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Northern lights over Svalbard, Norway - Photo: Svalbard Reiseliv AS/Hilde Fålun Strøm
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Northern lights over Svalbard, Norway Photo: Svalbard Reiseliv AS/Hilde Fålun Strøm

Key facts about Svalbard

Svalbard, the realm of the polar bear, has long fascinated travelers. Unique wildlife, wild nature and old mining towns are all found on the islands.

The name Svalbard means "cold coasts" and was first mentioned in Icelandic texts in the 12th century.

On Svalbard you will find wild nature, old mines and polar bears. The islands are located between 74° - 81° N and 10° - 35° E. They cover 63,000 square kilometres.

Nearly 65 per cent of the surface of Svalbard consists of protected areas, including three nature reserves, six national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries and one geotopical protected area.

Norway's largest glacier, Austfonna, is located on Svalbard. Austfonna is the world's third-largest icecap after Antarctic and Greenland, with a glacier front of 200 kilometres.

The largest islands are Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandet, Barentsøya, Edgeøya and Prins Karls Forland.

Svalbard is outside the Schengen Area, and all travelers without a Norwegian passport must therefore take their passport with them when traveling to the archipelago.

History

  • 1596: Willem Barentsz discovers Svalbard
  • 1600 - 1750: International whaling activities
  • 1800 - 1900: Norwegian all-winter hunting and trapping
  • 1906: John M. Longyear establishes the first mine on Svalbard
  • 1920: The Svalbard Treaty is signed
  • 1925: Norway is given sovereignty over Svalbard

Towns/settlements on Svalbard

Longyearbyen has 2,040 inhabitants. This is the seat of local government and Norway’s main administrative centre on Svalbard. The small colourful community has developed from being a typical village town into a modern community with different kinds of businesses and industries, and with a wide range of cultural activities and opportunities.

Other settlements are:

  • Barentsburg (Russian mining community) 500 inhabitants
  • Ny-Ålesund (Norwegian international research centre) 25 inhabitants
  • Svea Gruva (Norwegian mining community) 240 commuters
  • Hornsund (Polish research station) 11 inhabitants

Weather and climate

Despite of Svalbard being so close to the North Pole, the archipelago has a relatively mild climate compared to other areas at the same latitude. In Longyearbyen, the average temperature ranges from  6.8°F in winter to 42.8°F in summer.

The lowest temperature was recorded in March 1986 at -51.3°F - the highest temperature was recorded in July 1979 at 70.3°F.

In winter Svalbard often has long periods with temperatures between -4°F and -22°F; add to that a wind-chill factor that usually seriously compounds the cooling effect of the low temperatures.

In summer fog is not uncommon.

In terms of precipitation, Svalbard may be described as an "arctic desert" with annual rain- and snowfall at a mere 200 - 300 millimetres.

The weather on Svalbard can shift very quickly and local variations are often considerable.

Check the weather forecast for Svalbard.

Safety

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Last updated:  2012-12-20
 - Photo: Jens Henrik Nybo/Innovation Norway
 - Photo: Jens Abild
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Northern lights over Svalbard, Norway - Photo: Svalbard Reiseliv AS/Hilde Fålun Strøm

Key facts about Svalbard

Svalbard, the realm of the polar bear, has long fascinated travelers. Unique wildlife, wild nature and old mining towns are all found on the islands.

Key facts about Svalbard

Source: Visitnorway

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