West Spitsbergen

West Spitsbergen West Spitsbergen

West Spitsbergen is the largest and only permanently-populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, and part of Norway. Spitsbergen, with an area of 39,044 square km, is approximately 450 km long and ranges from 40 to 225 km wide. 60% of its territory is covered with glaciers, which produce numerous icebergs coming into the words. Spitsbergen is deeply indented by words. The terrain is mountainous, and the highest point on the island is Mount Newton, 1,717 m. Many other peaks on the mountainous west coast have elevations over 900 m. The name of the archipelago, meaning “sharp peaks” (Dutch “spits bergen”) was given to it by the Dutch explorer Willem Barents, who made the discovery in 1596. From the 17th century many countries took part in exploring and developing the archipelago. The island was first used as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, aſter which it was abandoned. At the end of the 19th century the first agreement on Spitsbergen was signed between Russia, Sweden and Norway. Later, an agreement signed on February 9, 1920 by 39 states passed the archipelago to Norway, but leſt the right for other participants to engage in economic activity there. Coal mining started at the beginning of the 20th century, and several permanent communities were established. Norwegian Store Norske and Russian Arktikugol remain the archipelago’s only mining companies. Research and tourism have become important supplementary industries, featuring among others the University Centre in Svalbard and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The administrative centre is Longyearbyen. Svalbard Airport, Longyear, provides the main point of entry and exit. The mining town of Barentsburg situated on the coast in one of the warmest places on Svalbard - is the second-largest centre with a permanent population of 500 residents. No roads connect the settlements; instead snowmobiles, aircraſt and boats serve as local transport.

The history of Spitsbergen is extremely varied and archaeological findings are numerous. The island has an Arctic climate, although with significantly higher temperatures than other places at the same latitude. The flora benefits from the long period of midnight sun, which compensates for the polar night. Svalbard is a breeding ground for many seabirds, and also supports polar bears, reindeer and marine mammals. Six national parks protect the largely untouched, yet fragile environment.