Svalbard and Longyearbyen

Ny-Ålesund Longyearbyen Svalbard

Svalbard is an island archipelago in the Arctic Ocean situated halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Straddling 81˚ to 74˚N, this 63,000 km² near-pristine environment is a haven for researchers interested in Arctic environments. The islands are a heady mix of mountains, ice and 24-hour summer daylight. The northernmost part of Norway, regular and frequent flights allow ready access to the administrative and tourist capital Longyearbyen. Made up of a series of islands, the largest of which is Spitsbergen, the history of human occupation of the archipelago is relatively recent. Late twelfth century Norse accounts refer to a northern island called Svalbarð, a land of ‘cold shores” but no archeological evidence has yet been found of early visits by Europeans. The earliest confirmed known visit was made by Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz when he stepped ashore in 1596 while searching for the fabled Northeast Passage. Once the trail was blazed, Svalbard’s rich biodiversity and mineral resources made it a magnet for trappers, whalers and miners over the following four centuries. With the signing of the Spitsbergen Treaty in 1920, the sovereignty of Norway was recognised along with the rights of individual national settlements.  Longyearbyen is home to the Governor of Svalbard and with over 2000 inhabitants living permanently at 78˚N, is one of the most northerly inhabited towns on the planet. In the immediate area we can see glacial and periglacial activity at first hand.


University of ExeterJISCGeography Earth and Environmental SciencesC-Change

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