Svalbard: At Sea
Aboard the MS Nordstjernen
August 8, 2015
Here are a few facts about Svalbard:
Svalbard formerly known by its Dutch name Spitsbergen is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Situated north of mainland Europe, it is about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole.
Svalbard is the northernmost settlement in the world with a permanent civilian population.
The islands were first taken into use as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, after which they were abandoned.
Coal mining started at the beginning of the 20th century, and several permanent communities were established.
No roads connect the settlements; instead snowmobiles, aircraft and boats serve inter-community transport.
Svalbard Airport, Longyear serves as the main gateway.
Svalbard is a breeding ground for many seabirds, and also features polar bears, reindeer, the Arctic fox, and certain marine mammals.
Approximately 60% of the archipelago is covered with glaciers, and the islands feature many mountains and fjords.
Since Svalbard is located north of the Arctic Circle it experiences midnight sun in summer and polar night in winter. In Longyearbyen, midnight sun lasts from 20 April until 23 August, and polar night lasts from 26 October to 15 February.
The landforms of Svalbard were created through repeated ice ages, when glaciers cut the former plateau into fjords, valleys and mountains.
Scandinavians may have discovered Svalbard as early as the 12th century.
The Dutchman Willem Barentsz made the first indisputable discovery of the archipelago in 1596, when he sighted its coast while searching for the Northern Sea Route. The name Spitsbergen is due to Barentsz, chosen for the pointed peaks he saw on the west coast of the main island.
By the 1890s, Svalbard had become a destination for Arctic tourism, coal deposits had been found and the islands were being used as a base for Arctic exploration.
In 2012, Svalbard had an estimated population of 2,642, of whom 439 were Russian and Ukrainian, 10 were Polish and 322 were other non-Norwegians living in Norwegian settlements.
The largest non-Norwegian groups in Longyearbyen in 2005 were from Thailand, Sweden, Denmark, Russia and Germany.
Svalbard is among the safest places on Earth, with virtually no crime.
Are you ready for some photographs I took the very first full day at sea along the west coast of Spitsbergen? Click on the photo at the top of the page.