Svalbard (/ˈsvɑːlbɑːr/; Urban East Norwegian: [2sʋɑːlbɑɾ]; prior to 1925 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. The islands of the group range from 74° to 81° north latitude, and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The largest island is Spitsbergen, followed by Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya. Administratively, the archipelago is not part of any Norwegian county, but forms an unincorporated area administered by a governor appointed by the Norwegian government. Since 2002, Svalbard’s main settlement, Longyearbyen, has had an elected local government, somewhat similar to mainland municipalities. Other settlements include the Russian mining community of Barentsburg, the research station of Ny-Ålesund, and the mining outpost of Sveagruva. Ny-Ålesund is the northernmost settlement in the world with a permanent civilian population. Other settlements are farther north, but are populated only by rotating groups of researchers.
The islands were first taken into use as a whaling base for the Danish Empire as Dano-Norwegians travelled north in hunt of whale fat 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. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 recognizes Norwegian sovereignty, and the 1925 Svalbard Act made Svalbard a full part of the Kingdom of Norway. They also established Svalbard as a free economic zone and a demilitarized zone. The Norwegian Store Norske and the Russian Arktikugol remain the only mining companies in place.
Research and tourism have become important supplementary industries, with the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault playing critical roles. No roads connect the settlements; instead snowmobiles, aircraft and boats serve inter-community transport. Svalbard Airport (LYR) , Longyearserves as the main gateway.
The archipelago features an Arctic climate, although with significantly higher temperatures than other areas at the same latitude. The flora take advantage of the long period of midnight sun to compensate for the polar night. Svalbard is a breeding ground for many seabirds, and also features polar bears, reindeer, the Arctic fox, and certain marine mammals. Seven national parks and twenty-three nature reserves cover two-thirds of the archipelago, protecting the largely untouched, yet fragile, natural environment. Approximately 60% of the archipelago is covered with glaciers, and the islands feature many mountains and fjords.
Svalbard and Jan Mayen are collectively assigned the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code “SJ”. Both areas are administered by Norway , though they are separated by a distance of over 950 kilometres (510 nautical miles) and have very different administrative structures.
Longyearbyen is the largest settlement on the archipelago, the seat of the governor and the only town to be incorporated. The town features a hospital, primary and secondary school, university, sports center with a swimming pool, library, culture center, cinema, bus transport, hotels, a bank, and several museums. The newspaper Svalbardposten is published weekly. Only a small fraction of the mining activity remains at Longyearbyen; instead, workers commute to Sveagruva (or Svea) where Store Norske operates a mine. Sveagruva is a dormitory town, with workers commuting from Longyearbyen weekly.
Ny-Ålesund is a permanent settlement based entirely around research. Formerly a mining town, it is still a company town operated by the Norwegian state-owned Kings Bay. While there is some tourism there, Norwegian authorities limit access to the outpostminimize impact on the scientific work. Ny-Ålesund has a winter population of 35 and a summer population of 180. The Norwegian Meteorological Institute has outposts at Bjørnøya and Hopen, with respectively ten and four people stationed. Both outposts can also house temporary research staff.Poland operates the Polish Polar Station at Hornsund, with ten permanent residents.
Barentsburg is the only permanently inhabited Russian settlement after Pyramiden was abandoned in 1998. It is a company town: all facilities are owned by Arktikugol, which operates a coal mine. In addition to the mining facilities, Arktikugol has opened a hotel and souvenir shop, catering for tourists taking day trips or hikes from Longyearbyen. The village features facilities such as a school, library, sports center, community center, swimming pool, farm and greenhouse. Pyramiden features similar facilities; both are built in typical post-World War II Soviet architectural and planning style and contain the world’s two most northerly Lenin statues and other socialist realism artwork. As of 2013, a handful of workers are stationed in the largely abandoned Pyramiden to maintain the infrastructure and run the hotel, which has been re-opened for tourists.