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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.