(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)
|Introduction||First discovered by the Norwegians in the 12th century, the islands served as an international whaling base during the 17th and 18th centuries. Norway’s sovereignty was recognized in 1920; five years later it officially took over the territory.|
|History||Vikings may have discovered Svalbard as early as the 12th century. Traditional Norse accounts exist of a land known as Svalbarð – literally “cold shores” (but this land might also have been Jan Mayen, or a part of eastern Greenland). The Dutchman Willem Barents made the first indisputable discovery of Svalbard in 1596. The islands served as an international whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, when the Greenland whale was extirpated from this region. From 1611 to the 1800s whaling took place off the western coast of Spitsbergen, by Belgian, British, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish ships. They also provided the headquarters for many Arctic exploration expeditions.
At the beginning of the 20th century, American, British, Swedish, Russian and Norwegian companies started coal mining. Norway’s sovereignty was recognized by the Svalbard Treaty of 1920 with an addition that there would be limited military use of Svalbard and that the other nations retained the rights to their settlements; five years later Norway officially took over the territory. Some historians claim that Norway was given sovereignty as compensation for its Merchant Fleet losses during World War I, when the Norwegian Merchant fleet played an important role supplying the UK. Only Norwegian and Russian settlements survived World War II.
From the late 1940s to the early 1980s the geology of the Svalbard archipelago was investigated by teams from Cambridge University and other universities (e.g., Oxford University), led by Cambridge geologist W. Brian Harland. Many of the geographical features of the isles are named after the participants in these expeditions, or were given names by them linked to places in Cambridge (see Norwegian Polar Institute).
The name of the largest island in the archipelago, Spitsbergen (Dutch for “Jagged mountains”) was formerly used to refer to the entire archipelago, while the main island was called West Spitsbergen.
|Geography||Location: Northern Europe, islands between the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, and Norwegian Sea, north of Norway
Geographic coordinates: 78 00 N, 20 00 E
Map references: Arctic Region
Area: total: 61,020 sq km
land: 61,020 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes Spitsbergen and Bjornoya (Bear Island)
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than West Virginia
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 3,587 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 4 nm
exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm unilaterally claimed by Norway but not recognized by Russia
Climate: arctic, tempered by warm North Atlantic Current; cool summers, cold winters; North Atlantic Current flows along west and north coasts of Spitsbergen, keeping water open and navigable most of the year
Terrain: wild, rugged mountains; much of high land ice covered; west coast clear of ice about one-half of the year; fjords along west and north coasts
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Arctic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Newtontoppen 1,717 m
Natural resources: coal, iron ore, copper, zinc, phosphate, wildlife, fish
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (no trees; the only bushes are crowberry and cloudberry) (2005)
Irrigated land: NA
Natural hazards: ice floes often block the entrance to Bellsund (a transit point for coal export) on the west coast and occasionally make parts of the northeastern coast inaccessible to maritime traffic
Environment – current issues: NA
Geography – note: northernmost part of the Kingdom of Norway; consists of nine main islands; glaciers and snowfields cover 60% of the total area; Spitsbergen Island is the site of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a seed repository established by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Norwegian Government