Magazine article Geographical

The Unfrozen North

Magazine article Geographical

The Unfrozen North

Article excerpt

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The archipelago of Norwegian islands known as Svalbard lies in the Arctic, halfway between begins to melt, and temperatures the sea ice surrounding them Norway and the North Pole. As on land continue to rise, climate scientists are trying to work out what this could mean for the islands and the rest of the world

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PREVIOUS SPREAD: Burgerbukta bay, part of the Hornsund fjord on Spitsbergen island. Spitsbergen is one of a group of islands that make up the Svalbard archipelago. The Norwegian islands, whose name means 'cold shores', lie in the Arctic Ocean approximately halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, and cover an area of more than 62,000 square kilometres (making the archipelago roughly a quarter the size of the UK). Around two thirds of Spitsbergen's land mass is buried under ice, although this is decreasing due to climate change. Officially discovered by the Dutch explorer Willem Barents in 1596 while he was searching for a northeast passage to Asia, the area went on to become a centre for whaling during the 17th and 18th centuries, before mining and scientific research became the main activities during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, more than 2,000 people live on the island-a mixture of Norwegians and Russians, largely involved in mining; ABOVE: Nelsonoya or Nelson Island (on the left), a volcanic plug in the far north of the archipelago, off the coast of the second-largest island, Nordaustlandet. Volcanic plugs form when molten lava hardens inside the neck of a volcano. Erosion then removes the surrounding rock, leaving the hard lava as a freestanding object. The island is named after Captain Horatio Nelson, who was a 14-year-old member of Captain Constantine Phipps's crew when he set off for the North Pole in 1773. Phipps didn't reach the pole, but he was the first European to describe the polar bear, one of which tried to attack Nelson when he climbed off the boat and onto the ice. He narrowly managed to escape the bear, thanks to help from the crew, but was apparently heard to shout,'Never mind, do but let me get a blow at this devil with the butt-end of my musket, and we shall have him'; RIGHT: ice cliffs at Austfonna ('eastern glacier'), Norway's largest (and the world's third-largest) ice cap, found in the centre of Nordaustlandet; FAR RIGHT: Svalbard from the air. The landscape is characterised by rugged mountains with steep flanks, as well as large, glacially eroded fjord systems. The highest mountain is Newtontoppen at more than 1,700 metres high

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OPPOSITE PAGE: Fuglefjorden (Bird Fjord), a small fjord in the north of Spitsbergen. Average temperatures in Svalbard are around 5[degrees]C during summer and-7[degrees]C during winter (although temperatures recorded at Svalbard airport have increased by 1. …

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