(redirected from West Spitsbergen)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.


Spitsbergen (spĭtsˈbərgən), 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. It is indented by large bays including Isfjorden and Kongsfjorden. Spitsbergen contains the chief mining towns of Svalbard including Longyearbyen, the administrative center. Tourism and scientific research are also important. The Svalbard International Seed Vault, a global backup storage facility for the world's seed banks, is on Spitsbergen outside Longyearbyen. The island served as the starting point for polar expeditions of Nils Nordenskjöld, Salomon Andrée, Roald Amundsen, Richard Byrd, Sir George Wilkins, and others.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, 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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(ancient Russian name, Grumant; ancient Scandinavian and present Norwegian name, Svalbard), an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, including also Bear Island and a number of small islands. Norwegian possession. Area, about 62,000 sq km. Population, 3,400 (1976).

The largest islands are Vestspitsbergen (West Spitsbergen), North East Island, Edge Island, and Barents Island. The shores are cut by fjords, primarily in the west and north. Mountain ranges alternate with plateaus and broad valleys. The highest point is Mount Newton (1,712 m), on Vestspitsbergen. Most of Spitsbergen is included in the Caledonian folding of Europe. Spitsbergen is composed of a thick (more than 10 km) sedimentary stratum of the Hecla Hoek series (Riphean quartzites, slates, dolomites, and limestones and Cambrian and Ordovician dolomites and limestones) with intrusions of Caledonian granite overlain by Devonian lagoon red sediments (up to 8 km thick). The eastern part of the archipelago (North East Island) is partially included within the hypothetical ancient platform called Barentsia, whose mantle is composed of Carboniferous and Cretaceous sand and shale strata up to 3 km thick as well as traps. There is a depression on Vestspitsbergen filled with Tertiary terrigenous strata containing seams of high-quality coal (reserves of about 8 billion tons). Coal is mined at Barentsburg and the Pyramid mine by Soviet enterprises and near Longyearbyen by a Norwegian joint-stock company.

Ice sheets and outlet and mountain glaciers, with a total area of 35,100 sq km, occupy more than one-half of Spitsbergen. The arctic marine climate is mitigated by the influence of the warm West Spitsbergen Current, a northeastern continuation of the North Atlantic Drift, which is most strongly manifested in the western part of Spitsbergen. On the coast the mean temperature in March, the coldest month in most of Spitsbergen, ranges from –13°C in the west to –21°C in the east; corresponding figures for July are 4°–5°C and 1°–2°C. Up to 400 mm of precipitation, almost exclusively in the form of snow, falls annually in the southeast, about 150 mm in the northeast, and 800–1,200 mm on the glaciers. Permanently frozen rocks are widespread. Mosses and lichens predominate, although there are about 150 species of higher plants. Dwarf willows and birches occur. Mammals include the polar bear, the reindeer, and the musk ox (brought in from Greenland), as well as sea mammals, such as the walrus, the ringed seal, the harp seal, and the beluga. The coastal waters are covered with ice most of the year.


Spitsbergen was visited by the Pomory in the 11th and 12th centuries, a fact known in Western Europe as early as the 15th century. Spitsbergen was rediscovered in 1596–97 by the expedition of the Dutch navigator W. Barents. It long remained unclaimed. Between the 18th and early 20th centuries numerous Russian scientists visited the archipelago. The first Norwegian winter settlement was established on Spitsbergen in 1822.

The international legal status of Spitsbergen is defined by the multilateral Treaty of Paris of Feb. 9, 1920, signed by the United States, Great Britain and its dominions, France, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Japan, the Netherlands, and other countries. The USSR became a de facto participant in the treaty in 1924 and formally joined it in 1935. By 1977, 40 states had signed the treaty. The treaty established Norwegian sovereignty over the Spits bergen archipelago, including Bear Island, stipulating that it be demilitarized and neutral. It obliges Norway not to establish or permit the establishment of naval bases on Spitsbergen and not to build any fortifications. It stipulates that Spitsbergen should never be used for military purposes. The ships and citizens of the signatory states are accorded equal rights to fishing and hunting and to engage in navigation, industry, mining (the mining statute is a constituent part of the treaty), and commercial affairs on Spitsbergen and in surrounding territorial waters. The USSR has a consulate in the archipelago.



Nansen, F. Sobr. soch., vol. 4: Shpitsbergen. Moscow-Leningrad, 1938. (Translated from Norwegian.)
Oledenenie Shpitsbergena (Sval’barda). Moscow, 1975.
Livshits, Iu. Ia. Paleogenovye otlozheniia i platformennaia struktura Shpitsbergena. Leningrad, 1973.
Krasil’shchikov, A. A. Stratigrafiia i paleotektonika dokembriia—rannegopaleozoia Shpitsbergena. Leningrad, 1973.
Greve, T. Svalbard. [Oslo, 1975.]
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Interannual changes in zooplankton on the West Spitsbergen Shelf in relation to hydrography and their consequences for the diet of planktivorous seabirds.
Warming of Atlantic Water in two west Spitsbergen fjords over the last century (1912-2009).
The beginning of a significant sea level rise was noted also in the Voringen Member of the lowermost Kapp Starostin Formation, West Spitsbergen (Keilen 1992).
Coeval temperature fall was also recognized in the uppermost part of the Gipshuken Formation of West Spitsbergen and approximately contemporaneous deposits of the Sverdrup Basin of the Canadian Arctic (Beauchamp at al.
Washington, August 16 (ANI): Scientists have found that the warming of the northward-flowing West Spitsbergen current in the Arctic over the last thirty years has contributed to global warming by triggering the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from methane hydrate stored in the sediment beneath the seabed.

Full browser ?