Svalbard

Country Summary

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.

Geography

Area

total: 62,045 sq km

land: 62,045 sq km

water: 0 sq km

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

Natural resources

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

People and Society

Population

2,926 (January 2021 est.)

Ethnic groups

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

Languages

Norwegian, Russian

Population growth rate

-0.03% (2019 est.)

Government

Government type

non-self-governing territory of Norway

Capital

name: Longyearbyen

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); Vice Governor Solvi ELVEDAHL (since 1 May 2020)

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

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


Page last updated: Friday, May 13, 2022