During the course of the last decades research has gained great importance for the economy and the development of society on the archipelago. Why has Svalbard become so interesting for science and vice-versa?

Goose research in Bellsund : Photo Mikkel Aanderaa

Svalbard is strategically placed at the entrance to the Arctic Ocean, where large ocean currents pass by. These have importance to the global climate. The sea areas around the archipelago are biologically rich and important both for life on land and for the fisheries farther south. Geological structures from earth’s earliest times up until the present are easily accessible, and the numerous glaciers have given fundamental knowledge about the ice-ages. Svalbard’s position, right under the so-called ‘polar chasm’, means that northern lights phenomena can be observed especially well from here. For many reasons Svalbard has been called a living laboratory.

Scientist in Hornsund. Photo Szymon Barna

Compared with other polar areas Svalbard has many practical advantages. The climate is favourable. The winter temperatures are not as low as in other parts of the Arctic. It has always been relatively easy and cheap to come here to conduct research.

From the early 1900’s researchers could make use of the infrastructure built up by the mining industry. Today communications are top class. Longyearbyen has all the services that a modern local community can offer.

Scientific activity has meant a lot for the development of society in Svalbard. When the mining industry in Ny-Ålesund was closed down in 1963, the place was gradually converted into a ‘research town’. Today it is a modern international research environment. Eight different nations have year-round stations and a number of other projects are carried out. When, in the1990’s, the Norwegian authorities wished to create alternative businesses in Longyearbyen, it was research and tourism that were chosen. Research and higher education have become one of the mainstays of the local economy. A number of new workplaces are created, both directly and indirectly. Researchers and students are customers and consumers, as are the rest of the population, and they contribute positively to the local community in different ways. The University Center in Svalbard, UNIS, alone has 250 students from a number of nations that spend a period of time in Svalbard. Longyearbyen can also thank the scientific activity for that this little community has got broadband connection with the rest of the world, via the fibre optic sea cable.

By Thor Bjørn Arlov