Longyearbyen in Summer, Svalbard Archipelago

Longyearbyen is the largest settlement and the administrative center of Svalbard, Norway. As of 2008, the town had a population of 2,040. Longyearbyen is located in the valley of Longyeardalen and on the shore of Adventfjorden, a bay of Isfjorden located on the west coast of Spitsbergen. Since 2002, Longyearbyen Community Council has had many of the same responsibilities of a municipality, including utilities, education, cultural facilities, fire department, roads and ports. The town is the seat of the Governor of Svalbard. It is the world’s northernmost settlement of any kind with greater than 1,000 permanent residents.

Known as Longyear City until 1926, the town was established by and named after John Munro Longyear, whose Arctic Coal Company started coal mining operations in 1906. Operations were taken over by Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani (SNSK) in 1916, which still conducts mining. The town was almost completely destroyed by the German Kriegsmarine on 8 August 1943, but was rebuilt after the Second World War. Traditionally, Longyearbyen was a company town, but most mining operations have moved to Sveagruva since the 1990s, while the town has seen a large increase in tourism and research. This has seen the arrival of institutions such as the University Centre in Svalbard, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and Svalbard Satellite Station. The community is served by Svalbard Airport, Longyear and Svalbard Church.

Svalbard formerly known by its Dutch name Spitsbergen), is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Situated north of mainland Europe, it is about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The group of islands range from 74° to 81° north latitude, and from 10° to 35° east longitude. The largest island is Spitsbergen, followed by Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya.

Administratively, the archipelago is not part of any Norwegian county, but rather forms an unincorporated area administered by a state-appointed governor. Since 2002, Svalbard’s main settlement, Longyearbyen, has had an elected local government, somewhat similar to mainland municipalities. Other settlements include the Russian mining community of Barentsburg, the research station of Ny-Ålesund, and the mining outpost of Sveagruva. Svalbard is the northernmost place in the world with a permanent population.

The islands were first taken into use as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, after which they were abandoned. Coal mining started at the beginning of the 20th century, and several permanent communities were established. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 recognizes Norwegian sovereignty, and the 1925 Svalbard Act made Svalbard a full part of the Kingdom of Norway. They also established Svalbard as a free economic zone and a demilitarized zone. The Norwegian Store Norske and the Russian Arktikugol remain the only mining companies in place. Research and tourism have become important supplementary industries, with the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault playing critical roles. No roads connect the settlements; instead snowmobiles, aircraft and boats serve inter-community transport. Svalbard Airport, Longyear serves as the main gateway.

The archipelago features an Arctic climate, although with significantly higher temperatures than other areas at the same latitude. The flora take advantage of the long period of midnight sun to compensate for the polar night. Svalbard is a breeding ground for many seabirds, and also features polar bears, reindeer, the arctic fox, and certain marine mammals. Seven national parks and twenty-three nature reserves cover two-thirds of the archipelago, protecting the largely untouched, yet fragile, natural environment. Approximately 60% of the archipelago is covered with glaciers, and the islands feature many mountains and fjords.

Svalbard and Jan Mayen are collectively assigned the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code “SJ.” Both areas are administered by Norway, though they are separated by a distance of over 500 nautical miles (approximately 600 miles or 950 kilometers) and have very different administrative structures.

Longyearbyen in Summer, Svalbard Archipelago

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