Photos of Svalbard

Introduction

Background

The archipelago may have been first discovered by Norse explorers in the 12th century; the islands served as an international whaling base during the 17th and 18th centuries. Norway's sovereignty was internationally recognized by treaty in 1920, and five years later it officially took over the territory. In the 20th century, coal mining started and today a Norwegian and a Russian company are still functioning. Travel between the settlements is accomplished with snowmobiles, aircraft, and boats.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Northern Europe, islands between the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Greenland Sea, and Norwegian Sea, north of Norway

Geographic coordinates

78 00 N, 20 00 E

Map references

Arctic Region

Area

total: 62,045 sq km

land: 62,045 sq km

water: 0 sq km

note: includes Spitsbergen and Bjornoya (Bear Island)

comparison ranking: total 125

Area - comparative

slightly smaller than West Virginia

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

3,587 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

contiguous zone: 24 nm

continental shelf: extends to depth of exploitation

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm

Climate

arctic, tempered by warm North Atlantic Current; cool summers, cold winters; North Atlantic Current flows along west and north coasts of Spitsbergen, keeping water open and navigable most of the year

Terrain

rugged mountains; much of the upland areas are ice covered; west coast clear of ice about half the year; fjords along west and north coasts

Elevation

highest point: Newtontoppen 1,717 m

lowest point: Arctic Ocean 0 m

Natural resources

coal, iron ore, copper, zinc, phosphate, wildlife, fish

Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Population distribution

the small population is primarily concentrated on the island of Spitsbergen in a handful of settlements on the south side of the Isfjorden, with Longyearbyen being the largest

Natural hazards

ice floes often block the entrance to Bellsund (a transit point for coal export) on the west coast and occasionally make parts of the northeastern coast inaccessible to maritime traffic

Geography - note

northernmost part of the Kingdom of Norway; consists of nine main islands; glaciers and snowfields cover 60% of the total area; Spitsbergen Island is the site of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a seed repository established by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Norwegian Government

People and Society

Population

2,926 (January 2021 est.)

comparison ranking: 229

Ethnic groups

Norwegian 61.1%, foreign population 38.9% (consists primarily of Russians, Thais, Swedes, Filipinos, and Ukrainians) (2021 est.)

note: foreigners account for almost one third of the population of the Norwegian settlements, Longyearbyen and Ny-Alesund (where the majority of Svalbard's resident population lives), as of mid-2021

Languages

Norwegian, Russian

major-language sample(s):
Verdens Faktabok, den essensielle kilden for grunnleggende informasjon. (Norwegian)

The World Factbook, the indispensable source for basic information.

Norwegian audio sample:

Age structure

0-14 years: NA

15-64 years: NA

65 years and over: NA

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: NA

youth dependency ratio: NA

elderly dependency ratio: NA

potential support ratio: NA

Population growth rate

-0.03% (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 199

Net migration rate

-5.57 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: 207

Population distribution

the small population is primarily concentrated on the island of Spitsbergen in a handful of settlements on the south side of the Isfjorden, with Longyearbyen being the largest

Infant mortality rate

total: NA

male: NA

female: NA

Life expectancy at birth

total population: NA

male: NA

female: NA

Drinking water source

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

Literacy

total population: NA

male: NA

female: NA

Environment

Environment - current issues

ice floes are a maritime hazard; past exploitation of mammal species (whale, seal, walrus, and polar bear) severely depleted the populations, but a gradual recovery seems to be occurring

Climate

arctic, tempered by warm North Atlantic Current; cool summers, cold winters; North Atlantic Current flows along west and north coasts of Spitsbergen, keeping water open and navigable most of the year

Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Svalbard (sometimes referred to as Spitsbergen, the largest island in the archipelago)

etymology: 12th century Norse accounts speak of the discovery of a "Svalbard" - literally "cold shores" - but they may have referred to Jan Mayen Island or eastern Greenland; the archipelago was traditionally known as Spitsbergen, but Norway renamed it Svalbard in the 1920s when it assumed sovereignty of the islands

Government type

non-self-governing territory of Norway

Dependency status

territory of Norway; administered by the Polar Department of the Ministry of Justice, through a governor (sysselmann) residing in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen; by treaty (9 February 1920), sovereignty was awarded to Norway

Capital

name: Longyearbyen

geographic coordinates: 78 13 N, 15 38 E

time difference: UTC+1 (6 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October

etymology: the name in Norwegian means Longyear Town; the site was established by and named after John LONGYEAR, whose Arctic Coal Company began mining operations there in 1906

Independence

none (territory of Norway)

Legal system

only the laws of Norway made explicitly applicable to Svalbard have effect there; the Svalbard Act and the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act, and certain regulations, apply only to Svalbard; the Spitsbergen Treaty and the Svalbard Treaty grant certain rights to citizens and corporations of signatory nations; as of June 2017, 45 nations had ratified the Svalbard Treaty

Citizenship

see Norway

Executive branch

chief of state: King HARALD V of Norway (since 17 January 1991); Heir Apparent Crown Prince Haakon MAGNUS (son of the king, born 20 July 1973)

head of government: Governor Lars FAUSE (since 24 June 2021); Assistant Governor Solvi ELVEDAHL (since 1 May 2020)

elections/appointments: none; the monarchy is hereditary; governor and assistant governor responsible to the Polar Department of the Ministry of Justice

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Longyearbyen Community Council (15 seats; members directly elected by majority vote to serve 4-year-terms); note - the Council acts very much like a Norwegian municipality, responsible for infrastructure and utilities, including power, land-use and community planning, education, and child welfare; however, healthcare services are provided by the state

elections: last held on 9 October 2023 (next to be held in October 2027)

election results: seats by party - Liberal 7, Labor 3, Social Liberal 3, Conservative 2

Judicial branch

highest court(s): none; note - Svalbard is subordinate to Norway's Nord-Troms District Court and Halogaland Court of Appeal, both located in Tromso

Political parties and leaders

Conservative [Celine ANDERSSEN]
Green [Pal BERG]
Labor [Arild OLSEN]
Liberal [Terje AUVENIK]
Progress [Jorn DYBDAHL]
Social Liberals []

Flag description

the flag of Norway is used

National anthem

note: as a territory of Norway, "Ja, vi elsker dette landet" is official (see Norway)

Economy

Economic overview

high-income Norwegian island economy; major coal mining, tourism, and research sectors; recently established northernmost brewery; key whaling and fishing base; home to the Global Seed Vault

Labor force

1,590 (2013)

comparison ranking: 219

Budget

revenues: NA

expenditures: NA

Exchange rates

Norwegian kroner (NOK) per US dollar -

Exchange rates:
8.308 (2017 est.)
8.0646 (2016 est.)
8.0646 (2015)
8.0646 (2014 est.)
6.3021 (2013 est.)

Energy

Refined petroleum products - exports

4,488 bbl/day (2012 est.)

comparison ranking: 93

Refined petroleum products - imports

18,600 bbl/day (2012 est.)

comparison ranking: 127

Communications

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: Svalbard Undersea Cable System is a twin submarine communications cable which connects Svalbard to the mainland of Norway (2022)

domestic: the Svalbard Satellite Station - connected to the mainland via the Svalbard Undersea Cable System - is the only Arctic ground station that can see low-altitude, polar-orbiting satellites; it provides ground services to more satellites than any other facility in the world (2022)

international: country code - 47-790; the Svalbard Undersea Cable System is a twin communications cable that connects Svalbard to mainland Norway; the system is the sole telecommunications link to the archipelago (2019)

Broadcast media

the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) began direct TV transmission to Svalbard via satellite in 1984; Longyearbyen households have access to 3 NRK radio and 2 TV stations

Transportation

Roadways

total: 40 km (2020)

comparison ranking: total 219

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Barentsburg, Longyearbyen, Ny-Alesund, Pyramiden

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces

Military - note

Svalbard is a territory of Norway, demilitarized by treaty on 9 February 1920; Norwegian military activity is limited to fisheries surveillance by the Norwegian Coast Guard (2024)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

Norway-Russia: after 40 years of on-again, off-again negotiations, the two countries signed an agreement in September 2010, defining their maritime boundaries in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean; the border extends the countries’ land border northward beyond the islands in the Barents Sea and into the Arctic Ocean, but the exact distance northward was not specified; because the area is considered the high seas, the passage of naval and commercial vessels will be unaffected; once their legislatures ratify the agreement, both countries will have the green light for oil and natural gas exploration in their newly defined maritime areas; Russia objects to Norway’s establishment in 1977 of the Fishery Protection Zone around the Svalbard Islands, extending Norwegian sovereignty to the shelf around the archipelago; Svalbard is strategically important – as a gateway from the Berents Sea to the North Atlantic – and its waters provide rich fishing grounds