General: Barentsøya (‘Barents-Island’). Land area approximately 1300 km2, 50 km long and wide. Named after Willem Barents, the ‘official’ discoverer of Spitsbergen. Barentsøya is very similar to Edgeøya; those two islands are separated by the scenic Freemansund, which is only a few kilometres wide. Barentsøya is often surrounded by ice well into the summer. Together with Edgeøya, it is part of the Southeast Svalbard Nature reserve and thus protected (see rules).
Southern side of Barentsøya in Freemansund with typical landscape of plateau-shaped hills and mountains and Freemanbreen (-gletscher).
Geology: Same as Edgeøya. Rather uniform Triassic sediments (lower Mesozoic, 205-250 million years ago), sand-, silt- and claystone. These were deposited in shallow shelf seas and near the coast (delta sediments etc.), partly in an anoxic (lack of oxygen) environment, thus rich in organic matter and often rather dark in appereance. The sediments are largely undeformed, the layers have more or less kept their original, horizontal position. Some layers are very rich in fossils (ammonites, shells etc.). Some of the deltaic sandstones contain thin coal seams, but due to their low quantitiy and quality, they are not of economic interest.
Within the triassic sediments, there is one layer of black paper shale which often forms steep cliffs, visible for example on both sides of the Freemansund. Where small rivers are cutting through it, there are often little canyons (Freemansund, Diskobukta).
There are doleritic (‘basaltic’) intrusions in some places from the upper Jurassic to Cretaceous. Because of their relative hardness, these intrusions often form capes, islands and protruding cliffs in otherwise rather gentle slopes or, respectively, uniform coastlines.
Steep cliff of hard dolerite. Southwestern Barentsøya.
Recommended book for further, well-digestable (really!) info about geology and landscape of Svalbard.
Landscape: As Edgeøya. Wide plateau-shaped mountains and open valleys. Less glaciation than in eastern Spitsbergen, which is higher and receives more precipitation.
Typical Barentsøya-Landscape: Flat coastal plain with rich tundra and steep slopes composed of dolerite in the background.
Flora and Fauna: As Edgeøya, high arctic. The tundra is often very rich, although with less species than near the west coast of Spitsbergen. The rich tundra supports a strong population of reindeer. Steep cliffs (Triassic paper shales) are home to colonies of Kittiwakes, which attract Arctic foxes. Important migration and denning area for polar bears.
Reindeer at Sundneset, Barentsøya.
History: Into the 19th century it was believed that Barentsøya was part of Spitsbergen, until the narrow Heleysound was found. Much less visited than Tusenøyane or Edgeøya by Pomors or trappers because of the often heavy ice conditions, visits of whalers are unknown. The only wintering of Norwegian trappers took place south of Duckwitzbreen in the early 20th century. The 1950s and 60s saw several research expeditions by the German geographer Julius Büdel, who established his main field camp at Sundneset, where they built the ‘Würzburger Hütte’. They investigated high arctic landscape development such as permafrost phenomena, frost shatter, solifluction, postglacial landrise etc (see Rocks and Ice).