SVALBARD and JAN MAYEN
(Territory of Norway)
Capital | Longyearbyen
Population | 2067 (July 2010 est.)
Area | 61,229 SQ KM
Official Language | Norwegian
Currency | Norwegian kroner (NOK)
Time Zone | UTC +1
Background | First discovered by the Norwegians in the 12th century, the islands served as an international whaling base during the 17th and 18th centuries. Norway's sovereignty was recognized in 1920; five years later it officially took over the territory.
Today | The archipelago of Svalbard has become a popular goal for Arctic travelers interested to cruise the ice floes in search of whales, seals, walruses and polar bears. In addition to the fantastic wildlife there are some terrific hiking possibilities on the main island where one may encounter reindeer and Arctic foxes. The main town, also the capital, Longyearbyen has a long history of coal mining.
Spitsbergen, the largest of the islands in the Svalbard Archipelago, sits well inside the Arctic Circle, just south of 80 degrees north latitude. This image of the island and its topography was captured by NASA's Terra satellite. The rugged mountains are capped with snow and glaciers, with only the river valleys and low elevations supporting vegetation. Braided, shallow rivers filled with glacial sediment occupy the valleys. The vertical scale is exaggerated by a factor of two to emphasize the rugged terrain. The small town of Longyearbyen serves as the capital; its small airport provides the most northerly public airline service on earth. Although coal mining is still an important economic activity on the frigid island, scientists have recently become as interested in what can be tucked away in the frozen mountains of Spitsbergen as what can be extracted from them. In late February 2008, Norway accepted the first deposit for a so-called "Doomsday" agricultural seed vault, drilled deep into the mountains overlooking the Svalbard Airport. Financed by Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault will safeguard seeds of human food crops from all over the world in the event a natural or human-caused catastrophic event would threaten the human food supply. Photo courtesy of NASA.