General Information | Brief History | Climate
The Svalbard archipelago lies between 77o and 80oN, 500 miles north of Norway, only 700 miles from the Pole. The archipelago comprises 4 large mountainous islands and hundreds of smaller ones. Spitsbergen - the largest island in the archipelago - has 4 settlements including Longyearbyen, the world's most northerly town. There is no infrastructure outside of the settlements, and in summer the only means of transport is by air, boat, or foot.
Spitsbergen has a mild climate due to the northernmost influence of the Gulf Stream. The snow-line recedes to between 500 and 900m uncovering exuberant plant life. Half of Svalbard is protected by 2 national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries, and 2 plant reserves.
Eskimo never reached Svalbard as they did much of Arctic Canada and Greenland. The island's history starts with 12th century Viking references to this "Land of the Cold Coasts". It wasn't until 1596 that Svalbard was rediscovered by Willem Barentz. He named the largest island Spitsbergen, and paved the way for European whalers and trappers to use the island as a base from the 17th century onward.
At the turn of this century coal mining operations started, and brought with them the first settlements. With different nationalities now investing in the islands, there was need for a formal administration. In 1920 The League of Nations passed "The Treaty of Svalbard". It assigned sovereignty of the islands to Norway, but allowed citizens of signatory nations equal economic rights.
The latest step in Svalbard's history was the opening of the all year round airport. This has brought a renewed prosperity to the islands with an increase in tourism. Today, most visitors stay within the settlements, or cruise the west coast. Inland, Spitsbergen is as it has always been - totally untouched, and seldom visited.
A northward branch of the Gulf Stream brings a mild climate to Svalbard.
Temperatures: The average summer temperature is +5oC (with a relatively mild -12oC in winter). Extremes of +21oC and -46oC have been recorded. During the summer, and can expect to see only a few lingering ice-flows in the fjords. Temperatures will range from 0 to +10oC on the coast and -5 to +5oC on the glaciers.
Precipitation: Svalbard's climate is classed as an Arctic Dessert. There is only 200 - 300mm of precipitation per year. Rain or snow is unusual during the summer months - any bad weather will most likely take the form of low cloud. Most of the time, we can expect blue skies and warm sunshine with mists periodically forming over the fjords.
The midnight sun is visible from mid April to the end of August.