Study Notes

GCSE Geography | Opportunities in Svalbard (Cold Environments 3)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 19 Jul 2023

Svalbard is located in the Arctic Ocean. It is part of Norway, and is the most northerly permanently inhabited island group in the world. Svalbard is a mixture of polar and tundra - around 60% is covered in glaciers so would be described as a polar region, and the rest is tundra - although most of that land is also permanently frozen. The environment is too harsh for trees or crops to grow.

There are five major islands that form part of Svalbard - the largest of these is called Spitzbergen, which is home to about 2,700 people, who mostly live in the main town of Longyearbyen. Svalbard is known for having fewer people than polar bears and snowmobiles!

Despite the harsh environment, Svalbard offers many opportunities for economic development.

Mineral extraction in Svalbard

Svalbard has vast reserves of coal, however coal mining is extremely controversial here due to greenhouse emissions and climate change. Unfortunately, due to the remoteness of Svalbard, coal mining is vital for economic development - it is actually the main economic activity, employing over 300 people in the coal mines and in a range of other supporting roles. However the coal industry is struggling a bit here as coal prices have fluctuated across the globe and this has led to job losses in the region. Despite opposition by environmental groups a new mine opened in 2014 to expand the coal mining industry further - this development faced criticism as a new access road had to be constructed over a glacier.

Energy development in Svalbard

Much of the coal mined in Svalbard is exported to other countries, however some of it is used to generate electricity. Longyearbyen power station is the only coal-fired power station in the whole of Norway and supplies all of Svalbard's domestic and industrial energy needs. Conservation groups are campaigning to close the power station down and argue that it is extremely damaging in such a fragile cold environment. One way to reduce the damage from burning coal here would be to develop carbon capture and storage, where the carbon dioxide that is produced through burning fossil fuels is harnessed and circulated within the power station to generate electricity, instead of water.

Environmental groups argue that alternative energy sources should be explored and that the region has great potential for developing geothermal energy, which uses the heat stored in rocks underground to generate electricity. Svalbard is located close to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the Earth's crust is thin so the hot rocks are close to the surface, therefore it should be able to use geothermal energy to meet domestic and industrial needs, just as Iceland does, which is also located along the ridge.

Fishing in Svalbard

The Barents Sea lies south of Svalbard and is abundant with fish stocks, making these cold waters one of the richest fishing areas in the world. Cod is the main species, however the Barents Sea is home to another 150 species of fish, including haddock, skate and pollock. These waters need to be protected from pollution as they are important breeding and nursery grounds for fish stocks, however there are often issues around ownership of coastal waters, with regards to who can use them and how they can be used. Norway and Russia jointly control and monitor fishing in the Barents Sea to ensure that the marine ecosystem is not damaged, and that overfishing doesn't occur, so fish stocks can be naturally replenished, thus making the fishing industry sustainable.

Tourism in Svalbard

The tourist industry has boomed in recent years in Svalbard as people look to holiday in more adventurous destinations. Svalbard has lots of offer tourists - it has spectacular scenery with glaciers and fjords, and is a great spot to view the Northern Lights. It also has amazing wildlife - tourists flock to see polar bears in their natural habitat and to go on whale watching tours. Svalbard also offers many activities for adventure tourism, including snow mobile safaris, dog sledding, kayaking, hiking to glaciers and exploring ice caves, as well as skiing and snowboarding.

Around 30,000 people stay in Longyearbyen every year, with a similar number visiting as cruise ship passengers on top - the harbour at Longyearbyen was extended in the 2010s to cope with an increase in cruise ship traffic. Most of these tourists travel from Norway and are part of organised tours, rather than people making their way to Svalbard independently.

Despite growth, tourism is a relatively small industry in Svalbard and provides employment for around 300 people, although this is often low-paid, part-time and seasonal.

Opportunities in Svalbard | AQA GCSE Geography | Cold Environments 3

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