Svalbard is a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean; ranging from 74° to 81° North, and 10° to 34° East, it is the northernmost part of Norway. The islands cover an area of 62,050 km². The largest islands are Spitsbergen (39,000 km²), Nordaustlandet (14,600 km²) and Edgeøya (5,000 km²).
The population is approximately 2,400, and Svalbard is administered by an appointed governor, sysselmannen, whose office is in the town of Longyearbyen.
Svalbard may have been discovered as early as the 12th century, but the first indisputable discovery of Svalbard was by the Dutchman Willem Barents in 1596. The islands served as an international whaling base in the 17th and 18thh centuries. They were also the headquarters for many Arctic explorations. Norwegian sovereignty was recognized in 1920, in which year the area was demilitarized by treaty. Norway took over administration of Svalbard in 1925.
Large parts of Svalbard are glaciated. Indeed, the name 'Svalbard' means 'cold coast'. However, the North Atlantic Current moderates the Arctic climate, keeping the surrounding waters open and navigable most of the year. The major economic activity is coal mining, supplemented by fishing and trapping. Norway claims an exclusive fishing zone of 200 nautical miles, which is not recognized by Russia.
Svalbard is also the breeding ground of the barnacle goose and a variety of other birds; they are best seen from cruise ships.
There are no roads between the settlements on the island; transportation is by boat, plane, and helicopter.
(Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers.) Svalbard is the location of the incarceration of the fictional character Lord Asreil in Philip Pullman's book The Northern Lights / The Golden Compass, the first of Pullman's His Dark Material's trilogy. Lord Asreil builds a bridge from Svalbard to Cittàgazze through the Aurora Borealis.
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