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Svalbard - Spitsbergen

The archipelago of Svalbard is located between 74 ° and 81 ° N and consists of five large islands and many islets. The largest island is Spitsbergen, which represents more than half the surface of Svalbard. About 60% of the Svalbard area covered by glaciers and the annual average temperature is -4 ° C, but the climate differs between the various islands. It is warmer and more humid along the west coast of Spitsbergen. This is because the Gulf Stream and warm air currents coming from the south all year. The weather changes very quickly caused by the warm water-/aircurrents from the south meeting the cold water-/air currents from the north. Svalbard is an Arctic desert as the average yearly precipitation only is 200-300 mm. From April 20 to August 23 is the midnight sun, while the polar night extends from November 11 to January 30.

Svalbard is Icelandic and means "land of the cold coasts". 1596 discovered Spitsbergen by Dutchman Willem Barents. Svalbard's history is usually divided into different eras associated with the natural resources which has been used at different times. On 1600-1700 was the whaling that caused people to go to Svalbard, mainly from the Netherlands, Britain and Germany. 750-1250 whales were shot per year for mainly extracting lard oil. During 1700-1850 Russian hunters focused on walrus products, furs (from polar bear and foxes etc) and down. 1850 when the Russians reduced their hunting Norwegian hunters intensified their activities which was very similar to the Russians. From 1850 onwards, Svalbard also has been a popular destination among researchers and different types of expeditions. In the race to reach the North Pole was first Svalbard starting point for a number of expeditions, such as Andree's balloon ride 1897.

From 1900 and on mining has been important. Particular coal mining, but also phosphorus, gold, lead, zinc, copper and marble has been mined. There are only two land mammals on Svalbard, the arctic fox and Svalbard reindeer. In addition, the polar bear but as it spend most of its time on ice floes it is considered an ocean mammal.

Due to heavy hunting the populations of walrus, polar bear and Svalbard reindeer were heavily reduced and some almost extinct out of Svalbard. But by restriction and regulations of hunting during the twentieth century the individual number have increased. Today it is estimated that the islands have 3 000 polar bears and 10 000 reindeer.

Since 1920, Norway has sovereignty over the islands, which are regulated in the Svalbard treaty. The countries that signed the treaty are as entitled as Norway to conduct various types of business here, but it is the Norwegian law that applies. Svalbard is directly under the Norwegian Government with Sysselmannen as the representative on the islands.

Throughout the history Svalbard is a place where people come and go, not living generation after generation on the islands. The harsh climate and tough jobs with different natural resources have caused many tragic events and sad life stories. Today there are about 2800 inhabitants on Svalbard. Longyearbyen is the largest settlement (2075 persons) and Administration Center. Other settlements are Barentsburg (500pers), Svea Mine, Ny-Alesund, Hornsund and the meteorological stations Hopen and Bjørnøya.

In Longyearbyen the world's northernmost university is located, UNIS. The university offer research and education in Arctic Biology, Arctic Geology, Arctic Geophysics and Arctic Technology. In February 2008, inaugurated a global seed bank on Svalbard, an emergency stock of seeds from around the world with a capacity of 4.5 million seeds. On Svalbard, all military activity is prohibited and this seed bank is located 150 feet into a mountain, making it one of the safest places on earth storage of seeds.

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