Svalbard Case Study



Svalbard is a Norwegian territory in the Arctic Ocean and the most northerly permanently inhabited group of islands in the world.

Much of Svalbard experiences a polar climate with 60% of the land covered by glaciers. The rest of the land is tundra, much of which is frozen. There is no arable farming and there are no trees. Svalbard has:

  • Five major islands, the largest being Spitzbergen
  • A population of about 2700, most living in the main town of Longyearbyen
  • More polar bears and snowmobiles than people.
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Opportunities for Development

Mineral extraction

  • It is the main economic activity
  • More than 300 people are employed in the mines and as support staff. In recent years the industry has faced a decline due to lower world coal prices and some jobs have been lost.

Energy developments

  • Some of the coal mined on Svalbard is burned to generate electricity in the Longyearbyen power station. It is Norway’s only coal-fired power station and supplies all of Svalbard’s energy needs. The most likely future source is geothermal energy as Svalbard is located close to a constructive plate margin. Another option is carbon capture and storage.
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Opportunities for Development


  • The Barents sea south of Svalbard - one of the richest fishing grounds in the world.
  • There are an estimated 150 species of fish here. These waters are an extremely important breeding and nursery grounds for fish stock.
  • Fishing here is controlled and monitored by Norway and Russia, to ensure the fishing is sustainable and protected.


  • In 2011, 70 000 people visited Longyearbyen and 30 000 being cruise passengers.
  • The harbour at Longyearbyen has been enlarged to cope with the increase in the number of cruise ships.
  • Tourism provides around 300 jobs for local people
  • Most tourists come from Norway and most visit as part of organised tours
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Challenges for Development

Extreme temperatures

  • Winter temperatures can fall below -30 degrees Celsius. In the northern glacial regions, it can be even colder.
  • Such extreme temperatures make it dangerous to work outside so people have to dress very warmly (making work very slow and difficult).


  • Services include water, electricity and sanitation. These are important to both residents and tourists.
  • Most services have to be provided to individual buildings by overground heated water and sewage pipes. They have to be kept off the ground to prevent them from causing any thawing of the permafrost and to allow east maintenance.
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Challenges for Development


  • There are many forms of construction carried out in Svalbard, which have to be carried out in the brief summer period:
  • Building houses,shops and offices
  • Constructing and maintaining roads
  • Constructing buildings and mining operations
  • Constructing and enlarging harbour facilities for fishing vessels and cruise ships

The permafrost can provide good solid foundations, but has a risk of becoming unstable and leading to buildings or roads cracking or collapsing.

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Challenges for Development (3/3)


  • Svalbard can only be reached by plane or ship. The islands themselves are inaccessible and almost all transport systems are restricted to the immediate area around Longyearbyen.
  • There is one airport close to Longyearbyen capable of handling international flights from Norway and Russia. Smaller aircrafts can be used to connect to other islands.
  • There is 50km of road in Longyearbyen. No roads serve the other outlying communities.
  • Most people use snowmobiles, particularly in the winter.
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