The Environment and Geography of Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen’s remoteness, its unique geography and environment, has particular appeal to adventurous travelers. This isolated island is located between the Greenland and Norwegian Seas, northeast of Iceland. It is located near the intersection of the Jan Mayen Fracture Zone and Mohns mid-ocean ridge. Though claims of its discovery are scattered throughout the centuries, the first person to indisputably find Jan Mayen, in 1614, was a Dutch whaling captain for whom the island was named. The island has belonged to Norway since 1929, and is home to the northernmost active volcano in the world, Haakon VII Toppen/Beerenberg. This volcano is also the island’s highest point, at 7,470 feet, its ice cap spilling glaciers down the slopes while plumes of smoke and vapor rise from the crater. The volcano has erupted six times since 1732, with the eruption in 1970 the first to be witnessed in modern times. Beerenberg is a favorite destination for visitors on their Jan Mayen tour. The most recent eruption was in 1985, with 250,000,000 cubic feet of lava spewing from the volcano in only 40 hours.

Jan Mayen is a long, narrow island—only 34 miles long and two to nine miles wide—with the volcano dominating the northeastern end. During a tour of Jan Mayen, travelers will have the opportunity to explore the southern half of the island that consists of a mountainous ridge of craters, mounds, and domes. Covering only about 230 square miles, it is only slightly more than twice the size of Washington, D.C. It has no native inhabitants, but there is currently a Long-Range Navigation (Loran-C) base and a weather and coastal services station, which are together operated by 18 personnel.

Because of its extreme northern location and the fact that it is a volcanic island partly covered by glaciers, Jan Mayen has no arable land. There is one unpaved landing strip, and planes come to bring supplies (and transport the personnel in and out) only eight to twelve times a year. While the land is mostly barren and dominated by impressive volcanic formations, there is some moss, grass, and small flowers. While on a trip to the island, keep an eye out for the 75 species of vascular plant, 176 species of moss, 140 species of lichen, and 66 species of fungi. In the warmer months, the moss spreads thick, bright green carpets over the rocks, sometimes so lush that people can sink in up to their calves.