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Map of Svalbard with Spitsbergen in the west emphasised
Location Arctic Ocean
Coordinates 78°54′N 18°01′E / 78.9°N 18.017°E / 78.9; 18.017Coordinates: 78°54′N 18°01′E / 78.9°N 18.017°E / 78.9; 18.017
Archipelago Svalbard
Area 39,044 km2 (15,075 sq mi) (36th)
Highest point Newtontoppen (1,717 m or 5,633 ft)
Largest city Longyearbyen

Spitsbergen (formerly known as West Spitsbergen; the German spelling Spitzbergen is often (incorrectly)[1] used in English) is a Norwegian island, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. The island of Spitsbergen covers approximately 39,044 km² (15,075 square miles).[2] This name was also formerly applied to the entire archipelago of Svalbard and occasionally still is. It is around 450 km (280 miles) long and between 40 and 225 km (25 and 140 miles) wide. As Spitsbergen lies far within the arctic circle, the Sun is continually above the horizon from late April to late August. From 26 October to 15 February the Sun is always below the horizon, and from 12 November to the end of January there is civil polar night, when it is always so dark that artificial light must be used at all times.



The S. A. Andrée station at Spitsbergen, from a photochrom print at the end of the 19th century.

The name Spitsbergen means "pointy peaks" and was given by the Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, who discovered the island while searching for the Northern Sea Route in 1596. However, this archipelago may have been known to Russian Pomor hunters as early as the 14th or 15th century, though solid evidence from before the 17th century is lacking. Following the English whalers and others in referring to the archipelago as Greenland, they named it Grumant (Грумант). The name Svalbard is first mentioned in Icelandic sagas of the 10th and 11th centuries, but they more likely refer to Jan Mayen or even Greenland.

Spitsbergen is one of three inhabited islands in the archipelago, and according to the terms of the Spitsbergen Treaty, citizens of any of the signatory countries may settle in the archipelago. Currently, only Norway and Russia make use of this right. The largest settlement on Spitsbergen is the Norwegian town of Longyearbyen, while the second largest settlement is the Russian coal mining settlement of Barentsburg (which was sold by the Netherlands in 1932 to the Soviet company Arktikugol). Other settlements on the island include the former Russian mining communities of Grumantbyen and Pyramiden (abandoned in 1961 and 1998, respectively), a Polish research station at Hornsundet, and the remote northern settlement of Ny-Ålesund.[3]

Geography of Spitsbergen
Hornsund Polish Arctic Station, photographed in 2003
Skottehytta in Petuniabukta, Spitsbergen - polar base of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland
DeGeerdalen just south of Isfjorden shoreline.

Early whaling expeditions to Svalbard tended, because of currents and fauna, to cluster around West Spitsbergen and the islands off-shore.

Kvadehuksletta, on western Spitsbergen, is notable for its unique stone structures, including very circular stones and labyrinthine patterns. These structures are believed to be the result of frost heaving.

Allied soldiers were stationed on the island in 1941 to prevent Nazi Germany from occupying the islands. While the island had officially been ceded to Norway in the 1920s, that country fell under German occupation in 1940. The majority of inhabitants on the island were Russian (Soviet Union had a non-aggression pact with Germany until June 22, 1941). The United Kingdom and Canada sent military forces to the island to destroy installations, mainly Soviet coal mines, and prevent the Germans from occupying it.[4]

The German battleship Tirpitz and an escort flotilla shelled and destroyed the Allied weather station there in Operation Sizilien in 1943. On 6 September, a squadron consisting of Tirpitz, Scharnhorst and nine destroyers weighed anchor in Altenfjord and Kåfjord and headed for Spitsbergen, to attack the Allied base there. At dawn on 8 September 1943 Tirpitz and Scharnhorst opened fire against the two 3-in guns which comprised the defences of Barentsburg, and the destroyers ran inshore with landing parties. Before noon it was all over. Some prisoners had been taken, a supply dump destroyed, the wireless station wrecked and the landing parties had returned on board. The German ships returned safely to Altenfjord and Kåfjord on 9 September 1943. Although those on board did not yet know it, Tirpitz had carried out her last operation. [5]


Polar bears are found in the Spitsbergen area, particularly on Storfjorden coast vicinity.[6] moreover, the sub-population of Ursus maritimus found here is a genetically distinct taxon of Polar Bears associated with the Barents Sea region.[7] Edgeøya lies to the southeast of Spitsbergen. This uninhabited island is the largest part of the South East Svalbard Nature Reserve, home to polar bears and reindeer.

Polish Polar Station

The station was erected in July 1957 by the Polish Academy of Sciences Expedition within the framework of the International Geophysical Year. The expedition was led by Stanislaw Siedlecki, geologist, explorer and climber, a veteran of Polish Arctic expeditions in the 1930s (including the first traverse of West Spitsbergen island). A reconnaissance group searching the area for the future station site had been working in Hornsund in the previous summer, and selected the flat marine terrace in Isbjørnhamna. The research station was constructed during three summer months in 1957.

The station was modernized in 1978, in order to resume a year-round activity. Since then, the Institute of Geophysics, Polish Academy of Sciences has been responsible for organising year-round and seasonal research expeditions to the station.

Seed Vault

The Norwegian government has built a "doomsday" seed bank to store seeds from as many of the world's plant species as possible. The bank was created by hollowing out a 120-meter (390 ft) tunnel on Spitsbergen cut into rock with a natural temperature of −6 °C (21 °F), refrigerating it to −18 °C (−0 °F), 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, but the first seeds arrived late in 2007. The point of this project is to save plants (wild, agricultural, etc.) from becoming extinct as a side-effect of crop gene manipulation, or due to a global catastrophe such as climate change (the tunnel is 130 meters or 430 feet above sea-level) or nuclear war.[8]

Fossil Find

Between 2007-2008, researchers from the University of Oslo uncovered the fossil remains of the largest known pliosaur on Spitsbergen. The team held off on announcing the discovery until two sets were found. The find, for now dubbed "Predator X", probably represents a new genus, and possibly a new family of pliosaurs.[9]

The island's three-week excavation season and difficult field conditions mean that the fossil resources have so far gone largely untapped. However, a member of the expedition said that Spitsbergen has "one of the most important localities of extinct marine reptiles in the world."[9]

In popular culture

See also


  • West Spitsbergen. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved July 16, 2005, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service.

References and notes

  1. ^ "Spitsbergen is the only correct spelling; Spitzbergen is a relatively modern blunder. The name is Dutch, not German. The second S asserts and commemorates the nationality of the discoverer." – Sir Martin Conway, No Man’s Land, 1906.
  2. ^ Areas are taken from the Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1986. ISBN none.   Various references provide slight differences in values.
  3. ^ Northern Townships: Spitsbergen - article published in hidden europe magazine, 10 (September 2006), pp.2-5
  4. ^ Operation article at
  5. ^ Sizilien article at
  6. ^ Oysten Wiig and Kjell Isaksen Seasonal Distribution of Harbour Seals, Bearded Seals, White Whales and Polar Bears in the Barents Sea
  7. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) Polar Bear: Ursus maritimus,, ed. Nicklas Stromberg
  8. ^ Norway Reveals Design of Doomsday' Seed Vault; Nature; Volume 445; 15 February 2007 BBC News; Work starts on Arctic seed vault, CNN
  9. ^ a b "From Arctic Soil, Fossils of a Goliath That Ruled the Jurassic Seas". 2009-03-17.  
  10. ^ retrieved 14/12/2008

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Svalbard article)

From Wikitravel

Europe : Scandinavia : Norway : Svalbard
Mountains near Esmarkbreen
Quick Facts
Capital Longyearbyen
Government A part of Norway
Currency Norwegian krone (NOK)
Area 62,049 sq km
Population 2,701 (Jan 2006 est.)
Language Norwegian, Russian
Calling Code 47
Internet TLD .no
Time Zone UTC +1
view in june
view in june

Svalbard [1] (Russian: Шпицберген, Shpitsbergen or грумант, Grumant) is a group of islands located between the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, and the Norwegian Sea. The islands are directly North of (and since 1920 an integrated part of) Norway.

boat tour
boat tour
Map of Svalbard
Map of Svalbard
Svalbard in the Arctic Sea
Svalbard in the Arctic Sea

All settlements in Svalbard are located on the main island of Spitsbergen (or Vest-Spitsbergen).

  • Barentsburg — sole remaining Russian settlement, population 700
  • Hornsund — Polish research station, population 10 in winter, around 20-30 in summer.
  • Longyearbyen — the "capital" and main Norwegian settlement with a population of 1,800
  • Ny-Ålesund — the most northerly civilian settlement in the world, population under 100
  • Sveagruva — population 210

The other islands of Svalbard are uninhabited and, as they are all nature reserves, generally inaccessible without special permission. The islands can be divided into two groups: the Spitsbergen group of Barentsøya, Edgeøya, Nordaustlandet and Prins Karls Forland, and the more remote islands of Bjørnøya, Hopen, Kong Karls Land and Kvitøya.

House in abandoned Grumant mine
House in abandoned Grumant mine


Svalbard is the northernmost tip of Europe and, a few military bases aside, its settlements are the northernmost permanently inhabited spots on the planet. Located between the 76° and 81° parallels, they are far more northerly than any part of Alaska and all but a few of Canada's Arctic islands. In fact, they would be permanently locked in by ice if not for the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream, and it is this comparative warmth that makes them habitable. The islands cover a total of 62,050km², the largest of which are Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya. The combined permanent population is less than 3000, nearly all of which is concentrated in the main settlements of Longyearbyen and Barentsburg on Spitsbergen.

The islands are governed by Sysselmann på Svalbard, literally if slightly awkwardly translated into English as the Governor of Svalbard; this is not a single person, but the administrative team responsible for police, fire, rescue, and other public services on the islands.


The islands were allegedly first discovered by Viking explorers in the 12th century. However the first recorded voyage here was by the Dutch in 1596, landing on the northwest of Spitsbergen. This coast served as an international whaling base during the 17th and 18th centuries. Norway's sovereignty was recognized in 1905; five years later it officially took over the territory. However, the Svalbard Treaty gives "absolute equality" to other nations wishing to exploit mineral deposits, and Russia continues to maintain a significant population on the island. Although part of Norway, Svalbard remains a neutral territory.

There is a currently standing treaty that any sign of human presence from before 1946 must remain untouched, including loose objects. For this reason, the area around Longyearbyen is littered with interesting artifacts including disused mining equipment, bits of rope and shovels, etc.

Remains of an abandoned coal mine, Longyearbyen
Remains of an abandoned coal mine, Longyearbyen

Coal mining is the major economic activity on Svalbard. The treaty of 9 February 1920 gives the 41 signatories equal rights to exploit mineral deposits, subject to Norwegian regulation. Although US, UK, Dutch, and Swedish coal companies have mined in the past, the only companies still mining are Norwegian and Russian. The settlements on Svalbard are essentially company towns. 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. There is also some trapping of seal, fox, and walrus. Tourism has also become increasingly important and now powers the economy of the main settlement Longyearbyen, changing it significantly. Nonetheless, the place is not exactly swarming with tourists.

Svalbard from above
Svalbard from above

Svalbard is barren, rugged and desolate. Its mountains look like giant, precipitous slag heaps: steeply piled stacks of rubble, eroded by rain with peaks jutting out at improbable angles. Higher mountains are permanently covered in snow and many valleys are filled with glaciers. There are no trees on the islands and the most common vegetation is a brownish green moss, the color of dead grass, that sprouts patchily up the mountainsides. However, many exotic Arctic flowers bloom here during the warm season.

Blue ice, Esmarkbreen
Blue ice, Esmarkbreen

Svalbard literally means "cold edge", an apt name for this northern land. The climate is Arctic, tempered by warm North Atlantic Current. Summers are cool (July average 6.1°C) and winters are cold (January average -15.8°C), but wind chill means that it usually feels colder. The North Atlantic Current flows along west and north coasts of Spitsbergen, keeping water open and navigable most of the year. The high travel season is during Svalbard's brief summer, from June to August, when it's light and not too cold outside. However, the so-called "light winter" (March-May), when there is both sunlight and snow, is also increasingly popular for winter sports.

Svalbard features the midnight sun from April 20 to August 23, although the sun itself is often hidden behind dense banks of fog. Conversely, the sun stays under the horizon during the polar night from October 26 to February 15.


Norwegian and Russian public holidays apply in their respective settlements, but there are a few local festivals of interest:

  • Polar Jazz, end of January. 4-5 day jazz, blues, and bluegrass festival.
  • Sunfest Week, around March 8th. A celebration of the end of the polar night.
  • Blues Festival, end of October. An appropriately blues-themed way to mark the approach of winter.
  • KunstPause Svalbard, around 14 November. An arts festival timed to match the beginning of the polar night.

Get in

Getting in is expensive and time-consuming. In legal theory, citizens of the 41 signatories of the Svalbard treaty (including such unlikely countries as Afghanistan and the Dominican Republic) need no visas or other permits to visit – or even work – in Svalbard. However, in practice it's difficult to arrive in Svalbard without transiting through Norway, and as Norway considers Svalbard a domestic destination, you'll need to pass through Norwegian immigration first. In the other direction, Norway reserves the right to check the passports of passengers coming from Svalbard.

By plane

Longyearbyen has the largest airport on the islands (IATA: LYR [2]). SAS (Scandinavian Airline Systems [3]) has scheduled flights from Oslo (IATA: OSL [4]) Sunday-Friday (4.5 hours, US$150-350 each way), and from Tromsø (IATA: TOS [5]) Sunday-Thursday (1.5 hours, US$100-300 each way).

SAS's long monopoly on flights to Longyearbyen ended in March 2008, when Norwegian [6] started twice-weekly direct flights from Oslo to Longyearbyen (from 100€ each way).

There are also occasional charters from Murmansk (IATA: MMK [7]) or Moscow.

SAS considers flights to Longyearbyen from Oslo or Tromsø domestic, so a SAS EuroBonus award ticket from anywhere in Scandinavia to Svalbard costs just 12,000 EuroBonus points. This little loophole is well known by SAS frequent flyers and award availability is quite limited, so book well in advance if planning to use this. SAS flights can also be bought over the Internet either direct from SAS or via certain meta agents. The majority of flights are very expensive when booked on line but if you book well in advance you can usually find a few cheap flights a week.

If you are flying to Longyearbyen from far away, a cheaper option may be to book a round the world flight (RTW). RTWs are specially-priced tickets which cover travel over several continents, several countries, or a certain (large) number of miles.

By boat

A number of operators offer cruises around Svalbard in the high season. These are the only practical means of visiting the more far-flung bits of the archipelago like Ny-Ålesund, but they don't come cheap: a typical 3-day cruise starting from Longyearbyen may cost you from 7900 kr (c. US$1500, cheapest cabin, twin sharing). There are also longer cruises, some starting all the way from Oslo, with rates going up to US$9500 for a 12-day trip.

There are countless cruise operators, but they all seem to book on the same boats. Spitsbergen Travel [8] runs MS Polar Star (1956), formerly used on the Norwegian coastal service Hurtigruten, and MS Nordstjernen (1969), formerly a Swedish Navy ship, both refitted in 2000 for cruises. The other favorites are Professor Multanovskiy and Professor Molchanov, custom-built 1980s Finnish polar research ships that also plow the waters off Antarctica. While none of these can be described as "luxurious", the Polar Star/Nordstjernen are somewhat larger and comfier, while the Professors are smaller and more spartan, but built to endure extreme weather. If you want a full-fledged cruise ship, P&O [9] usually also drops in a few times a year on two-week trips.

Actual passenger services to Svalbard are very limited. In the summer there is a cargo ship service from Tromsø once a week. The journey takes 2-3 days and prices are generally at least as steep as flights, but this cannot be considered as a usual measure of transport, as passengers are usually not allowed onboard. Very seldom, cargo ships also operate from Murmansk to Barentsburg, but this service has in recent years been reduced to one rotation per year. There is also polish sailing yacht Eltanin, which provides supplies for research stations. It sails once a year from Gdynia (usually May), however the journey takes about 3 weeks [10].

  • Haka Expeditions, [11]. Expedition cruises on small ships to the Arctic.

Get around

The only "highway" links the Longyearbyen airport to the Mine 7 via Longyearbyen. It is for the most part unsealed and anyway very short. There are paved streets in the settlement of Longyearbyen itself and many of the local residents tend to have cars. Snowmobiles are common transportation in wintertime.

Travel between islands and settlements can be done by plane or helicopter any time of year.

Boats can be used in summer. MS Polargirl runs a mail service several times a week between Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Pyramiden and passengers are taken on these trips. Many people go with an expectation of seeing a polar bear on a boat safari. This is possible but by no means guaranteed.


The official language is Norwegian, although Russian is spoken in Barentsburg. Practically everybody in the tourist industry speaks English.

Soviet-style propaganda, Barentsburg
Soviet-style propaganda, Barentsburg

Svalbard's visitors come mostly to experience Arctic nature at its rawest and most powerful. The islands feature untouched glaciers and craggy mountains, but also polar bears, a peculiar short legged reindeer, polar foxes, whales, seals and walruses. Svalbard is renowned for its variety of birds, including Artic Terns, Artic Fulmar and Puffins.

During the short summer, the melting snow in the milder parts of the islands give place to vast stretches of tundra vegetation, sometimes dotted with delicate flowers.

Note that although it is technically possible to prepare your own excursion while on Svalbard, the lack of infrastructure, the necessity of carrying (and knowing how to use) a rifle outside the settlements, as well as the harshness of the environment even during the summer make pre-organized activities with professional guides a necessity for most visitors. Activities can be booked online or in Longyearbyen.

Longyearbyen has a couple of museums and the world's northernmost church. The Soviet-era settlements of Barentsburg, still running fitfully, and Pyramiden, abandoned in the 1990s, make offbeat attractions, being home to (among other things) the world's two northernmost Lenin statues. Both can be visited by cruise or snowmobile from Longyearbyen.


The currency is the Norwegian krone (NOK), and this is also accepted in the Russian settlements. Svalbard is a tax free zone so a number of shops in Longyearbyen display various items for sale at prices well below mainland Norway's.


Svalbard is by most measures horribly expensive: mainland Norway is bad enough, but on Svalbard everything costs even more. Accommodation in cheap guesthouses costs on the order of 500 kr/night and sit-down meals nudge up closer to 100 kr each, both figures you can very easily double if you want to stay in a full-service hotel. Guided activities start at about 500kr per day (e.g. trekking and kayaking) but can go to 1000kr and above for tours requiring specialist equipment.

One way to cut costs significantly is to camp and self-cater, bringing all your supplies from the mainland. There is however a full service grocery store in Longyearbyen. Frozen and dry goods are on par with or even a little cheaper than in Norway, while perishable items arrive via air freight and are more expensive.

Svalbard's duty-free status means that alcohol and sports clothing, etc are actually much cheaper than on the mainland.


Food on Svalbard is expensive for most visitors, as is anywhere in Norway. Local specialities include seal and reindeer, served at restaurants in Longyearbyen.


Alcohol is duty-free on Svalbard. If you´ve arrived from Norway the bars will seem refreshingly cheap but are still equivalent to London prices. If you head over to Barentsburg, Russian vodka can be outright cheap.

A popular party trick for glacier cruises is drinks served with glacier ice, purified by natural processes over thousands of years.


A range of accommodation is available only on Longyearbyen, which offers camping, guesthouses and luxury hotels. Barentsburg and Ny-Ålesund also have a single hotel each.

  • The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), [12]. A private foundation run by four Norwegian universities, offers university-level courses in arctic biology, geology, geophysics and technology. Several hundred students, half of them exchange students from outside Norway, attend yearly.


Citizens of Svalbard Treaty signatory countries need no permits to work on Svalbard; you can even set up your own mine if so inclined. In practice, work opportunities are rather more limited, although there is some seasonal tourist industry work available during the summer if you have the requisite skills and language abilities (Norwegian will come in handy). The Governor of Svalbard does, however, have the right to boot you off the island if you cannot support yourself.

Polar bear (safely stuffed), Longyearbyen
Polar bear (safely stuffed), Longyearbyen

The biggest threat on Svalbard is polar bears (isbjørn), some 500 of which inhabit the main islands at any one time. Five people have been killed by polar bears since 1973, and if travelling outside settlements you are required to carry a rifle at all times to protect yourself. They can be rented for 100 kr and up per day, but starting 2009, a valid gun license is now required — for most people, it's better to stick to guided tours. Do not underestimate the speed of polar bears (you cannot outrun one). Polar bears can be extremely unpredictable and are far more dangerous than European brown bears.

The harsh Arctic environment also poses its own challenges, particularly in winter. Beware of the danger of frostbite in the face (nose and cheeks), fingers and toes, particularly in low temperatures with wind (such as high speed on snowmobile). Crossing glaciers and rivers can be hazardous and travelling with local guides is strongly recommended. If heading out on your own, informing the Governor of Svalbard about your route and expected duration is highly advisable. For any trips outside central region of Spitsbergen, you must notify the Governor, and may be required to purchase insurance or put up a large deposit to cover possible rescue costs.

Stay healthy

Tap water on Svalbard is drinkable, but surface water may contain tapeworm eggs from fox feces and should be boiled before consumption.

There are no pharmacies on Svalbard, although you can buy some non-prescription drugs in Longyearbyen, which also has a hospital for treating emergencies.


In most of Svalbard's buildings, including some hotels and shops, you are expected to take off your shoes before entering. In public buildings this will be obvious as a shoe rack covered in dirty walking boots will be prominent at the entrance.


GSM/3G phones work in the main towns of Svalbard.

The Internet connection in Svalbard is top class, courtesy of NASA renting bulk capacity on undersea fiber optic cables running at seabed to mainland Norway for its experiments. Longyearbyen has several public Internet terminals.

While mail from Svalbard to mainland Norway and the outside world uses regular Norwegian stamps at regular Norwegian prices, philatelists may be interested in the Lokalpost system used for intra-Svalbard mail. Stamps, first-day covers and more are available at the post offices in Longyearbyen and Barentsburg, as well as at Longyearbyen's Svalbardbutikken.

Get out

Svalbard is a popular staging point (at least in relative terms) for launching expeditions to the North Pole.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SPITSBERGEN (the name being Dutch is incorrectly, though commonly, spelled Spitzbergen), an Arctic archipelago, almost midway between Greenland and Novaya Zemlya, in 76° 26' to 80° 50' N. and 10 20' to 32° 40' E., comprising the five large islands of West Spitsbergen or New Friesland, North-East Land, Edge Island, Barents Island and Prince Charles Foreland, the Wiche Islands, and many small islands divided by straits from the main group. The chief island, West Spitsbergen, shaped like a wedge pointed towards the south and deeply indented on the west and north by long branching fjords, has an area of about 15,200 sq. m. At the north-west angle of the island is a region of bold peaks and large glaciers, in the midst of which is the fine Magdalena Bay. Farther south come the series of glaciers called by the whalers "The Seven Icebergs," which drain a high snowfield reaching east almost to Wood Bay and south to the head of Cross Ba.y. On the south-east it is drained by glaciers towards or into Dickson and Ekman bays. South of this snowfield comes the mountainous King James Land, consisting of an intricate network of craggy ridges with glaciers between. A deep north-and-south depression is occupied by Wijde and Dickson bays, the one opening on the north coast, the other a head-branch of the great Ice Fjord of the west coast, bordered on the west by a range of fine mountains, a spur of which separates the two bays. East of this depression there is a plateau region. Its edge is eaten away into deep valleys, down which the ice-sheet of New Friesland sends glacier tongues into Wijde Bay. East of Dickson Bay the marginal valleys are larger, and no glaciers come far down them. The plateau between Dickson and Klaas Billen bays is cut up by deep valleys such as the Rendal, Skansdal and Mimesdal (all well known to geologists); it contains no large glaciers. Farther east is found a glaciated area called Garwood Land by Sir Martin Conway. The neck of West Spitsbergen is bounded on the north by a line from near the head of Klaas Billen Bay to Wiche Bay, and on the south by the Sassendal and the depression leading to Agardh Bay. It is a complicated area of fine craggy ridges with beautiful glaciers between. Adventure Land lies south of the neck, and is bounded on the south by a line from the head of Van Keulen Bay to Whales Bay. It is an area of boggy valleys, rounded hills, and small glaciers, and may be described as the temperate and fertile belt, and is the only part of the island where reindeer still linger in any number. Near the west coast it contains some fine peaks and large glaciers. It is penetrated by the longest green valleys in Spitsbergen, e.g. from Coles Bay, Advent Bay and Low Sound (the valley of the Shallow river). The southern division of the island is very icy. There is a high snowfield along its east side, and ranges of peaks farther west. Two parallel ranges form the backbone of the island south of Horn Sound, the higher of them containing the famous Horn Sund Tind (4560 ft.). The long narrow island, Prince Charles Foreland, with lofty peaks, runs parallel to part of the west coast of West Spitsbergen, from which it is separated by a narrow strait. Its range of mountains is interrupted towards the southern end of the island by a flat plain of 50 sq. m. raised only a few feet above sea-level. There is a narrower depression a few miles farther north. The broad Stor (Great) Fjord, of Wybe Jans Water, separates the main island from two others to the east - Edge Island (2500 sq. m.) and Barents Land (580 sq. m.). Formerly these were considered as one, until the narrow Freeman Strait which parts them was discovered. Neither Barents Land nor Edge Island carries ice-sheets, and both are practically devoid of glaciers down their western coasts, but have large glaciers reaching the sea on the east. To the north-east of West Spitsbergen, separated from it by Hinlopen Strait (7 to 60 m. in breadth) lies North-East Land, with an area of about 6,200 sq. m. Its western and northern coasts are indented by several bays and fjords. It is covered with a true ice-sheet, while the neighbouring Wiche Islands to the south-east bear no large glaciers at all. East by north from Cape Leigh Smith, the easternmost promontory of North-East Land, rises White Island, covered with snow and ice, and rising to about 700 ft. It was discovered by Cornelis Giles or Gillis in 1707, and is alternatively named Giles Land. Numerous small islands lie around the larger: Danes and other islands off the north-west coast of West Spitsbergen, the Seven Islands, Outger Reps, Broch, and Charles XII. Island on the north of North-East Land; Hinlopen Strait contains numerous islets, and the Ryk Yse Archipelago, Hope or Walrus Island, and the Thousand Islands (about a hundred small rocks) lie to the east and south of Edge Island.

The nomenclature is in a state of hopeless confusion, the names given by the old explorers having been carelessly transferred from point to point, or capriciously set aside. The true names, English and Dutch, of the principal misnamed sites are here indicated in brackets after the current names: South Cape (Point Look-out), Torrel's Glacier (Slaadberg), Recherche Bay (Joseph's Bay, Schoonhoven), Van Keulen Bay (Lord Ellesmere Sound, Sardammer Rivierl, Van Mayen Bay (Low Sound, Klok Rivier), Coal Bay (Coles Bay), Advent Bay (Adventure Bay), St John's Bay (Osborn's Inlet), English Bay (Cove Comfortlesse), Foreland Sound (Sir Thomas Smith Bay, Keerwyk), Cross Bay (Close Cove), the bay called Smeerenburg (Fair Haven, Dutch Bay), Flat Hook (Fox Point), Biscayers' Hook (Point Welcome), Redbeach (Broad Bay), Leifde Bay (Wiche Sound), Grey Hook (Castlin's Point), Wijde Bay (Sir Thomas Smith Inlet), Verlegen Hook (Point Desire), Treurenberg Bay (Bear Bay), Agardh Bay (Foul Sound), Stor Fjord (Wybe Jans Water), North-East Land (Sir Thomas Smith Island), North Cape (Point Purchas). Stans Foreland is not, as often appears, an alternative name Of Edge Island, but the name of its south-eastern cape only.

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The backbone of the main island consists of an ancient mass of pre-Devonian granites, gneisses and schists forming a mountain chain in the western region. Resting upon these ancient crystalline rocks, the precise age of which has not been definitely determined, there is a succession of sedimentary rocks representing nearly every one of the prominent periods of geological time. For the eastern part of the group these strata lie nearly horizontal; here and there they are pierced by intrusive igneous rocks. The oldest sediments yet found are the Ordovician beds which occur at Hekla Hook, dolomites, limestones, slates and quartzites; Silurian rocks may possibly exist in the north-west; and Devonian grits with Pteraspis have been recorded in Liefde Bay. The Carboniferous period is represented by Culm-like rocks (classed by O. Heer as Ursien - Upper Devonian); upon these come limestones with Spirifer Mosquensis (Hinlopen Straits) and above these again are limestones with Cyathophyllum and Fusulina; (Eisfjord, Bell Sound, Horn Sound, &c.). Permo-Carboniferous limestones and dolomites occur on the west on the mainland and on Prince Charles Foreland and in King James Land. Black slaty shales with large ammonites in the Calcareous nodules and beds of black, bituminous limestone represent the Trias at Cape Thorodsen; and Rhaetic fossils are found in Research Bay, Bell Sound. Jurassic rocks are widely spread and include Bajocian, Bathonian, Callovian, Oxfordian and Portlandian (Cape Starashchin and Advent Bay); the older stages being in the west. Some of these rocks are coal-bearing. Wealden strata with coal seams and marine beds (Volgian) occur in the south, and in King Charles Land are Neocomian rocks with interbedded basalts. Plant-bearing lower Cretaceous strata have been recorded, and lower Eocene beds are found in Ice Fjord, Bell Sound containing large magnolia leaves and others; beds of London Clay age occur in Kolbay. Miocene Sandstones and clay with lignite beds, some 2800 ft. thick, occupy the west coast about Ice Fjord, Bell Sound, Advent Bay, &c. In this period these islands were probably all united and covered a much greater area and were covered with extensive peat bogs, on the edges of which the marsh cypress flowered, dropping its leaves and blossoms into the marshes. Sequoia, poplars, birches, planes and large oaks also grew there, while ivy and thick underwood freely developed under their shadow, and thousands of insects swarmed in the thicket. Subsidence followed in late Tertiary times, to be succeeded by a period of rapid elevation giving origin to the raised beaches such as those seen on Prince Charles Foreland, and possibly resubmergence may be again in progress. In comparatively recent geological times this, the main island, was over most of its area a high plateau covered with an ice-sheet, which has gradually been withdrawn from the west towards the east, the western region being thus cut up into deep valleys and more or less rugged mountains. Farther east the mountains are more rounded, but still farther east the plateau character of the land remains.


The sea around Spitsbergen is shallow, and the ice readily accumulates round the shores. Although the glaciers of Spitsbergen do not give origin to icebergs so huge as those of Greenland, the smaller bergs and the pack-ice are thick enough to prevent access to the shores except for a few months in the year. However, the warm drift from the Atlantic sends a branch to the western shores of Spitsbergen, moderating its climate, and leaving an open passage which permits vessels to approach the western coast even under the most unfavourable conditions of ice in the arctic regions. Drift-wood from lower latitudes, glass floats of the Norwegian fishermen and other objects have been found at the northern extremity of Spitsbergen. On the other hand a cold current charged with ice descends from higher latitudes along the eastern coasts, rendering approach extremely difficult. On this account these shores long remained practically unknown.

Owing to the warm drift the climate of Spitsbergen is less severe than in the corresponding latitudes of Greenland and Smith Sound. Bear Island, notwithstanding its more southerly position, has a lower temperature. The isotherm of 23° F., which crosses the middle of Eastern Siberia, touches its southern extremity, and only the north-east coasts of Spitsbergen have an average yearly temperature so low as 14° to 10.5°. At Mussel Bay (79° 53') the average yearly temperature is 16° (January 14.1°, July 39.3°). Even in the coldest months of the winter a thaw may set in for a few days; but, on the other hand, snow sometimes falls in July and August. Spring comes in June; the snow becomes saturated with water and disappears in places, and scurvy grass and the polar willow open their buds. By the end of June the thermometer has ceased to sink below the freezing-point at night; July, August and September are the best months. In September, however, autumn sets in on shore, and by the end of the month the pack-ice rapidly freezes into one solid mass. In Treurenberg Bay an annual precipitation of 64 in. has been observed.

Fauna and Flora

The Greenland whale has completely disappeared in consequence of the great havoc made by the early whalers. According to Scoresby, no less than 57,590 whales were killed between 1669 and 1775. A great diminution, in the same way, is to be observed in the numbers of other creatures which were the object of hunters. A reckless extermination of seals was carried on. Walruses are now only occasionally seen in the waters of West Spitsbergen. Birds, also, have rapidly diminished in numbers. The fulmar petrel meets ships approaching Spitsbergen far away from the coasts. It makes colonies on the cliffs, as also do the glaucous gull and the "burgomaster." Rotches, black guillemots, ivory gulls, auks and kittiwake gulls breed on the cliffs, while geese, looms and snipe frequent the lagoons and small fresh-water ponds. The eider duck breeds on the islands, but its numbers have become noticeably reduced, while the lumme and the tern confine themselves to separate cliffs. These birds, however, are only guests in Spitsbergen, the snow-bunting being the only species which stays permanently; some twenty-three species breed regularly on Spitsbergen, and four others (the falcon, snowy owl, swan and skua) come occasionally. Of land mammals, besides the polar bear, the reindeer and arctic fox have been greatly reduced; the reindeer, in fact, are approaching extinction, whereas for several years consecutively before 1868 from T500 to 2000 were killed by hunters in a few weeks of summer.

There are twenty-three species of fishes, but no reptiles. Insects are few. Arachnids, and especially Pantopods, on the other hand, are very common. Molluscs are also numerous. At some places the mussels and univalves reach a large size and appear in great abundance. Of Crustaceans fully Too species have been recognized in the waters of the archipelago.

The flora is, of course, poor. The only tree is the polar willow, which does not exceed 2 in. in height and bears a few leaves not larger than a man's finger-nail; and the only bushes are the crowberry and cloudberry. But at the foot of the warmer cliffs some loam has been formed notwithstanding the slowness of putrefaction, and there, in contrast with the brownish lichens that cover the hills, grows a carpet of mosses of the brightest green, variegated with the golden-yellow flowers of the ranunculus, the large-leaved scurvy grass, several saxifrages, fox-tail grass, &c., with a few large flowers, Polygona and Andromedae; while on the driest spots yellow poppies, whitlow grasses, &c., are found. Even on the higher slopes, 1500 ft. above the sea, the poppy is occasionally met with. In all over 130 species of flowering plants have been found. Mosses, mostly European acquaintances, cover all places where peat has accumulated. The slopes of the crags and the blocks of stone on the beach are sometimes entirely covered with a luxuriant moss and lichen vegetation, among the last being the so-called "famine bread" (Umbilicaria arctica), which has maintained the life of many arctic travellers. Although limited in number, the flora is suggestive in its distribution. The vegetation of the south has a decidedly Lappish or European alpine character, while that of the north coast is decidedly American, and recalls that of Melville Island. Many flowering plants which are common in north-west Spitsbergen are absent from the east coast, where the cold climate is inimical to both flora and fauna; but, on the other hand, one moss (Pottia hyperborea) and one lichen (Usnea melaxantha) are found there which are of American origin and grow both in North America and on the Cordilleras. Algae are most numerous, many, like the brown Laminaria and Nostoc communis, which fill all pools and are the chief food of many birds, being familiar in Europe. Protococcus nivalis covers the snow with its reddish powder.


Spitsbergen has never been permanently inhabited, although there are several instances of hunters wintering on the island under stress of circumstances, and several scientific expeditions have done so. A Russian trapper named Starashchin is said in various accounts to have spent 32 or 39 winters, and 15 consecutive years, in the archipelago; he died there in 1826. Spitsbergen was discovered on the 17th of June 1J96, during the expedition under William Barents and Jacob Heemskerk, which ended with the death of Barents. Barents saw parts of the west and north coasts, and to these he gave the name of Spitsbergen. In 1607 Henry Hudson, after visiting the coast of Greenland, reached Spitsbergen in June. Bear Island, the ice-bound island midway between Spitsbergen and the North Cape, situated on the same submarine platform as the former, had been discovered by Barents, and became important as a hunting-ground (for walrus, &c.) before Spitsbergen began to be visited for this purpose. In 1609 Thomas Marmaduke of the "Heartsease," proceeding north from Bear Island, reached Spitsbergen, and in the following year the first hunting expedition was despatched thither by the Muscovy Company on board the "Amitie" of London, Jonas Poole, master, on whose report of the abundance of whales on the coast the Spitsbergen whaling industry, which was to grow to such importance, was established in 1611. Very shortly the Dutch began to take a share in this, and there were frequent collisions between the whalers of the two nationalities, while in 1615 the Danes attempted to claim this part of "Greenland," as Spitsbergen was for a long time considered. England attempted to annex the archipelago, but at length the Dutch became predominant in the whaling industry, and in 1623 founded the summer settlement of Smeerenburg. This became a busy and important centre, but began to decline in about twenty years, as the whales were gradually driven from the bays and must be followed, at first northward along the coast, and later into the open sea. Independently of the English and Dutch, Russians from the White Sea district came to Spitsbergen to hunt walruses, seals, bears, foxes, &c. At what early period they first did so cannot be known, but the industry seems to have gained a certain importance before 1740. The Russians had their own nomenclature for various parts of the archipelago, the.

whole of which they also called Grumant, a corruption of Greenland. A similar hunting industry was established by Norwegians early in the 18th century, but Spitsbergen declined in importance as a hunting-ground owing to the indiscriminate slaughter of game.

Many expeditions have made Spitsbergen their base for polar exploration. The Russian admiral Chichagov visited it twice, in 1765 and 1766, and reached 80° 28' N. The expedition sent from England in 1773 at the instigation of Dairies Barrington under the command of Constantine John Phipps, was the first having a purely geographical purpose. It consisted of two vessels, the "Racehorse" and the "Carcass," on the first of which Horatio Nelson was a midshipman. Phipps mapped the north of Spitsbergen, and reached 80 0 48' north. In 1818 David Buchan and John Franklin reached 80° 34' to the north of the archipelago. Captain D. C. Clavering and Sir Edward Sabine in 1823 explored the islands, and Sabine made his remarkable magnetic observations, while Clavering reached 80° 20' N. Sir William Parry, shortly after his return from his third voyage, went to Spitsbergen and reached 82° 40' north on sledges, while other members of the expedition were occupied with scientific work in the archipelago. In the same year the Norwegian geologist Balthasar Mathias Keilhau visited the group and related his experiences in a remarkable book, Resa i Ost og West Finmarken (Christiania, 1831). The Swedish professor Sven Loven was the first to undertake, in 1837, dredging and geological explorations in Spitsbergen and its vicinity. Next year a body of French, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian naturalists, among whom was Charles Martins, visited the western coast. In 1858, at the suggestion of Loven, Otto Torell, accompanied by A. E. Nordenskidld and A. Quennerstadt made many important observations and brought home rich geological collections. In 1861 a larger expedition led by Torell, Nordenskidld, A. J. Malmgren, and Karl Chydenius, set out with the object of finding how far it was possible to obtain a measurement of an arc of meridian of sufficient extent. This aim was only partly accomplished, but the expedition returned with an invaluable store of various observations. The work of the measurement of the arc was completed in 1864 by another expedition conducted by Nordenskidld, assisted by Malmgren and N. Duner. This expedition was followed in 1868 by that of the "Sofia," under Nordenskidld, which, in the words of Oswald Heer, "achieved more and gave a wider extension to the horizon of our knowledge than if it had returned merely with the information that the ` Sofia ' had hoisted her flag on the North Pole." In the same year the German arctic expedition under Karl Koldewey circumnavigated West Spitsbergen. In 1870 two young Swedish savants, Drs Nathorst and Wilander, visited Spitsbergen in order to examine the phosphoric deposits, and two years later a colony was formed in Ice Fjord, and a small tramway constructed to work the beds. The attempt, however, did not prove successful. Leigh Smith and the Norwegian Captain Ulve visited and mapped parts of East Spitsbergen in 1871, returning with valuable information. They reached 81° 24' north. In the same year the first tourist steamer visited the archipelago. In 1872 a great polar expedition under Nordenskidld set out to winter on Spitsbergen with the intention of attempting in the spring to advance towards the pole on sledges drawn by reindeer. But the expedition encountered a series of misfortunes. The ships were beset in the ice very early in Mussel Bay, and, six Norwegian fishing vessels having been likewise overtaken and shut in, the expedition had to feed the crews on its provisions and thus to reduce the rations of its own men. The reindeer all made their escape during a snow-storm; and when the sledge party reached the Seven Islands they found the ice so packed that all idea of going north had to be abandoned. Instead of this, Nordenskidld explored North-East Land and crossed the vast ice-sheet which covers it. The expedition returned in 1873 with a fresh store of important scientific observations, especially in physics and submarine zoology. In 1873 R. von DrascheWartinberg, the geologist, paid a short visit to Spitsbergen, In 1882 the Swedish geologists, A. G. Nathorst and G. de Geer made a journey which furnished interesting data about the geology and flora of the islands. In the same year a Swedish meteorological station was established at Cape Thordsen for carrying on the observations desired by the international polar committee. During the last decade of the 19th century Spitsbergen attracted not only a number of scientists but also sportsmen and tourists. Such expeditions as those of Gustaf Nordensk16ld in 1890 and the important circumnavigation by Nathorst in 1898, during which the Wiche Islands and White Islands were carefully explored, confined their attentions almost entirely to the coasts. In 1892 M. C. Rabot made the first serious attempt to penetrate the interior from the head of Ice Fjord, exploring a part of the Sassendal; and in 18 9 6 Sir Martin Conway led an expedition which crossed the island for the first time, and surveyed the region between Ice Fjord and Bell Sound on the east coast. In 1897 Conway and Mr E. J. Garwood surveyed the glaciated area north of Ice Fjord to about 78° 10' N., and climbed Horn Sund Tind. In the same year Herr Andre made his fatal balloon ascent from Danes Island with the intention of floating over the Pole. In 18 9 6 a weekly service of Norwegian tourist steamers was established in summer, and a small inn was built at Advent Bay in Ice Fjord, and though this was afterwards closed, the west coast continued to be frequently visited by tourist steamers during the height of summer. In 18 9 8, 1899 and 1906 the prince of Monaco made scientific investigations in the Archipelago, and in1898-1902Swedish and Russian expeditions undertook the measurement of an arc of the meridian, the results of which were accompanied by valuable physiographical, meteorological, botanical and other observations. Dr W. S. Bruce made a complete survey and scientific investigations of Prince Charles Foreland. In 1900 coal began to be worked on Advent Bay, a seam 10 ft. thick being found below 40 ft. of fossil ice and 20 ft. of rock. This development and other considerations led to some discussion between the powers interested as to the territorial sovereignty over the archipelago, a question which though approached before (as in 1870) had never been brought to a settlement.

Bibliography. - On a land visited by so many scientific observers the literature is naturally voluminous. The chief source of scientific papers is the publications of the Swedish Vetenskaps Akademie. Sir W Martin Conway narrates his expedition in the First Crossing of Spitsbergen (London, 1897); and in No Man's Land (Cambridge, 1906) he details the history of the Archipelago down to 1840, tabulates the principal voyages and incidents thereafter until 1900, and furnishes a very full bibliography for the history and geography of Spitsbergen from the earliest time down to 1902. The various observations of the Swedish expedition for the measurement of an arc of the meridian were brought together (in French) in Missions scientifiques pour la mesure d'un arc de meridien au Spitzberg ... (Stockholm, 1903-1906), and those of the Russian expedition under the same title in 1904, seq. (St. Petersburg).

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  1. The largest island of Svalbard.


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