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(spĭts`bərgən), formerly


largest island (15,075 sq mi/39,044 sq km) of SvalbardSvalbard
, 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.
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, 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 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. 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 NordenskjöldNordenskjöld, Nils Adolf Erik, Baron
, 1832–1901, Swedish geologist and arctic explorer, first to navigate the Northeast Passage, b. Finland. He served as geologist on several expeditions to Spitsbergen under Otto Torrell, the noted Swedish geologist, on one of which
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, Salomon AndréeAndrée, Salomon August
, 1854–97, Swedish polar explorer, grad. Royal Inst. of Technology, Stockholm. An aeronautical engineer and head of the Swedish patent office's technical department, he was the first to attempt arctic exploration by air.
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, Roald AmundsenAmundsen, Roald
(Roald Engelbregt Grauning Amundsen) , 1872–1928, Norwegian polar explorer; the first person to reach the South Pole. He served (1897–99) as first mate on the Belgica
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, Richard ByrdByrd, Richard Evelyn,
1888–1957, American aviator and polar explorer, b. Winchester, Va. He took up aviation in 1917, and after World War I he gained great fame in the air. He commanded the naval air unit with the arctic expedition of D. B. MacMillan in 1925.
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, Sir George WilkinsWilkins, Sir George Hubert,
1888–1958, British explorer, b. Australia. He made a number of trips to Antarctica and to the Arctic. Valuable experience gained when he accompanied Vilhjalmur Stefansson's expedition (1913–18) to the Arctic and Sir Ernest Shackleton's
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, and others.
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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.
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