Spitsbergen (Svalbard)

Spitsbergen (Svalbard)

The Spitsbergen archipelago is a group of big and small islands, located by the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea.

The total area of the archipelago is about 63 thousand square kilometers. Almost 60 per cent of the territory is covered with ice.

The name of Spitsbergen can be translated as "Jagged Peaks". It was given to the islands by the Dutch sailor Willem Barents, who discovered the archipelago in 1596, while he was searching for the northern route to Asia. The inhabitants of the European north of Russia - pomors (northen sea people) - investigated this territory long time before Willem Barents. They called the archipelago "Grumant" (Gyunland), because they thought that it was a part of Greenland. Norwegians prefer to call this archipelago using the name Svalbard ("cold coast").

There are versions that the archipelago could have been discovered by the Vikings/Norwegians in 1194. The name Svalbard (second famous name of the archipelago) was first mentioned in Icelandic sagas of the 10th and 11th centuries.

There are five big islands and hundreds of small islands in the archipelago. The main islands are Western Spitsbergen (39044 sq. km), North-east land (14530 sq. km), Edge (5030 sq. km), Barents Island (1330 sq. km) and King Charles Island (640 sq. km).

The climate is arctic, but there is some influence of the Gulf Stream. The average temperature in March (the coldest month) is -12,6° С, and the average temperature in July (the warmest month) is +4,5° С. The fluctuations of temperature, air humidity, atmosphere pressure and windpower are tha main characteristics of the climate. The polar day lasts from April 21 till August 21, and the polar night - from October 28 till February 20.

Spitsbergen is one of three inhabited islands in the archipelago, and according to the terms of the Svalbard Treaty, citizens of any of the signatory countries may settle in the archipelago. Currently, only Norway and Russia use 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. Other settlements on the island include the former Russian mining communities of Grumantbyen and Pyramiden, a Polish research station at Hornsundet, and the remote northern settlement of Ny Alesund.

Spitsbergen, Reindeer The mammal representives on the islands are Polar bears, Walrus, Reindeers, Arctic foxes as well as whales, which can be observed in the surrounding waters.

There are a lot of sea birds in Spitsbergen, because there is plenty of food sources in the waters around. All in all there are 164 bird species registered in Spitsbergen area, 30 out of which breed regularly on the islands: Red throated diver, Purple sandpiper, Snow bunting, Ptarmigan, Fulmar, Pink-footed goose, Brent goose, Arctic tern, etc.

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