Spitsbergen information: this is what you need to know about Spitsbergen as a good introduction. The Norwegian name for the whole Spitsbergen archipelago is Svalbard. To make the overview simpler, the following introduction is subdivided into chapters:
Click on the map for more detailed views and information
Bjørnøya (Bear Island), a small island between Spitsbergen and Norway
General: Spitsbergen is the name of the main island, whereas, Svalbard is the official name of the whole archipelago between 76°26’N (Bjørnøya) and 80°50’N (Sjuøyane) and 10°30’E and 28°10’E. Earlier, the main island was called Vest-Spitsbergen; this name is abandoned. The total land area is 62,450 km2, thereof 39,500 km2 on the main island Spitsbergen, Edgeøya with 5,150 km2, Barentsøya 1,300 km2, Prins Karls Forland 650 km2. Svalbard is under Norwegian administration and souvereignty, but citizens of all signatary nations have full access (see Spitsbergen Treaty). To protect the environment and the cultural heritage and to ensure safety of travellers, there is a number of rules which Norwegian legislation and, mostly, also common sense provide (see here).
Geology: Very varieted; many chapters of earth history as well as a wide range of different rocks are represented in a relatively small area. This includes some fossil-rich sediments as well as minerals of economic interest, mostly coal. Other valuable minerals have been investigated during the 20th century, but were not mined with success. Exploration continues until today (see the individual areas, click on the map above). There is no active volcanism in Svalbard.
Sedimentary layers at Fuglefjellet west of Longyearbyen.
Landscape: The landscape is very varied because of the geology and the climate. Near the west coast of Spitsbergen, the landscape is very alpine with pointed mountains, which gave Spitsbergen its name. Central, northern and eastern parts of Svalbard tend to be more wide and open, with plateau-shaped mountains. The highest mountains are in northeastern Spitsbergen (Ny Friesland): Newtontoppen is 1,713 metres high, but is not very conspicuously towering above the surrounding, heavily glaciated high plateau – at least, when seen from a distance. The mountains near the west coast, towering above sea level still more than 1000 metres directly next to the fjords, appear to be more spectacular, such as Hornsundtind in Hornsund, south Spitsbergen’s highest mountain with 1431 metres.
Contrasting landscapes: Plateau-shaped mountains in central Spitsbergen (Dickson Land)
Glaciated mountain landscape in northwestern Spitsbergen (Raudfjord).
About 60% of Svalbard’s land area are glaciated, with an decreasing tendency because of climate change. The glaciated varies locally because of the local climate; precipitation and thus glaciation increase generally with altitude and to the west, which is the main source area for moist air. Also northern air masses bring a lot of snow, which is the reason for the vast glaciation of Nordaustland and Kvitøya with their wide ice caps.