views updated May 17 2018

Svalbard Archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, c.640km (400 mi) n of Norway, to which it has officially belonged since 1925. There are nine main islands, of which by far the largest is Spitsbergen. The administrative centre and largest settlement is Longyearbyen on Spitsbergen. Ice fields and glaciers cover more than half the land mass, although the w edge of the islands is ice-free for most of the year. The area abounds in Arctic flora and fauna. The islands are an important wildlife refuge, and protective measures have saved certain mammals from extinction. Animals include polar bear, walrus, and whale. Although the Vikings discovered Svalbard in 1194, the islands remained neglected until Willem Barents rediscovered them in 1596. In the 17th century, they were an important whaling centre, and in the 18th century, Russian and Scandinavian fur traders hunted the lands. Large coal deposits were found on Spitsbergen at the end of the 19th century, and Norway, Russia and Sweden mined the area. In 1925, the islands became a sovereign territory of Norway (although more than half the population is Russian), in return for allowing mining concessions to other nations. Area: 62,000sq km (24,000sq mi). Pop. (2000) 2400.