The Geographic Appeal of a Svalbard Cruise

Svalbard, formerly known as Spitsbergen, consists of a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean, which are situated far north of the Arctic Circle and about 620 miles south of the North Pole. A part of Norway, these islands form both the northernmost part of the country as well as the northernmost part of Europe. Nine main islands make up Svalbard, with various tiny islands within the vicinity. The land surface totals about 24,000 square miles, making is slightly smaller than West Virginia.

Three large islands dominate the territory: Spitsbergen, Nordaustlandlet, and Edgeya. The other six main islands are Barentsya, Prins Karls Forland, Kong Karls Land, Kvitya, Hopen, and Bjmya. Most of the regions 2700 people live on Spitsbergen, but Hopen and Bjmya are populated as well. Longyearbyen is the largest city, and is a popular destination for travelers on a Svalbard cruise. Longyearbyen has a population of 1800 people, and is located on the west coast of Spitsbergen. The second largest settlement is Barentsburg, with about 850 people, most of whom are Russians and Ukranians. Though Barentsburg is only about 35 miles from Longyearbyen, there are no roads connecting the two settlements.

Nordaustlandet is the second largest island, but it is unpopulated, as most of it is covered with ice caps and glaciers, including Austfonna, the largest glacier in Europe. The northern coast is austere tundra, where such animals as reindeer and walruses can be found.

The southernmost island of the archipelago is Bjmya (Bear Island), and is uninhabited except for the ten people who staff the meteorological and radio station. The rest of this small island (only 12 miles from north to south and 10 miles from east to west) was established as a nature reserve in 2002. The southern third of the land is mountainous, but the land slopes down to the north to form a lowland plain covered by freshwater lakes.

About 60% of Svalbards land area is covered by glaciers and snowfields. The land is wild, with high rugged mountains and deep fjords along the north and west coasts. This dramatic geography is one of the reasons that a Svalbard cruise is so desired. The highest peak, Newtontoppen, is located on Spitsbergen and reaches 5,650 feet above sea level. Despite the archipelagos extreme northern latitude, the North Atlantic Current warms the Arctic climate, keeping the surrounding sea open and navigable for most of the year. However, the area does see extremes in its length of day from summer to winter. In the summer months, the midnight sun lasts from April 20 to August 23, while in the winter, the polar night lasts from October 26 to February 15.