Svalbard (opportunities in cold environments)


This incredible postcard has been made from a photograph by Mikael Guggenberg. Geography Cat contacted him directly for permission to use some of his beautiful shots in order to put Svalbard on the Paw Print Map. See the end of this article for more amazing polar bear photography by Mikael.

The shot above was taken in an area of Svalbard called Hinlopen. Svalbard itself is a Norwegian archipelago. Archipelago means an extensive group of islands or an area of sea with many islands. The population is approximately 2 100, most of whom live in the largest settlement of Longyearbyen, on the west coast of the largest island of the archipelago, Spitsbergen.

Norway is shaded red and Svalbard is circled

Longyearbyen began as a coal mining town in 1906 and remained so until 1989 when control of the town passed from the mining company to the Norweigan authorities who began to ‘normalize’ it into a more regular and open community. Coal mining still takes place at three sites in Svalbard, one near to Longyearbyen, another at Barentsberg, and a new one at Svea which opened in 2004 and necessitated the construction of a new access road over a glacier! Around 300 people are employed in mineral extraction in Svalbard. It seems ironic that this Arctic wilderness is the location of Norway’s only coal-fired power station (near Longyearbyen). There have been calls for it to close and be replaced by geothermal power generation.

Photo: Astri Sivertsen/Tone Johanne Sund

The largest stocks of cod can be found in the Barents Sea, south of Svalbard. This area of sea is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world, with an estimated 150 species using the area for breeding and nursery. But these rich waters are at risk from heavy fishing and from pollution; monitoring is in place by both Norway and Russia in an attempt to protect and preserve the ecosystem.

Photo: Store Norske Leksikon

Tourism is a growing industry in Svalbard, but it is something which must be done with great care so that the unique culture and special environment are not damaged. There is an interesting article about how Svalbard tourist operators are getting together to plan for sustainability here.


Geography Cat is awe-struck by the royalty of Svalbard, the kings and queens of the ice. Polar bears. If you want to find out more about the polar bear you could do no better than visit the WWF and read all about them and the threats they face.

Geography Cat has been raising money for the WWF, through his Facebook page and his interactive holiday calendar. If you would like to find out more please visit the JustGiving page.

Photograph: Mikael Guggenberg
Photograph: Mikael Guggenberg
Photograph: Mikael Guggenberg


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