Svalbard (S4.10)

S04E10 Svalbard Audio

In this episode of 80 Days: an exploration podcast, we’ll be talking about Svalbard (also known as Spitsbergen), a small polar archipelago off the northern coast of Norway. Svalbard is by far the most northerly place we’ve covered on the show, lying roughly midway between continental Norway and the North Pole, around 580 miles (930 km) north of Tromsø, Norway. The archipelago consists of nine main islands, the main island being Spitsbergen, which makes up over half of the land area. In total, Svalbard has a land area of around 24,209 square miles (62,700 square km), making it similar in size to Sri Lanka or the US state of West Virginia. There are only 2,500 permanent residents here, most of whom live in the main city of Longyearbyen. First settled as an arctic whaling base in the 17th century, the islands later saw the establishment of coal mining towns, but in recent years Svalbard’s main economic lifeline has been tourism and arctic research, both of which have boomed recently. Due to its extreme northern latitude, in the summer, the sun does not set on Svalbard for 4 months, while in the winter the archipelago goes weeks without any sunlight at all. Svalbard is also notable for being home to the Global Seed Vault, while as of 2012, all residents must carry a gun while travelling outside an established settlement, in case they encounter one of the many polar bears that live nearby.

Your hosts, as always, are Luke Kelly @thelukejkelly in Dublin, Ireland, Mark Boyle @markboyle86 in the UK, and Joe Byrne @anbeirneach in Kildare, Ireland . (Theme music by Thomas O’Boyle @thatthomasfella)


Thanks to Dr Ciaran McDonough (@metamedievalist), Sonja Murto, Aengus Ó Maoláin and Roxana Cremer (@cloudcycling) for talking to us about their first-hand experiences visiting or living in Svalbard. They were invaluable to giving us a full picture of the place.

Some further reading:

  • More on the Pomors, believed to be some of the earliest inhabitants of this region can be found here.
  • The Svalbard Museum has a wonderful section on their website about whaling in the Arctic.
  • An August 1906 article in Nature entitled “The Early History of Spitsbergen” can be found here.
  • For more on Basque whaling, see NABO’s article here.
  • Svalbard-Spitsbergen.com has more reading on the charming-sounding settlement of Smeerenberg, also known as “Blubbertown”.
  • The article concerning Horatio Nelson’s visit to Spitsbergen can be found here.
  • For more on the early scientific expeditions on Svalbard, see this article from Svalbard-Spitsbergen.com
  • The Svalbard Museum has more on hunting and trapping, as well as the discovery of coal.
  • One of the travel guides we referenced on Svalbard can be found for free on Google Books.
  • The “Tragedy at Swedish House” is detailed in an article in Polar Record, which can be found here.
  • You can read more on the history of the Dutch settlement on Barenstburg on visitsvalbard.com.
  • Military Wiki has an extensive article on Operation Gauntlet, which was discussed in this episode.
  • You can read more on the King’s Bay Affair here.
  • An article on Medium details the doomed Vnukovo Airlines Flight 2801, entitled “The crash that changed Svalbard forever.”
  • Thinking of visiting Pyramiden? It’s here on TripAdvisor.
  • Future North: The Changing Arctic Landscape, referenced in this episode, can be found on Google Books here.
  • Take a virtual tour of the Global Seed Vault here, or learn more about it by listening to Endless Thread‘s episode “The Vault
  • This American Life: episode 630 “Things I Mean to Know”, about the Novaya Zemlaya Effect
  • Bowhead [whales] are jazz” article about baleen whalesong and its surprising diversity

Music:

Videos:

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