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Spitsbergen today

History of Spitsbergen

During the 1970s and 80s, the focus of economical activity has slowly moved away from mining. Longyearbyen is the centre of Norwegian administration. It is the residence of the Sysselmannen (‘Gouvernour’ with police- and to some degree juridical responsibility). Today, Longyearbyen is a centre for modern service industries. Tourism place an important and still-growing role. There is a museum, university, library, school with swimming- and sports hall, kindergarten as well as supermarket, several shops, a gallery and a range of hotels, restaurants and a growing number of tour operators. Tourism, science, administration and – mostly indirectly, through administration of the mine in Sveagruva – mining are now the most important economical activities. Due to its position near the pole, Spitsbergen is a good place for antennas to receive data from certain satellites. For the amount of data, a fibre glass cable has been laid from Longyearbyen to the mainland of Norway, which can provide super-fast internet connection – maybe an opportunity for ‘new economy’ in the low-tax area Svalbard…?

Longyearbyen today: Church

Longyearbyen today: modern housing

Longyearbyen today: modern housing

Today’s centre of Norwegian coal mining is Sveagruva in the innermost Van Mijenfjord. Here, mines were constantly expanded during recent years and mining has reached a scale now large enough to allow economical mining, which is something very unusual in Svalbard’s mining history. Sveagruva (short: Svea) is exclusively a mining settlement without any public – let alone touristic – facilities.

The mines in Ny Ålesund were closed in 1962 after several accidents. Later, the place was re-designed to house an international research village.

Because of its position near the pole, Spitsbergen is a good place for antennas to pick up data from certain satellites.

Because of its position near the pole, Spitsbergen is a good place for antennas to pick up data from certain satellites

Besides the Norwegians, only the Russians still do coal mining. The state-owned Trust Arktikugol has closed Pyramiden in the Billefjord in 1998, but the Russians are still mining in Barentsburg and have plans to open a new mine in Colesbukta between Barentsburg and Longyerabyen. This is disputed, because the valley is biologically one of the richest places in Svalbard.

Outside Ny Ålesund, Polen is the only country next to Norway to run a permanently staffed research station, which is located in the Hornsund.

The Polish station in the Hornsund

The Polish station in the Hornsund

There are several stations. The radio station Isfjord Radio near Kapp Linné im Isfjord is run automatically since 1999 and not in use anymore since a glass fibre cable made it obsolet from a technical point of view. There are still permanently staffed weather stations on Hopen, Bjørnøya as well as Jan Mayen (does not belong to Svalbard).

Today, Trappers are a rare side issue. The only one who deserves to be called a real trapper/professional hunter is a Norwegian who lives a remote life on the northern side of the Isfjord since decades ago. Another one produces down on a small island where Eider ducks are breeding in large numbers, and he keeps bears and foxes away during the breeding season; but he does not live on Svalbard permanently. Other ‘trappers’ can apply to get an old station in the Wijdefjord for a year, but these are usually people who are keen to try themselves in a year of solitude. Economically, trapping is a background activity rather than the motivation to come here. The only exception may be a Norwegian who has already spent several years in a hut in the Woodfjord.


last modification: 2013-10-11 · copyright: Rolf Stange