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(sväl`bärd), archipelago (23,958 sq mi/62,051 sq km), island group (2015 est. pop. 2,700), possession of Norway, located in the Arctic Ocean, c.400 mi (640 km) N of the Norwegian mainland and between lat. 74°N and 81°N. The main islands of the group are SpitsbergenSpitsbergen
, formerly Vestspitsbergen,
largest island (15,075 sq mi/39,044 sq km) of Svalbard, a Norwegian possession in the Arctic Ocean. It rises to Newtontoppen Mt. (c.5,650 ft/1,720 m), the highest point.
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 (formerly Vestspitsbergen), Nordaustlandet, EdgeøyaEdgeøya
or Edge Island,
island of the Svalbard group, 1,942 sq mi (5,030 sq km), Norway, in the Barents Sea, E of Spitsbergen. It rises to 2,349 ft (716 m). An ice field covers SE Edgeøya.
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, BarentsøyaBarentsøya
or Barents Island
, island of Svalbard, 513 sq mi (1,329 sq km), in Barents Sea between Spitsbergen and Edgeøya. The island rises to 1,302 ft (397 m).
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, and Prins Karls Forland; surrounding islands include Hopen, Kong Karls LandKong Karls Land
or King Charles Land,
island group, 128 sq mi (332 sq km), in the Barents Sea, part of the Norwegian possession of Svalbard, W of Spitsbergen. It includes Kongsøya, Svenskøya, and Abeløya islands.
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, Kvitøya, and BjørnøyaBjørnøya
, island, 69 sq mi (179 sq km), in the Barents Sea, c.275 mi (440 km) N of Norway; southernmost island of Svalbard. It rises to 1,759 ft (536 m). There are polar fox and polar bear on the island. Probably known to Norsemen in the 12th cent.
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 (Bear Island).

Land and People

The islands form plateaus intersected by deep fjords, of which Isfjorden is the largest. Spitsbergen, the largest island, contains the highest mountain of the group (Newtontoppen, c.5,650 ft/1,720 m) and the principal settlements of LongyearbyenLongyearbyen
, town and administrative center of Svalbard, on Isfjorden, Spitsbergen island. It was founded (1905) as a coal-mining settlement by an American company and named after the American miner J. M. Longyear. Its coal mines were transferred to a Norwegian company in 1916.
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 (the administrative center), Ny-ÅlesundNy-Ålesund
[New Alesund], town, on Kongsfjorden, NW Spitsbergen island, Svalbard, Norway. Established as a coal-mining settlement, it is now a largely seasonal scientific research center.
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, and BarentsburgBarentsburg
, town, Spitsbergen island, Svalbard, Norway. Though tourism is increasingly economically significant, Barentsburg was originally a coal-mining settlement, established (1912) by a Norwegian company.
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. Spitsbergen has served as the base for many polar expeditions. Some 60% of the small population is Norwegian and 20% Russian and Ukrainian.

The warm North Atlantic Drift makes navigation possible for more than half the year along the western coasts. Ice fields and glaciers cover more than 60% of the area, but some 130 species of arctic vegetation flourish near the coast and on patches of interior tundra. Waterfowl abound, but land game has been rendered nearly extinct by hunting and is now protected, in addition to seals, walruses, and whales. The chief wealth of the islands was for decades derived from their mineral resources, most notably coal, but the tourism is now increasingly significant. Deposits of asbestos, copper, gypsum, iron, marble, zinc, and phosphate also exist. Scientific research is the third mainstay of the local economy.


Discovered (1194) by the Vikings, the islands were forgotten until their rediscovery (1596) by Willem BarentzBarentz or Barents, Willem
, d. 1597, Dutch navigator. He made three voyages (1594, 1595, 1596–97) in search of the Northeast Passage to Asia. He reached Novaya Zemlya on the first two expeditions.
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, the Dutch navigator. For a decade after Henry HudsonHudson, Henry,
fl. 1607–11, English navigator and explorer. He was hired (1607) by the English Muscovy Company to find the Northeast Passage to Asia. He failed, and another attempt (1608) to find a new route was also fruitless.
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 reported (1607) good whaling there, English and Dutch whalers quarreled over the territory; in 1618 they compromised, the Dutch limiting their operations to the northern part, leaving the rest to the English, the French, and the Hanseatic LeagueHanseatic League
, mercantile league of medieval German towns. It was amorphous in character; its origin cannot be dated exactly. Originally a Hansa was a company of merchants trading with foreign lands.
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. The Danes at the same time claimed the islands as part of Greenland.

After the decline of whaling, the group became (18th cent.) a hunting ground for Russian and Scandinavian fur traders. In the late 19th cent., the islands were mapped by many notable explorers, and important coal deposits were discovered. For a half century after the discovery of coal, Norway, Russia, and Sweden negotiated for the islands.

By a treaty signed at Paris in 1920 and subsequently ratified by the other claimants, they were awarded to Norway which took formal possession of them in 1925. The treaty prohibited military installations on the islands and ensured recognition of claims of other countries to parts of the coal fields. In World War II, Svalbard was raided (Aug., 1941) by an Allied party that evacuated the civilian population to England and rendered the mines inoperable. A German garrison was expelled in 1942 by a small Norwegian force. In Sept., 1943, the German battleships Tirpitz and Scharnhorst, with 10 destroyers, completed the devastation of the mines and mining installations by bombarding the islands.

In 1944 the USSR—which had not signed the 1920 treaty but which had later adhered to it—was refused a request to share with Norway in the administration and defense of Svalbard. After the war the mining settlements were rebuilt. Coal mining concessions operated from the 1930s by the USSR and later Russia once accounted for a significant portion of the coal shipped from Svalbard, but coal mining has greatly decreased from its height in the 1950s.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean, between 74° and 81° N lat. and 10° and 35° E long., including the Spitsbergen archipelago, Bear Island, and a number of small islands. The islands, which belong to Norway, have a total area of over 62,000 sq km. An area of 35,100 sq km is glaciated. Coal is mined on the island of Spitsbergen by Norwegian and Soviet companies. The most heavily settled area is Longyear City, the seat of government of Svalbard.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, about 650 km (400 miles) north of Norway: consists of the main group (Spitsbergen, North East Land, Edge Island, Barents Island, and Prince Charles Foreland) and a number of outlying islands; sovereignty long disputed but granted to Norway in 1920; coal mining. Administrative centre: Longyearbyen. Area: 62 050 sq. km (23 958 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Four others were being treated in hospital at Longyearbyen on the Svalbard island of Spitsbergen.
The injured were initially sent to a hospital at Longyearbyen on the Svalbard island of Spitsbergen.
As the Huddersfield Film Makers Club marks its 80th year, Anne and Gordon Sharp captured 80degN in the High Arctic, a photographic expedition around the Svalbard Islands which won the couple the club's Film of the Year award.
Investigators are trying to find out whether the ship, the Alexey Maryshev, was too close to the glacier in the Svalbard islands, 300 miles north of Norway.
Air traffic controllers in northern Norway said the balloon entered Norwegian airspace over the Svalbard Islands on Sunday.
Tourists visiting the remote Svalbard Islands, near Norway, arm themselves with rifles as protection against marauding polar bears.
Former Northumbria University Students' Union president Michael Reid was an expedition leader with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) in August 2011 when 17-year-old Horatio Chapple was attacked in the Svalbard islands. The Eton pupil was sleeping in his tent when the bear attacked, inflicting fatal injuries to his head and body.
Former Northumbria University Students' Union president Michael Reid was an expedition leader with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) in August 2011 when Horatio Chapple was fatally attacked during an adventure holiday in the Svalbard islands.
Reports suggest the attack happened about 25 miles from the town of Longyearbyen in the Svalbard islands, which are part of Norway.
ICE COOL AT THE POLE A bear chills out on top of an ice floe in the Arctic's Svalbard islands in this shot from Switzerland's Antoine Beyeler THE RED PLANET A dramatic landscape from his native Italy is brilliantly captured by photographer Sauro Fioran in a piece simply called The Thrill IT'S GOING SWIMMINGLY Competitors start a three-mile event in San Diego, California - watched by birds on the shore and snapper Lie Sie SURFISM - A NEW RELIGION This image is by Italian photographer Fabrizio Cestari who is also a finalist in the Lifestyle category.
Horatio Chapple had been on an adventure holiday to the remote Svalbard islands last summer with the British Schools Exploring Society (BSES) when he died.