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Svea Nord: Norway's largest coal mine in Spitsbergen

360 degree panorama and photo gallery

Svea Nord is a coal mine that is part of the Nor­we­gi­an mining sett­le­ment Sveagru­va. Svea Nord was ope­ned in 2001 and for a cou­p­le of years it was the main coal mine of Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni (SNSK), who also own and run mine 7 clo­se to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The annu­al pro­duc­tion in Svea Nord was up to 3 mil­li­on tons – not a rele­vant quan­ti­ty on the world mar­ket, but the big­gest pro­duc­ti­vi­ty ever reached in a coal mine in Spits­ber­gen. The impres­si­ve thic­kness of up to 6 metres of the coal seems in Svea did cer­tain­ly help to achie­ve this. As a result, SNSK made some good pro­fits with coal mining in Svea Nord for some years. Pro­fits are the excep­ti­on rather than the rule for coal mining in Spits­ber­gen.

Mining was ter­mi­na­ted in Svea Nord in 2015. Alrea­dy in 2013, SNSK had ope­ned a new coal mine at Lunck­ef­jel­let a bit fur­ther north, but it never came into the sta­ge of pro­duc­ti­ve ope­ra­ti­on. The rea­sons were wit­hin poli­tics and eco­no­my. In 2017, the Nor­we­gi­an government, as the owner of SNSK, deci­ded to put an end to all coal mining in Sveagru­va inclu­ding Svea Nord and Lunck­ef­jel­let.

The Lunck­ef­jel­let mine was alrea­dy clo­sed fore­ver in ear­ly 2019. Svea Nord was under­go­ing the final sta­ges of a com­pre­hen­si­ve cleanup at the time of wri­ting (Febru­a­ry 2020) and is expec­ted to be clo­sed soon in March. Gre­at volu­mes of various mate­ri­als and equip­ment are remo­ved from the mine, espe­cial­ly ever­ything that inclu­des envi­ron­ment­al­ly rele­vant mate­ri­als. Also this mine will then fore­ver be com­ple­te­ly inac­ces­si­ble.

The pan­ora­mas – over­view

Svea Nord map (drawing by the aut­hor, sim­pli­fied)

The sca­le is immense: the main tun­nel, on the left side of this map (but not com­ple­te­ly shown), is more than 10 kilo­me­tres long! It starts in the sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va and ends at Mart­hab­reen, whe­re a road went over the gla­cier to the Lunck­ef­jel­let mine. The­re was ano­t­her entrance/exit at Hög­an­äs­breen.

The area in the sou­thern part of the mine that resem­bles a snow crys­tal is from an ear­ly sta­ge of the histo­ry of Svea Nord. Here, coal pro­duc­tion was star­ted as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, using the so-cal­led “room-and-pil­lar” method whe­re pil­lars of coal are left to sta­bi­li­se the roof at least tem­pora­ri­ly. This method could be taken into ope­ra­ti­on rela­tively quick­ly to make money that was nee­ded to finan­ce pro­duc­tion fur­the­ron. But as lar­ge volu­mes of coal had to be left behind to sta­bi­li­se the roof, it is less eco­no­mi­c­al than the “longwall”-method. Hence, the long­wall method was used as soon as pos­si­ble: here, lar­ge machi­nes break coal on a long wall without lea­ving anything behind.

Svea Nord map – detail –

In any case, every area is kept sta­ble only as long as necessa­ry. Both the abo­ve-men­tio­ned “snow crys­tal” and the lar­ge room-and-pil­lar pro­duc­tion are­as from later sta­ges (hat­ched are­as) have col­lap­sed a long time ago. The mine as shown on the map did never exist at any one given time! It is rather a sum­ma­ry of sub­se­quent sta­ges of the histo­ry of Svea Nord.

Sam­ple taking and pho­to­gra­phy (Decem­ber 2019)

Entrance to Svea Nord, Sveagruva

Ent­ran­ce to the main tun­nel of the mine Svea Nord in Sveagru­va.

Accord­in­gly, we could only access an area in the sou­thern part of Svea Nord when we went in in Decem­ber 2019. “We”, that was geo­lo­gist Mal­te Joch­mann, mining engi­neer Kris­tin Løvø (you will have heard that fami­ly name befo­re if you are fami­li­ar with Longyearbyen’s local histo­ry), geo­lo­gi­cal assi­stant Mat­thi­as and me (Rolf Stan­ge) as pho­to­gra­pher.

Sample taking in Svea Nord

Sam­ple taking in Svea Nord.
From left to right: Rolf Stan­ge, Kris­tin Løvø, Mal­te Joch­mann, Mat­thi­as.

I want to take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to thank Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni and espe­cial­ly Mal­te Joch­mann for giving me the pret­ty uni­que oppor­tu­ni­ty to join them and take pho­tos. Coal mines are not public pla­ces and if you ever have the chan­ce to get in, then you are usual­ly not allo­wed to bring a came­ra (or any other electric or elec­tro­nic equip­ment). All eletri­cal items have to be che­cked by a mine electri­ci­an and this was in this case made pos­si­ble to enab­le me to shoot the pho­tos and pan­ora­mas shown on this page. The chan­ce to get the­se image is now gone fore­ver! The main pur­po­se of the who­le under­ta­king was, howe­ver, to take a geo­lo­gi­cal sam­ple. I also want to thank Kris­tin Løvø who gave me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get some more mate­ri­al in pla­ces fur­ther away from the sam­ple taking site.

Gal­le­ry Svea Nord (1)

Some pho­tos taken in Decem­ber 2019:

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Ent­ran­ce to Svea Nord in Sveagru­va

This is the ent­ran­ce to the main tun­nel in Sveagru­va (sett­le­ment). This tun­nel leads to Svea Nord and fur­the­ron to Mart­hab­reen and final­ly to Lunck­ef­jel­let (now histo­ry).

Back to the detail­ed map


Entrance Svea Nord, Höganäsbreen

Ent­ran­ce to Svea Nord at Hög­an­äs­breen.

This ent­ran­ce was acces­si­ble via a road that was built from Sveagru­va over the gla­cier Hög­an­äs­breen.

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Svea Nord is under a gla­cia­ted area, so lar­ge volu­mes of meltwa­ter had to be pum­ped out of the mine every sum­mer. So it could be good to have a boat, and be it to go fishing during lunch break 🙂

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Main tun­nel

The lar­ge main tun­nel, more than 10 kilo­me­tres long, which led from the ent­ran­ce in Sveagru­va along Svea Nord to Mart­hab­reen (con­nec­ting to the road across the gla­cier to Lunck­ef­jel­let).

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SN H8 Tv1

The names are a bit more tech­ni­cal here: SN H8 Tv1 stands for Svea Nord main tun­nel (hove­dstol­len) 8 side tun­nel (tverrs­lag) 1. A side tun­nel is a short tun­nel that con­nects two main tun­nels. The name appears cryp­tic, but tells the initia­ted immedia­te­ly and pre­cise­ly whe­re they are.

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SN H8 Tv2

Ano­t­her impres­si­on of main tun­nel 8, clo­se to the sam­ple taking site. The seam thic­kness (tun­nel height) is more than 4 metres.

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SN H7-H8

Main tun­nels 7 and 8 meet here at a right ang­le.

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SN H7 Tv3

Mining equip­ment in main tun­nel 7.

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SN H7 Tv4

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Other parts of Svea Nord were not acces­si­ble any­mo­re, and time and logistics did now allow for more. But I dare to say that the mate­ri­al pre­sen­ted here gives a rea­son­ab­ly repre­sen­ta­ti­ve impres­si­on of Svea Nord, Spitsbergen’s lar­gest coal mine ever. Other parts loo­ked qui­te simi­lar, pos­si­b­ly acc­cept the “snow crys­tal” (the old room-and-pil­lar area), but this part has alrea­dy col­lap­sed a long time ago.

Svea Nord lea­ves the visi­tor with a dif­fe­rent impres­si­on than the Lunck­ef­jel­let mine, sim­ply becau­se the thic­kness of the coal seam and hence the tun­nel height was much lar­ger (up to 6 metres in Svea Nord, clo­se to 2 metres in Lunck­ef­jel­let). Gene­ral­ly spea­king, coal mines are not ide­al pla­ces for the claus­tro­pho­bic, but if so, Svea Nord would have been the bet­ter choice.

Gal­le­ry Svea Nord (2)

Final­ly, a gal­le­ry with some images from Svea Nord from April 2017. Then, Store Nor­ske had ope­ned the mine for a while for tou­rists who could do gui­ded tours. Of cour­se, we went for the oppor­tu­ni­ty when we had it and got some inte­res­ting impres­si­ons. Back then, we could only use a small came­ra that was pro­vi­ded by Store Nor­ske, but also that one enab­led us to get some inte­res­ting snapshots.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

To page:  → The Sveagru­va area  → Sveagru­va (sett­le­ment)  → Svea Nord  → Lunck­ef­jel­let  → Kapp Ams­ter­dam


By the way:

New book

my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (3): Die Bären­in­sel und Jan May­en”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!


This and other publishing products of the Spitsbergen publishing house in the Spitsbergen-Shop.

last modification: 2020-02-11 · copyright: Rolf Stange