Spitsbergen and Jan Mayen – the common name of belonging to Norway


Svalbard Archipelago – this is the northernmost tip of Europe, which is a cluster of small islands in the Arctic Ocean. They are mostly part of the Kingdom of Norway, with the exception of the island of Svenskøya, which belongs to Sweden. There is also a settlement on West Spitsbergen called Barentsburg and two mothballed settlements of Grumant and Pyramid that belong to Russia.

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Video: Svalbard


The archipelago includes three major islands: Northeast Land, West Svalbard, and Edge. In addition to these, there are several smaller ones: Prince Charles Land, Wilhelm Island, Barents Island, the islands of White, Svenskøya, Bear Island and other even smaller ones. The administrative center is the city of Longyear. Svalbard is the Norwegian name of the archipelago, which translates as “cold land.

Here the traveler can admire the mountain peaks, endless snow-covered expanses and polar animals. The sphere of tourism on the islands is very well developed, so guests can easily choose something to their liking.


It is believed that Spitsbergen was discovered by the Vikings around the XII century, and from the XVII century mentioned Pomors under the name Grumant. At the end of the XVI century, the Dutchman Willem Barents “officially” discovered the islands, documenting their location and descriptions. He named the main one Spitsbergen, which means “pointed mountains. Here were found large colonies of whales, as well as walruses, which served as the beginning of their commercial extermination.

Already in the XVIII century there were almost completely destroyed animals, and interest in the islands has waned. However, in the 19th century, in the archipelago activity boiled up again – the rapid development of Arctic tourism, as well as polar research. Islands served as an excellent base for the most famous polar explorers from around the world. And after a while were even discovered deposits of coal. Later they were actively developed by European countries and Russia.

Prince Charles Land, in 1973 here is created the national park Forlandet Walrus at rest Seagulls

Today Spitsbergen is almost entirely a protected area, which made it possible to largely restore the flora and fauna of the islands. This is why, by the way, you should be extremely careful when leaving populated areas – polar bear attacks are not uncommon.

Beware of bears! – sign applies to the whole of Spitsbergen.

There has never been a native population here, with the beginning of commercial activities settled hunters, fishermen and miners. Today the islands are home to quite a few people from more than 40 nationalities.

Types of recreation

In the winter, you can go skiing, master some of the slopes, ride a dog sled, participate in snowmobile safaris. In summer, the mountain walks can be perfectly combined with recreation on the water: boat cruises, kayaking. Also in the summer tourists go for a drive on the dog sled, visit tours to bird bazaars or rookeries of walruses. Visits to old mines, ice caves, glaciers, and local fjords are popular.

There are also several man-made attractions: Longyear Church, Spitsbergen Museum and Gallery, Doomsday Warehouse, University, and so on. In local bars, restaurants and pubs you can taste whale meat, wild deer, seal, lake trout, grouse.

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Longyear Church The Doomsday Storehouse Spitsbergen University


From March to August, there is a polar day here. It is during this period that it is worth going to Svalbard. It is very dangerous to wander here during the polar night. Because of severe climatic conditions tourists are not allowed out of settlements without proper equipment, insurance, a signal gun and a radio or satellite phone.

Aurora Borealis on Spitsbergen Summer on Spitsbergen

All tourist movements are strictly controlled by the Norwegian authorities. In addition, a permit is required to leave the settlement, but it is not difficult.

The hotel industry and the tourism business in general is quite developed here. The only nuance – all very expensive. So, for one night in the hotel travelers have to pay up to 120 dollars. However, this does not stop tourists who want to experience all the charms of the polar winter.

Reindeer in search of snow The town of Longyear – the capital of Spitsbergen

Travel to Spitsbergen is mainly organized by Norway and Russia. Most travelers, including Russian travelers, fly via Oslo to Longyear with a connection in Tromsø. However, there are also direct routes, which are relevant in the summer. You can find them by examining the flight schedules of airlines SAS and Norwegian.

Be prepared for the fact that in the spring and fall you will have to drive a snowmobile to get around on local roads. And in the summer, paddling, motorboat and kayak skills will come in handy.


From Iceland to Spitsbergen about 1800 kilometers and two walking days, which the ship follows the northeasterly course of the Greenland Sea. I think it is worth to give a detailed description of Spitsbergen now, so that readers already have an idea of this Arctic land and then, when describing the cruise program on the archipelago, not to stop there.

The Svalbard archipelago consists of three large and seven smaller islands, as well as dozens of smaller islets and skerries, and stretches about 700 kilometers from north to south. The southernmost part of the archipelago – Bear Island (Bjornoya) is situated at about 74 degrees parallel, and the northernmost point (Rossoya Island) – at about 81 degrees latitude. From the northern tip of Spitsbergen it is only about 1,000 kilometers to the North Pole, and to the south it is also 1,000 kilometers to Cape Nordkapp. The archipelago has an area of 62500 square kilometers, which is equal to the territory of Belgium and Holland combined. About 60% of Svalbard is covered by glaciers, 30% is bare rock and only 10% is covered by soil and vegetation – mostly in the valleys of central Svalbard. Spitsbergen forms the north-western corner of the European continental plate, the shallow shelf of the Barents Sea with typical depths of 200-300 meters adjoins the archipelago from the south and southeast, the northern part of Spitsbergen is washed by the waters of the Arctic Ocean, almost immediately breaking through to a depth of 2000 meters, while from the west Spitsbergen is washed by the waters of the deep Greenland Sea. The boundary between the Northern European and Arctic basins of the Arctic Ocean runs along the line between Spitsbergen and Greenland, in the wide Fram Strait, which plays an important role as a link between the almost always blocked by ice Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic and through it to the rest of the oceans of the world.

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Svalbard is one of the most northern lands in the world. Only the Russian archipelagos Franz Josef Land and Severnaya Zemlya, as well as the northern part of Greenland and the islands of Northern Canada are located at about the same latitude to the east. In contrast to these territories, almost always surrounded by powerful drifting ice fields, Svalbard is washed by one of the northern branches of the Gulf Stream, so the ocean from the western coast of the archipelago is ice-free almost all year round, and the climate here, despite its northern Arctic location, is quite mild for such latitude. This is why Spitsbergen is one of the most visited and easily accessible areas of the Arctic, which, in particular, can be reached by an ordinary cruise ship. Since this and subsequent parts of the report will deal with one of the world’s northernmost Arctic territories, I think it will be interesting to mention some of the “northernmost” world records. Also for better further perception let me remind you that latitudinal positions of any geographical objects in the Northern Hemisphere are always given in degrees of northern latitude. Zero degree of northern latitude is the equator, 90 degrees is the North Pole. A degree is divided by 60 minutes, and a minute is divided by 60 seconds. One degree of latitude is approximately 111 kilometers.

So, the northernmost point of the earth is the northern tip of Greenland, located almost on the 84th parallel. For Europe and even Eurasia, the northernmost point of the earth is Cape Fligeli on Rudolf Island in Franz Josef Land, located at 81°52° latitude. The northernmost point of Spitsbergen is the tiny island of Rossoya (80°50´). The northernmost bases in the world are the polar stations drifting in the Arctic near the North Pole, mostly Russian. On Earth, the northernmost bases are “Alert” on the island of Ellesmere and station “North” in Greenland. In Europe and Eurasia the northernmost active base is Russian naval base Nagurskoye on Alexandra island in Franz Josef Land (it was visited, by the way, by our current president, and then prime minister, in September 2008) – latitude 80°48′. Before that in the Soviet Union there was also another, more northern base, located on Rudolf island in Franz Josef Land, but it was closed in 1995 and is now abandoned. The most northern settlement in the world with full year-round life – is the capital of Spitsbergen Longyearbyon with a population of 2080 people, located at latitude 78 ° 15 °. A little further north is NY Alesund (78°55′), but this, in contrast to Longyearbyon, is a very small settlement, which can be classified more likely all the same to the stations – only 35 people live there in winter. Svalbard has the world’s northernmost hotel, post office, swimming pool, civil airport, and the world’s northernmost newspaper.

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The climate of Spitsbergen is caused by three main factors – the extreme northern location of the archipelago, the strong influence of winds and sea currents. One of the northern branches of the Gulf Stream, called the Spitsbergen Current, provides a much milder climate here than in other places located at the same latitude. North Greenland, as well as the Arctic archipelagos of Russia and Canada, are surrounded by thick fields of drifting ice, while Spitsbergen can be reached almost year-round by free water. In contrast to the west, the east coast of Spitsbergen is influenced by already cold currents. And drifting ice is not uncommon here. The average temperature in July in the central part of Spitsbergen is about +6 degrees and -15 degrees in January, although in general the weather is very different.

Now let’s take a moment to look at such a concept as the Arctic. What is the Arctic? There is no unambiguous and indisputable official definition and absolutely clear boundaries. It is better to be guided by a combination of several factors at once. The first of them is the Arctic Circle. The simplest definition, but the least correct and useful, is that the entire territory north of the Arctic Circle is the Arctic. The Polar Circles in the Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres are imaginary lines to the north (and for the southern hemisphere, respectively, to the south) of which the sun does not set below the horizon at least once a year. The polar circles run at 66°33′44″ north and south latitude, respectively. The closer to the Pole (90°) from the Polar Circle, the more nights in summer the sun stays above the horizon line – up to half a year at the poles. This phenomenon of sunlight around the clock is called the midnight sun or polar day. In the same places where there is a polar day in summer, there is a polar night in winter – the sun doesn’t appear over the horizon 24 hours a day. From the mathematical point of view, the duration of the polar day and the polar night should be the same for the same latitude. In fact, the polar day lasts a little longer – because of the peculiarities of light refraction in the Earth’s atmosphere, a man can still see the sun, even if it has already slightly hidden behind the horizon. For example, in the central Spitsbergen the polar day lasts 4 months without sunset, while the polar night lasts only 3 months and 20 days. During the polar night it is completely dark all day long only at very high latitudes – for example, on Spitsbergen in December and January, which makes it possible to observe rare and beautiful aurora borealis all day long. At the beginning and end of the polar night period, as well as in areas only slightly north of the Arctic Circle (like northern Norway, Murmansk, the far north of Siberia, and Canada), the sun is only slightly below the horizon during the day, and there are still several hours without sun, but with sunset illumination during the day.

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In terms of nature and the definition of the Arctic, it makes no difference whether the sun goes below the horizon for at least a day in summer or not. In the same northern Scandinavia, dense mixed forests grow at the latitude of the Arctic Circle, and conversely, in Canada, polar bears and Arctic nature spread well south of the Arctic Circle. Therefore, it is more correct to use two other factors, not the Polar Circle line, to define the Arctic: the boundary of the forest zone and the boundary of the zone where the average July temperature does not exceed 10 degrees. These two imaginary lines, if superimposed on a map, practically coincide and most clearly characterize the borders of the Arctic. From this point of view, the Arctic includes almost all of Greenland, Spitsbergen, all the Arctic Ocean archipelagos (North Land, Franz Josef Land and others), the continental belt of northern Canada and Russia (from the Kola Peninsula to the Bering Strait). Northern Scandinavia (including the mass tourism area of Cape Nordkapp), which is south of the border of tree growth, does not belong to the Arctic.

Winter on Spitsbergen lasts from late October to late April, but despite the Arctic location of the archipelago, it is not as cold as one would expect – in the coldest month of January the temperature rarely drops below -30 degrees thanks to the Gulf Stream. Summer on Spitsbergen is very short – from early June to mid-August. It is during this short period that Svalbard is visited by most tourists.

After this description of the archipelago, let’s return to the ship, which spent two days on the Greenland Sea from Iceland to Spitsbergen, the main goal of our cruise. Yesterday we were in Iceland, heated by the Earth’s depths, but, after stepping on deck in the morning, it became immediately clear that overnight the ship ran very far north, and now we are in the real Arctic! Cold, piercing wind. Good thing I brought plenty of warm clothes, including a down ski jacket.

On the first of the two days of sailing, the Costa Pacifica was passing Jan Mayen Island in the Greenland Sea at 71°02° latitude. Discovered by the Dutch whaler Jan Mayen in 1614 and for a long time under the influence of the Dutch or even “no man’s land,” since 1929 it is a Norwegian territory. Currently the island is a station of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, as well as a military station long-range navigation LORAN-S. Jan Mayen Island has an elongated shape and consists of two parts, called North Jan and South Jan. Jan Mayen is a volcanic island with the Beerenberg volcano, 2277 m high, in its northern part. For a long time it was considered dormant, but in 1970 this snow-capped Arctic giant resumed its activity – its last eruption was recorded in 1985. Beerenberg volcano is the most northern active volcano in the world.

Guernsey is an island in the English Channel, part of the Channel Islands

Jan Mayen Island met our ship harshly – there was a strong wind and most of the island was covered with fog. But in such weather the Arctic landscapes are perceived, perhaps even more strongly – the rugged stone beauty!

A tiny island in the middle of the Greenland Sea – 500 km to Iceland, 600 to Spitsbergen, 700 to Norway and 400 to Greenland. How is the life here for half a year Norwegian communicators and polar explorers associated with the mainland only rare flights of the Norwegian Defense Ministry aircraft C-130 “Hercules” with the Norwegian military base in Budø. And Hercules can not always come here. What can I say, the climate here is harsh. The ship sails along Jan Mayen island for about three hours. Despite the cold, there is incredible excitement on the decks. Where is the giant snow-covered volcano? Or is it all made up by geographers? Everywhere you look there are only brown rocks going into the thick milky fog…

10. From the deck of the ship we can clearly see the buildings of the Norwegian station.

11. Suddenly the thick veil parted and a huge mountain opened right in front of us – a phantom volcano decided to show itself to the tourists for a while!

The ship passed the northern tip of the island and continued to Svalbard, and the island of Jan Mayen, with its giant volcano and courageous Norwegian polar explorers, remains behind.

19. The volcano, shown for a while, is gradually obscured by clouds – as if it never existed.

The ship continues its way to Spitsbergen. Both days the weather was overcast. But even in this weather in the middle of the night the midnight sun cast its almost steep rays.

23. Lonely iceberg.

24. Deep night at latitude 73.

26. Night sun in the clouds.

27. Morning at latitude 75.

29. Night at latitude 77. The sun’s rays piercing through the dense cloud cover are practically plumb!

And we, having traveled 1,800 kilometers north in two days, are ready to meet Spitsbergen.

Posts from This Journal by “Spitsbergen” Tag

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