Under his first meeting with Svalbard in 1907, the geologist Adolf Hoel lost his heart to the archipelago. Thereafter he dedicated his life to promoting the interests of Norway in Svalbard and other nearby arctic areas.

On the Lilliehöök glacier 1907. Photo: NP

In 1906 Adolf Hoel applied to take part as a geologist on Gunnar Isachsen’s scientific and mapping expedition to Svalbard. The year after, he accompanied Isachsen on the expedition, which was financed by Prince Albert I of Monaco. Two ships took part. Isachsen’s land-party was made up of the leader and cartographer Isachsen, the geologist Hoel and the botanist Hanna Dieset as well as two assistants. In the main, the group worked in the inner parts of Northwest-Spitsbergen. In Woodfjorden Hoel discovered a rich deposit of early fish fossils (410-360 million years ago). Such a deposit was unique in the world at the time. Besides this, a rich coal deposit was observed in Grønfjorden.

Hoel returned to Svalbard in 1908 together with the geologist Gunnar Holmsen. The expedition was financed by The University of Kristiania (Oslo) and from other sources. Underway both Hanna Dieset and Hjalmar Johansen joined the expedition. From this point Adolf Hoel led scientific expeditions to Svalbard every year until 1925. From 1909 the Norwegian state joined in as co-sponsor and the expeditions came to be known as The Norwegian State-Supported Spitsbergen Expeditions (DNSS).

Such expeditions to Svalbard easily became a blend of economics and science with a touch of politics. Claims were staked on promising areas for mineral extraction, both on a private basis and for Norwegian companies. These were able to represent support for Norway’s position on the, for the time being, ownerless archipelago. The whole of Hoel’s enormous work capacity was now dedicated to Norway’s case in the polar areas, and Svalbard in particular. He had a sidelong glance towards both east and west in the arctic. With persistent lobbying Hoel managed to keep his ‘Svalbard Office’ running year after year. With his overview and thorough knowledge of Svalbard he became a key figure in all polar matters. Land and sea cartography, geological investigations and mapping, as well as the staking of claims on mineral deposits, were the main reason for DNSS during these years. The main emphasis was on the practical tasks that were necessary to make the Svalbard area more accessible and safer in which to travel. Turning this no man’s land into a Norwegian area was also a goal.

The scientific work of Hoel and The Svalbard Office came to be of great importance during the preparation of the final Svalbard Treaty. After the treaty was signed, Hoel was put to work assisting the official work sorting out the many claims involving several claimants and nations.

Hoel was a great support for hunting outfitters and hunters in Svalbard. He was open to all ideas and projects that Norwegians could think of putting into operation. He was also concerned with environmental protection and the sustainable exploitation of the resources. In 1921 he delivered a proposal for both nature and cultural heritage protection regulations in Svalbard on behalf of The National Association for Nature Conservation. Hanna Dieset contributed with suggestions for plant conservation.

By Susan Barr