The New International Encyclopædia/Spitzbergen
SPITZ'BERGEN. A group of islands in the Arctic Ocean, situated about 430 miles north of the northern extremity of Norway, between 76° 30' and 80° 48' north latitude, and between 10° and 30° east longitude (Map: Arctic Regions, H 3). The group consists of three large islands, West Spitzbergen, North East Land, and Edge Island, whose areas are, respectively, about 15,000, 4000, and 2500 square miles, and a number of smaller islands. All of them are of a rocky and mountainous character and very irregularly indented. West Spitzbergen has an ice-covered plateau running along its eastern coast and eroded toward the west into deep and narrow valleys terminating in fiords, and carrying the overflow of ice in the form of glaciers to the sea. These valleys and fiords are separated by rugged and rocky mountain spurs, here and there forming a network of craggy peaks and ridges interspersed with glaciers. The highest point is the Horn Sund Tind with an altitude of 4560 feet. North East Land is almost wholly covered with an ice sheet, while the other islands are free from permanent ice, or carry only isolated glaciers on their eastern slopes. The mean monthly temperatures range from 10° below zero in February to 37° above in August. Snow falls at all seasons, but in summer a considerable herbaceous growth covers the lower western slopes. This consists largely of mosses, though there are 130 species of flowering plants and ferns, with sedges predominating along the shores. The fauna includes the reindeer, which, however, is fast disappearing, the polar bear, and the fox. The walrus is still found along the coast, but the birds are becoming fewer.
Spitzbergen has no permanent inhabitants, and no country claims possession of it. The islands were discovered by the Dutch in 1596. The interior was first explored in 1892 by Rabot, and in 1896 by Sir Martin Conway, who was the first to cross the large island. Spitzbergen has been an important base for polar expeditions, and in 1897 Andrée made it the starting point in his ill-fated attempt to reach the Pole by balloon. In recent years the west coast has been visited by a number of tourists, and in 1896 a weekly steamship service during summer was established from Norway, and a small hotel was built on the coast.
Bibliography. Nordenskjöld, Die schwedischen Expeditionen nach Spitzbergen und Bären Eiland (Jena, 1869); Zeppelin, Reisebilder aus Spitzbergen, Bäreneiland und Norwegen (Stuttgart, 1892); Conway, The First Crossing of Spitzbergen (London, 1897); Hafter, Briefe aus dem hohen Norden (Frauenfeld, 1900).