the world population. In the seed bunker on Svalbard, the seed samples are stored 120 meters deep in the permafrost rock massif at −18 ° C. In particular, the preservation of the variety of crops such as rice, wheat or barley should be ensured, protected from genetic contamination, natural disasters, plant epidemics or even from losses due to nuclear wars. A requirement of 4.5 million plant seed samples of the world's crops was calculated, the capacity is sufficient for 2.25 billion seeds. A sample contains an average of 500 seeds. In October 2017, more than 933,000 seed samples from 5,384 species from 992 genera were stored there , including 70,000 rice varieties and 15,000 bean varieties. The seeds come from all over the world. 175 countries planned to send semen samples to Svalbard. The seed banks abroad who submit the samples remain the owners of the samples. Until the beginning of 2018, there was only one request for the return of samples, and that was through the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas to Syria in 2015.


Old railway in Ny-Ålesund
Ny-Ålesund in summer

Longyearbyen lives from tourism, which has now reached 70,000 tourists annually, most of them with cruise ships. The main season is during the light winter between March and the beginning of May, when there is enough snow for sledding tours and there is already enough daylight, and in summer between the beginning of July and mid-August. The sun does not set in Longyearbyen from mid-April. In the middle season from the beginning of May to July, the flow of tourists decreases again because meltwater makes the valleys largely impassable.

Tourism mainly takes place around Longyearbyen or on ships that circumnavigate the archipelago and also offer shore excursions. If there is snow, snowmobiles are widely used as a means of transport, and dog sleds are also used for tourism . Pyramiden has been abandoned and will serve as a starting point for trekking tours in the future. Barentsburg is mainly used for mining and day trips, Ny-Ålesund for scientific research and is visited by cruisers by the hour.

Svalbard belongs to the dry and cold climate zone ( polar region ), so the conditions cannot be compared with those in Scandinavia. Hikes have the character of an expedition . There are no roads or hiking trails and no path markings and therefore no bridges over the numerous watercourses that are open in summer. In summer and winter, the dangers of rapidly changing weather or rough terrain must be expected and emergency equipment should be at hand.

In order to be able to protect against attacks by polar bears , everyone outside of built-up areas is required by the Sysselmann to be equipped with suitable means of defense. It is recommended to use large-caliber rifles . Polar bears are protected and may only be killed in self-defense. One is obliged to try to deter or distract the polar bear with suitable means, such as a signal pistol, before using a weapon. It is forbidden to lure polar bears or actively seek them out. Bearings should be protected with a bear fence. In the past, there have been several deaths when meeting polar bears, the most recent being on August 5, 2011, when a 17-year-old British student died after a polar bear entered the tent. Several of his companions were seriously injured. Before that, in 1995 a man died on Kiepertøya in the southern Hinlopen Strait as a result of a polar bear attack .

In administrative area 10, tours can be undertaken without a permit. This area mainly comprises Nordenskiöld-Land (with Longyearbyen), Bünsow-Land , Dickson-Land and the Kongsfjord . For tours outside of administrative area 10 you need a permit from Sysselmann. Insurance for Search and Rescue is a prerequisite for approval. Arctic-compatible equipment and armament are always required - basically with iridium and a rescue device radio station as the emergency beacon . There are no roads or hiking trails outside of Longyearbyen.

The guidelines on borrowing weapons from equipment suppliers in Longyearbyen were tightened in 2009.

Current danger situations around Spitzbergen and Longyearbyen can be called up on a Sysselmann blog.


Spitsbergen exist with Svalbardposten own Norwegian weekly newspaper and a local television channel, Longyearbyen TV . International media access is guaranteed due to the internet connections available in all larger Svalbard settlements (see infrastructure ).

See also


  • Thor B. Arlov: Svalbard's history. H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo 1996. ISBN 82-03-22171-8 .
  • Wilhelm Dege : In the run-up to the North Pole. Rides and adventures in Svalbard. Herder Verlag, Freiburg im Breisgau 1957.
  • Christian Kempf: A Journey to Svalbard Polar Territory self-published, Orléans 1999.
  • Hugo Nünlist : Spitzbergen. Summit over the Arctic Ocean. Experiences and results of the Swiss Spitzbergen expedition in 1962. Orell Füssli, Zurich 1963.
    • English: Spitsbergen. The story of the 1962 Swiss-Spitsbergen expedition. From the German by Oliver Coburn. Kaye, London 1966.
  • Andreas Umbreit: Spitzbergen with Franz-Joseph-Land and Jan Mayen. Stein, Welver 2007, ISBN 3-89392-282-2 .
  • Horst-Günter Wagner: Climatological observations in southeast Spitsbergen 1960 Steiner, Wiesbaden 1960.
  • Norsk Polarinstitutt (Ed.): The Place-Names of Svalbard. Oslo 2001, ISBN 82-90307-82-9 .
  • Norsk Polarinstitutt (Ed.): Cruise Handbook for Svalbard. Oslo 2009, cruise-handbook.npolar.no (English).
  • Spitsbergen expedition 1999. German Alpine Association , Regensburg Section, Regensburg 1999.
  • Manfred Hausmann, photos: Klaus D. Francke: Spitzbergen - competition for a cold beauty . In: Geo-Magazin. Hamburg 1978, 9, pp. 60-82. (Informative (including political background) experience report) ISSN  0342-8311


  • The Austrian painter and author Christiane Ritter spent the winter of 1934/35 on Svalbard with her husband Hermann Ritter and a fellow hunter and wrote the book A woman experiences the polar night .
  • The German educator Wilhelm Dege , who as a Wehrmacht soldier led a weather troop on Spitsbergen during World War II, published Jäger in Nacht und Eis (Reutlingen 1953), an adventure novel about fur hunters who winter on western Spitsbergen.
  • The German writer Bernd Späth , who completed five arctic expeditions on Svalbard between 1982 and 1995 and was the first German to reach the northern tip of the island across the inland ice in 1983, published three novels and a volume with arctic stories on Svalbard.
  • The Norwegian writer Anne B. Ragde wrote the novel Murder in Svalbard .
  • The three-season British crime series Fortitude , broadcast from 2015 to 2018, is set in a fictional 800-inhabitant settlement called Fortitude on the Svalbard archipelago.

Web links

Maps, photos and videos

Commons : Spitzbergen (archipelago)  - Collection of images, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Norwegian Polar Data Center: Placenames. Norwegian Polar Institute, accessed on June 7, 2019 (English, filter data must be set manually (Status: Official, Area: Svalbard, Terrain: Island)).
  2. Even Høydahl, Vilni Verner Holst Bloch, Anders Sønstebø: Population of Svalbard. Statistics Norway's Information Center, April 7, 2020, accessed April 20, 2020 .
  3. ^ Norwegian Polar Data Center: Placenames. Norwegian Polar Institute, accessed on June 7, 2019 (English, filter data must be set manually (Status: Historical, Area: Svalbard, Terrain: Island)).
  4. Newtontoppen on Peakbagger.com (English)
  5. Perriertoppen on Peakbagger.com (English)
  6. Statistisk sentralbyrå (Ed.): Svalbardstatistikk 2005 . PDC Tangen, Oslo / Kongsvinger 2005, ISBN 82-537-6809-5 , p. 136 ( online (PDF; 6.8 MiB) [accessed September 24, 2015] in English / Norwegian).
  7. ^ Svalbard hit by major earthquake. ( Memento of March 14, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) In: The Norway Post. March 7, 2009 (English), accessed October 31, 2011.
  8. An island on a world tour . In: Die Zeit , No. 44/2007.
  9. a b c Reinhard Wolff (2020). Climate change in the Arctic: Svalbard heat wave. taz. https://taz.de/Klimawandel-in-der-Arktis/!5699910/
  10. ^ I. Hanssen-Bauer, EJ Førland, H. Hisdal, S. Mayer, AB Sandø, A. Sorteberg (2018). Climate in Svalbard 2100: A knowledge base for climate adaptation. https://www.miljodirektoratet.no/globalassets/publikasjoner/M1242/M1242.pdf
  11. ^ Svalbardposten AS: Isbjørn i Nybyen . In: Svalbardposten . ( svalbardposten.no [accessed August 29, 2018]).
  12. n24.de polar bear guard on Spitzbergen - holiday job for the brave.
  13. SVALBARD - Flora and Fauna Field Guide, published by 49southfoto ediciones (English)
  14. Crew of 2014 on bjornoya.org (Norwegian).
  15. Spitzbergen | Svalbard travel guide, 5th edition, author: Rolf Stange, published by Arktis-Verlag in May 2015
  16. Gerrit de Veer : A true description of three voyages by the north-east towards Cathay and China. Undertaken by the Dutch in the years 1594, 1595 and 1596 . Charles T. Beke (Ed.), The Hakluyt Society , London 1853, p. 77 (English)
  17. Reinhold Thiel: The history of the North German Lloyd 1857-1970. Volume III, Verlag HM Hauschild, Bremen 2003, pages 156 and 244.
  18. See article Moskushamn and The Place Names of Svalbard , p. 295.
  19. British blow up coal mines on Norway's arctic ocean island . In: Life Magazine . September 29, 1941, ISSN 0024-3019 , p.   38–39 ( photo report in the Google book search).
  20. September 3, 1945 end of the war in the Arctic
  21. a b The Norwegians warned. Novaya Gazeta, November 8, 2017 (Russian).
  22. ^ Trude Pettersen: Chechen special forces instructors landed on Svalbard. In: thebarentsobserver.com. April 13, 2016.
  23. Ruptly: Russia: Kadyrov greets Chechen special forces on return from Arctic. April 24, 2016.
  24. Chechen parachutists on Svalbard. In: NZZ. April 18, 2016.
  25. Dirk Hülser: Caught cold: The first bank robbery in the Arctic. In: swp.de. Südwest Presse, December 23, 2018, accessed May 9, 2019 .
  26. ^ Submarine Cable Map: Svalbard Undersea Cable System. In: submarinecablemap.com. PriMetrica, accessed September 22, 2013 .
  27. About Norid. In: UNINETT Norid AS. UNINETT Norid AS, accessed June 7, 2019 .
  28. ^ Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Retrieved October 29, 2017 .
  29. ^ Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Retrieved October 29, 2017 .
  30. Over a million plant seeds are stored in the ice vault on Spitzbergen. In: NZZ . February 27, 2018.
  31. Firearms in Svalbard. In: sysselmannen.no. Sysselmannen på Svalbard, August 16, 2012, accessed on August 29, 2018 (English): “Due to the polar bear danger in Svalbard, any person traveling outside the settlements shall be equipped with appropriate means of frightening and chasing off polar bears. We also recommend to carry firearms outside the settlements. "
  32. ^ The Governor of Svalbard's guidelines for firearms and scare devices for protection against polar bears. (PDF) Sysselmannen på Svalbard, October 12, 2015, p. 1 , accessed on August 29, 2018 (English): “For reasons of precision, range, functionality in cold conditions and stopping power, the Governor of Svalbard recommends the use of rifles as the primary means of protection against polar bears, rather than other types of firearms. "
  33. ^ Sysselmannen på Svalbard: Field savety in Svalbard. (PDF; 1.24 MB) (No longer available online.) In: sysselmannen.no. Peder Norbye Grafisk AS, 2005, p. 13 , archived from the original on December 30, 2014 ; accessed on March 16, 2014 (English).
  34. Isabel Webster: Polar bear survivors prepare to fly home. In: bbc.co.uk. BBC News, August 7, 2011, accessed December 7, 2013 .
  35. Øystein Overrein: Hinlopenstretet's wildlife. In: cruise-handbook.npolar.no. Norwegian Polar Institute, April 2009, accessed December 8, 2013 .
  36. ^ Notification and Insurance Procedures. In: sysselmannen.no. Sysselmannen på Svalbard, November 16, 2012, accessed on March 16, 2014 .
  37. Equipment and Safety. In: sysselmannen.no. Sysselmannen på Svalbard, May 15, 2013, accessed on March 16, 2014 .
  38. Bjørn Fossli Johansen (ed.), Jørn Henriksen, Øystein Overrein, Kristin Prestvold: Regulations concerning traveling in Svalbard. In: cruise-handbook.npolar.no. Norwegian Polar Institute, June 2008, accessed July 4, 2009 .
  39. Andreas Umbreit: Additions to the content of firearms (polar bear safety). In: Spitzbergen Handbook with Franz-Joseph-Land and Jan Mayen. Conrad Stein Verlag, September 12, 2009, accessed on March 27, 2010 .
  40. ^ Renting firearms. In: sysselmannen.no. Sysselmannen på Svalbard, August 16, 2012, accessed on August 23, 2015 .
  41. Feltlogg - Svalbard. Sysselmannen, accessed December 25, 2014 (Norwegian, English).