Group name of all the islands in the Arctic Ocean which were placed under the sovereignty of Norway by the Treaty of Paris of February 9, 1920. The islands are situated between 74° and 81° northern latitude and 10° and 34° eastern longitude, and comprise Spitsbergen (37 814 km²), Nordaustlandet (14 467 km²), Edgeøya (5073 km²), Barentsøya (1288 km²), Kvitøya (682 km²), Prins Karls Forland (615 km²), Kong Karls Land (331 km²), Hopen (46 km²) and Bjørnøya (178 km²) farthest south. Total area: 61 020 km²
The climate of Svalbard is influenced by two ocean currents: a branch of the warm Gulf Stream which flows northward along the west and north coasts and helps to keep the coastal waters free from ice and navigable during the summer months; the cold Sørkapp (South Cape) current coming in from the sea east of Svalbard, rounding Sørkapp and running northwards along the west coast between the land and the Gulf Stream water, and bringing with it drift-ice which may block the fjords (in the summer) in severe ice years. At Isfjorden the midnight sun is seen for 127 days, and for 112 days the sun is not seen at all (“dark season” = polar night). Here the July mean temperature is close to 5° C. The mean temperature during winter months on the west coast of Spitsbergen is usually between –8° C and –16° C. Winter temperatures may vary by 30° C in a matter of hours. (V. Hisdal, 1998: Svalbard Nature and History. Norsk Polarinstitutt Polarhåndbok no.12, Oslo.) Svalbard is a wild and rugged mountain country, in the interior of which there are large areas covered with ice from which glaciers run down to the coast between sharp mountain ridges and peaks. This rugged character is particularly marked in the northwestern part, where the rocks are of igneous or metamorphic origin. The highest peaks are in the northeast part of Spitsbergen: Newtontoppen 1713 m and Perriertoppen 1712 m (measurements 1996). The peninsula between Isfjorden and Bellsund-Van Mijenfjorden is the region which is least covered with ice. Here are large ice-free valleys and plateau-mountains (due to horizontal or slightly inclined strata). The vegetation consists of the usual Arctic flora: Arctic poppy, the polar willow, several varieties of saxifrage, etc. and is particularly abundant in the broad ice-free valleys. Mammals consist of reindeer, Arctic foxes and polar bears. Bird life is abundant: fulmars, gulls, terns, geese, eiders and aucks. Ptarmigan is the only terrestrial year-round bird-resident. Several species of seals inhabit Svalbard waters,
most common are ringed seals and bearded seals. Walruses were plentiful in former years, but were nearly hunted to extinction. At the turn of the 21st century they were in a recovery face and the estimated population was about 2000 animals. Bowhead whales were abundant at the time of the Dutch discovery, and gave rise to a profitable industry. Svalbard waters are home to several species of whales, the most common being white (Beluga) whales and minke whales.
Geologically, Svalbard presents many interesting features. All geological systems from Cambrian to Tertiary are represented. Of igneous rocks there are, notably in the north, granites and some gabbros. Basaltic rocks are present especially in the eastern part of Spitsbergen. Near the north coast are a few Quaternary volcanoes (extinct) and warm springs. Coal seams occur in the Carboniferous, Cretaceous, and Tertiary systems, the Tertiary coals being of chief commercial value. There are also deposits of anhydrite and gypsum. Occurrences of blende, galena, iron ore, and asbestos are known, but of no economic importance. From 1900 some small companies for the exploitation of coal occurrences were formed by Norwegians, but it soon became necessary to admit foreign capital and expertise. For example, Americans purchased coal claims on the south side of Isfjorden and were the first to commence regular mining operations (in 1906-07). See also Longyearbyen.
The population of Svalbard for the last half of the 20th century was generally twice as many Soviet citizens as Norwegian, in total around 3 500. In 2002 there were approx. 1400 Norwegians and 900 Russians. The “capital” is the settlement of Longyearbyen (Norwegian) with the residence of the sysselmann (governor) and all modern facilities, including the nearby Svalbard Airport. Ny-Ålesund has become a thriving international research centre, while Barentsburg is the only remaining Russian mining settlement.
It is possible that the Norwegians as well as the Icelanders as far back as in the Middle Ages had knowledge of some part or other of the present Svalbard. Thus the Icelandic annals (“Islandske Annaler”) for the year 1194 mention “Svalbarðs fundr” and “Svalbarði fundinn” (“Svalbard was discovered”). In the book of first settlers in Iceland: “Landnámabók” (written in the 13th century) we find a note saying that “fra Langanesi á norðanverðu Islandi er iii. doegra haf til Svalbarða norðr í hafsbotn” (“from L. on the north side of Iceland it is four days sea to Svalbard on the north in hafsbotn”). The name Svalbard is supposed to mean the land with the cold coast. There is, however, no hard evidence for visits from this time. Nor is there unequivocal evidence of Russian Pomor hunting settlements from the 16th century, which have also been claimed through archaeological interpretations. The old Norse conception was that the present Greenland extended eastwards towards Russia, and the Russian name for Svalbard was Grumant, a Russian version of Grønland. The Russians applied the term Grumant vaguely to lands in the Arctic north of Russia, and when the geography of these regions became known the name Grumant stuck to Svalbard. See also Spitsbergen
Reusch (1917) p. 272, Hoel (1920), Nansen 1920, St.prp. Nr. 36 (1924) p. 1