Longyearbyen is the administrative centre of Svalbard and is located on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. Longyearbyen has approximately 2,075 inhabitants, most of them Norwegians and some Russians. It is one of the world’s northernmost towns, taking second in that distinction by only the settlement Alert, Nunavut with 5 inhabitants. As the world’s northernmost town with 1,000 people or more, it has many of the world’s northernmost things.
Due to its location far north of the Arctic Circle, it is polar night from end-October to mid-February and polar day from mid-April to mid-August. Longyearbyen has an Arctic tundra climate (see Geography of Norway). The Governor of Svalbard resides there.
The settlement was founded in 1906 by John Munroe Longyear, main owner of the Arctic Coal Company of Boston. “Byen” is Norwegian for “the city”. It was destroyed by the Nazis in 1943 and rebuilt after World War II, with the old foundations still visible in some places.
Until the early 1990s the coal mining industry was the major employer in Longyearbyen. The daily life circled only around the mining business. Today, the community offers a wide range of activities and facilities. There is a swimming hall, a climbing wall, a big sports hall, a grocery store, three pubs, three hotels, one church, several tourists shops, a cinema (Sundays), one night club, and a squash court. There is also University Centre in Svalbard, which represents four Norwegian universities and provides university-level education in Arctic studies.
Mining & Research
Mining still plays a major role in the community. The Norwegian mining company, Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani, runs two coal mines in Longyearbyen and Svea, and coal mining employs about half the residents. Research activities and tourism are growing steadily each year due to its excellent infrastructure. Research includes ionospheric and magnetospheric facilities such as the EISCAT radar, the Auroral station and a magnetometer belonging to the IMAGE chain.
In 1993, the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) was opened. It is a cooperation of all four Norwegian universities, providing lectures in geophysics, arctic biology, geology and Arctic technology as well as bachelor, master and PhD positions. It has about 300 students, but with the addition of the new Research Centre enrollment will increase. Most students of UNIS live in six renovated mining barracks in Nybyen.
Nicknamed “Doomsday Vault”, Svalbard Global Seed Vault, an Arctic safe capable of storing millions of crop seeds, is located near Longyearbyen. Global Crop Diversity Trust administers the facility. The safe has been designed to protect against natural and human disasters, including global warming, floods and fires, and nuclear holocaust. The site was chosen for both its remoteness and ambient temperature of the permafrost.