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Spitsbergen's largest fjord: an overview

Map Isfjord

Clock­wi­se: T = Trygg­ham­na, P = Pyra­mi­den, L = Lon­gye­ar­by­en, G = Gru­mant­by­en, C = Coles­buk­ta, G = Grønfjord, B = Barents­burg.

This page is just for a first over­view. The­re are more pages about various places in Isfjord which you can access by cli­cking on the map abo­ve or on the fol­lo­wing links:

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard


Isfjord is Spitsbergen’s lar­gest fjord. It is cut­ting more than 100 km into the island with a lot of dif­fe­rent bran­ches. The land­scape and histo­ry are varied, and most sett­le­ments of Spits­ber­gen are here. The cli­ma­te is favoura­ble, at least for Sval­bard stan­dards, as the gulf stream keeps the fjord lar­ge­ly ice-free and tem­pe­ra­tures mild. The effect of incre­asing con­ti­nen­ta­li­ty is noti­ceable deeper in the fjord, with col­der win­ters and war­mer sum­mers. Whe­re­as the Isfjord was often com­ple­te­ly fro­zen during the late win­ter in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, this hap­pens today only in excep­tio­nal­ly cold years, but the smal­ler side fjords on the north side and in inner­most Isfjord (Bil­lefjord, Tem­pel­fjord) still free­ze in most win­ters, alt­hough not as relia­bly as in the 20th cen­tu­ry.

Most human acti­vi­ties in Sval­bard are con­cen­tra­ted in Isfjord, which puts some pres­su­re on the envi­ron­ment. This includes mining, the sett­le­ments in gene­ral and a gro­wing tou­rism indus­try with a lot of snow mobi­le traf­fic in the late win­ter (late Febru­ary-ear­ly May).

Isfjord: Longyearbyen

Most of Spitsbergen’s sett­le­ments, such as Lon­gye­ar­by­en, are in the Isfjord area.

Pro­tec­ted are­as

The­re are seve­ral pro­tec­ted are­as in Isfjord, inclu­ding bird sanc­tua­ries, which may not be ente­red at all during the bree­ding sea­son (15 May-15 August). Make sure you know whe­re you may go and whe­re not – boun­da­ries are not mark­ed in the field, the­re are no signs etc. As with ever­y­thing about Spits­ber­gen – refer to the gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen – Sval­bard (see pic­tu­re and link abo­ve) for fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on.


Varied. In this lar­ge area, almost the who­le geo­lo­gy of Sval­bard is repre­sen­ted from the base­ment over Devo­ni­an Old Red to Per­mo­car­bo­ni­fe­rous car­bo­na­tes and eva­po­ri­tes (anhy­drite and gypsym) to the Meso­zoic-Ter­tia­ry cla­s­tic sedi­ment cover. Becau­se of the steep dip of the stra­ta, you can find quite com­ple­te suc­ces­si­ons near the west coast within a small area, for exam­p­le the Fest­nin­gen sec­tion. In the west, the rocks have been stron­gly defor­med during the Alpi­dic oro­ge­ny in the lower Ter­tia­ry, whe­re­as the stra­ta are most­ly hori­zon­tal in cen­tral and eas­tern parts, at least on the south side of Isfjord. For fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on, see indi­vi­du­al are­as (click on the map).

Recom­men­ded book for fur­ther, well-digesta­ble (real­ly!) info about geo­lo­gy and land­scape of Sval­bard.


Very varied due to dif­fe­ren­ces in geo­lo­gy and cli­ma­te. The­re are wide coas­tal plains at the west coast, behind which the­re is a gla­cia­ted, alpi­ne moun­tai­neous sce­n­ery on the nor­t­hern side of Isfjord. On the south side, the occur­rence of poin­ted moun­ta­ins is more or less limi­t­ed to two N-S stret­ching moun­tain chains west of the Grønfjord. East of Grønfjord, the sce­n­ery is domi­na­tey by the cha­rac­te­risti­cal pla­teau-shaped moun­ta­ins, which are top­ped by wide pla­teaus in 400-600 met­res alti­tu­de. Only few moun­ta­ins rise over this pla­teau level, show­ing what kind of rocks once cover­ed the who­le are with a thic­k­ness of many hundred met­res or pro­ba­b­ly kilo­me­t­res, but have fal­len vic­tim to ero­si­on. Cen­tral and eas­tern parts of Nor­dens­ki­öld Land (that is the area bet­ween Isfjord and Bell­sund from the west coast almost to the east coast) fea­ture lar­ge ice-free val­leys with very rich tun­da are­as, more than any­whe­re else in Sval­bard. Thus, the area offers good hiking oppor­tu­ni­ties also for lon­ger trek­kings, but crossing rivers can be very dif­fi­cult and even dan­ge­rous or impos­si­ble.

Isfjord landscape: Ymerbukta

Some typi­cal land­scape ele­ments in Isfjord (here seen in Ymer­buk­ta):
flat tun­dra (fore­ground), morai­ne (cent­re), gla­cier and moun­ta­ins.

Nor­dens­ki­öld Land bet­ween Isfjord and Bell­sund is among­st the least gla­cia­ted are­as of Sval­bard, whe­re­as the­re is a num­ber of cal­ving fronts and a stron­gly gla­cia­ted ‘hin­ter­land’ on the nor­t­hern side of the Isfjord.


Gla­cier in Isfjord (Sveab­reen).

Flo­ra and fau­na

The flo­ra is rich – at least for Sval­bard stan­dards – in many places, the­re are lar­ge tun­dra are­as espe­ci­al­ly on the coas­tal plains and in the lar­ge, ice-free val­leys. For exam­p­le, Coles­da­len and Reind­a­len belong to the bio­lo­gi­cal­ly most pro­duc­ti­ve are­as of Sval­bard, with high bio­di­ver­si­ty, a den­se cover of thick vege­ta­ti­on and accor­din­gly a strong reinde­er popu­la­ti­on, foxes, ptar­mi­gans etc.

On steep cliffs near the coast, the­re is a num­ber of bird colo­nies with Brünich’s Guil­l­emots, Kit­ti­wa­kes and, in places, Puf­fins which are other­wi­se rather rare in Sval­bard. Polar bears may well be seen year-round, and it is not unu­su­al to encoun­ter one also near the sett­le­ments, so the safe­ty rou­ti­nes – most important­ly, appro­pria­te wea­pon and expe­ri­ence – have to be obser­ved ever­y­whe­re in Isfjord as soon as you set a foot out of any sett­le­ment.


Long and varied. The­re are many remains of Pomor hun­ting sta­ti­ons, who may have been here befo­re Spits­ber­gen was dis­co­ver­ed by Wil­lem Barent­sz in 1596. The name ‘Ice Sound’ was given in 1610 by the Eng­lish wha­ler Jonas Poo­le ‘becau­se it was cover­ed with Ice’ (makes sen­se, doesn’t it?).

During the 19th and 20th cen­tu­ry, a num­ber of sci­en­ti­fic expe­di­ti­ons have visi­ted the Isfjord that makes it impos­si­ble to men­ti­on all of them here. Nor­we­gi­an trap­pers have had their hun­ting ground here, a tra­di­ti­on that has part­ly sur­vi­ved until today. Legen­da­ry hun­ters such as Hil­mar Nøis and Arthur Oxaas lived in Isfjord for many years in the first half of the 20th cen­tu­ry. Mining star­ted in the late 19th cen­tu­ry, but most of the many litt­le mines didn’t sur­vi­ve the stage of explo­ra­ti­on and tri­al mining. All of today’s sett­le­ments in the Isfjord were foun­ded as coal mining sett­le­ments, Barents­burg and Lon­gye­ar­by­en are the ones which are still in use.

Isfjord gal­lery

Just a very few pic­tures for a first tas­te. As men­tio­ned abo­ve, the­re are more pages (click on the map or on the links at the top of this page) about various places within Isfjord.

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


Kapp Linné Grønfjord, Colesdalen, Grumantbyen Adventfjord, Longyearbyen Tempelfjord, Sassenfjord Dickson Land, Billefjord Isfjord northern side


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last modification: 2020-10-07 · copyright: Rolf Stange