Where is Svalbard? Exploring the Arctic Archipelago’s Unique Location
Have you ever wondered where is Svalbard? It is a remote Arctic archipelago that is straight out of a fairy tale. Nestled between Norway and the North Pole, this enchanting destination is veiled in history, wildlife and raw wilderness.
But where exactly is Svalbard?
Svalbard is a unique archipelago located in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole, sitting between longitude 10° and 35° East and latitude 74° and 81° North. Longyearbyen coordinates are: 78.2232° N, 15.6267° E
Svalbard is approximately 400 miles away (650km) from the North Pole and 580 miles (930km) from mainland Norway. The archipelago comprises 9 islands, each with distinct characteristics and attractions. The combined area of Svalbard is 24,209 square miles – about four times smaller than the UK.
What’s the largest island on Svalbard?
Spitsbergen is one of the world’s northernmost inhabited regions and the largest island on Svalbard, with a population of just over 2,000 people, and it’s here that the capital of Spitsbergen is located – Longyearbyen.
Longyearbyen is situated on the West coast of Spitsbergen, stretching along the left side of the Longyear Valley and on the edge of Adventfjorden.
Historically, Longyearbyen used to be a company town, but most mining operations moved to Sveagruva during the 1990s. Meanwhile, today, the town thrives from tourism and scientific research. Institutions like the University Centre in Svalbard, the Global Seed Vault, and Svalbard Satellite Station and Airport have reformed how this small town operates.
Check out our Guide to Longyearbyen
How far is Svalbard from the North Pole?
Svalbard is located approximately 650 kilometres (about 400 miles) from the North Pole. This proximity to the North Pole is one of the factors that makes Svalbard a unique and essential destination for Arctic research and exploration.
Explorers travelling to the North Pole often start their journey in Svalbard due to the relatively accessible location and infrastructure, making it easier to support such expeditions.
Historically, many ambitious explorers have attempted to reach the top of the world, including Salomon August Andrée – a Swiss engineer. His story is one of the most famous and is still told today.
In 1897, Andrée and two fellow companions, Knut Fraenkel and Nils Strindberg, attempted to reach the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon. Unsurprisingly, the mission failed, and all three men perished and weren’t found until 30 years later.
One of the reasons we can accurately retell the story today is due to the permafrost which preserved the site almost perfectly. Andrée’s diary was found and some images were able to be developed from the film.
Is Svalbard part of Norway?
The closest town on Norway’s mainland is Tromso, approximately 580 miles (930km) away. Though Svalbard is not connected to Norway geographically, Norway maintains full sovereignty over Svalbard after the Svalbard Treaty was signed in 1920.
The Svalbard Treaty was ratified by many countries, recognises Norwegian sovereignty over Svalbard and provides certain rights for other signatories, including the ability for their citizens to reside and engage in business activities, hunting, and fishing in the archipelago. The treaty also regulates the demilitarisation of the archipelago, forbidding fortresses, naval bases, and the stationing of military personnel.
Discover why Svalbard is of such geological interest
The mountain range is fascinating because it clearly displays clues as to how the archipelago formed over millions of years. The intense folds, cuts along the mountain terrain, and distinct colourings tell an even more interesting story.
Svalbard, also known as the “Arctic desert” due to its barren rock faces and extremely low humidity, was actually situated on the equator over 400 million years ago. It journeyed from a tropical beginning, through various geological processes, to its current location in the Arctic today.
After thousands of miles of travel and varied conditions, Svalbard is now composed of many different rock types, including coal, basalt, and granite. The oldest formations are found along the western coast of Spitsbergen, where Precambrian bedrock has been aged as more than 570 million years old. The rocks dating back as far as 3,200 million years old are even more impressive.
What is the weather like in Svalbard?
Today, a huge area is covered in glaciers and snowfields, approximately 60%! Svalbard is located in between two ocean currents, which moderate Svalbard weather.
The cold Arctic current causes significant ice cover along the east coast, making it impossible to break through in winter. (Even for the toughest of ice-breaking ships). Whilst the warm Atlantic current, means much of the west coasts fjords remain ice-free and manoeuvrable all year round.
Temperatures can range drastically from 15°C to -40°C from summer to winter. But typically, the summer months range from 3°C to 7°C and the winter months -13°C to -20°C in the northern parts.
Why is the weather in Svalbard important?
Svalbard is of huge geographical importance and stands as the world’s very own timekeeper of our planet. The Arctic holds all the information to translate how much our planet can tolerate.
That’s why so many weather and research stations from countries from all over the world are stationed in Svalbard.
Scientists suggest that Svalbard is warming 6 times faster than the global average and is experiencing a severe fast-ice decline. This change in weather not only affects the landscape but the ecosystem and the world as a whole.
Ny-Ålesund is one of the northermost settlements in the world and is situated at 78°55’N latitude, making it an ideal location for Arctic research.
65% Of Svalbard is Protected
Svalbard has 29 areas protected across the archipelago – equating to around 65% of land and about 86% of territorial waters.
National parks and nature reserves are protected from development, construction and pollution to protect the landscape, seabed, plants and animal life.
The Svalbard Treaty proudly states, “Norway shall be free to maintain, take or decree suitable measures to ensure the preservation and, if necessary, the reconstitution of the fauna and flora of the said regions, and their territorial waters…”
Living in Svalbard
It might sound appealing to up and move to Svalbard, and many people have. Their open border policy makes it relatively simple to work and live here. As many as 2,500 people reside here in the main town of Longyearbyen.
Read everything you’ll need to know about entry requirements and vias for Svalbard here.
Longyearbyen has many of the usual amenities you’d expect from a small town, like a school, cinema, library, fire service, supermarket and, of course many bars and restaurants. But, the airport, university and Ny-Ålesund research centre have helped the economy since coal mining was in decline.
Svalbard and the Arctic as a whole is becoming an ever more popular destination for tourists. Longyearbyen has adapted to this, hosting many dog sledge rides in the winter, accommodation and the main port where cruises and expeditions depart.
Many believe the polar days of eternal darkness in Svalbard to be rather depressing. However, Svalbard is ranked in the top 10 of the 2023 World Happiness Report!
What is Svalbard famous for?
Svalbard has gained significant recognition for its beautiful and captivating scenery, rugged terrain, and natural phenomena like the Northern Lights. But more commonly, this region is also known for its population of polar bears, which are often referred to as the kings of the north.
Today, Svalbard plays an essential role in research and climate studies, making it an important destination for scientists and researchers across the world.
However, despite its current status as a hub for research and eco-tourism, the history of Svalbard is marked by exploitation and resource extraction. Many countries, including Norway, Russia, and the Netherlands, exploited the islands for their abundant coal and whale blubber reserves.
This exploitation had a significant impact on the region’s environment and contributed to the depletion of natural resources. Despite this, Svalbard has managed to regain its footing and is now an important location for research, conservation, and tourism.