Longyearbyen: World’s Northernmost Town

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Have you ever wondered what a town in the Arctic looks and feels like? Especially if it is the northernmost town in the world? Prior to circumnavigation of the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen with Zegrahm Expeditions, in the remote Svalbard Archipelago , we stopped for a day in Longyearbyen, the largest settlement in Svalbard archipelago. This small town, located at the latitude of 78°13′ N (equivalent to 810 miles from the North Pole), has a permanent population of just over 2,000 people.

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I found the place utterly fascinating, as I could never envisage living in such a small settlement so far north. Living in Longyearbyen means living around polar bears, therefore going beyond the limits of the city without a weapon, and the accompanying knowledge of how to use it, is out of the question; polar bears are one of the very few mammals that actively hunt humans as a food source. The average summer temperature ranges from 4C to 6C; I think I must have been there on a very warm day, because the temperature felt like it was definitely warmer than 10C. The day was overcast, making the whole place look rather gloomy, and I asked one of the residents if they ever got sunshine. Apparently they do in the summer, and quite often. In fact, the town experiences five months of midnight sun and four months of polar nights. Because of the high season, and because Longyearbyen is the starting point for many a trip around Svalbard, the town was actually bustling with lovely atmosphere in public places with a mix of locals and visitors. Another fascinating thing about the capital of Svalbard is that unemployment is in effect illegal, which has resulted in practically crime-free society: if you do not have a job, you cannot live in Longyearbyen.

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Svalbard Global Seed Vault: our seeds are safe in the face of a worldwide catastrophe…

Longyearbyen is home to Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a truly compelling establishment…. This secure seedbank was started in 2006 to preserve a wide range of plant seeds that are duplicate samples of seeds held in gene banks worldwide. The island of Spitsbergen was chosen as the best and most secure location because of the lack of tectonic activity and the existence of permafrost, which would help with the conservation. This seed vault, located 120m inside a sandstone mountain, is an attempt to preserve spare copies of seeds held in other gene banks in the face of major global or regional catastrophe: this vault is basically the back-up for almost 1,800 seed banks worldwide. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault currently has over 770,000 seed samples.

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