- Bear Island (Norway)
name = Bear Island
image caption = Bear Island is located north of mainland Norway, in the south of the
native name = Bjørnøya
native name link = Norwegian language
coordinates = coord|74|31|N|19|01|E|type:isle|display=inline,title
total islands =
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area = 178 km²
highest mount =
elevation = convert|536|m|ft|0|abbr=on
country = Norway
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population = 9
population as of = 2008-08-20
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Bear Island, sometimes referred to under the Norwegian name of Bjørnøya (IPA2|ˈbjøːɳøja), is the southernmost island in of the Norwegian
Svalbard archipelago. The island is located in the western part of the Barents Sea, approximately halfway between Spitsbergenand the North Cape.
Bear Island was discovered by the Dutch explorers
Willem Barentsand Jacob van Heemskerkon 10 June 1596. It was named after a polar bearthat was seen swimming nearby. The island was considered terra nulliusuntil the Svalbard Treatyof 1920 placed it under Norwegian sovereignty.
Despite its remote location and barren nature, the island has seen commercial activities in past centuries, such as
coal mining, fishingand whaling. However, no settlements have lasted more than a few years, and Bear Island is now uninhabited except for personnel working at the island's meteorological station. Along with the adjacent waters, it was declared a nature reservein 2002.
Seafarers of the Viking era may have known Bear Island, but the documented history begins in 1596, when
Willem Barentssighted the island on his third expedition. cite book | author=Arlov, Thor B. | title=Svalbards historie | location=Trondheim | publisher=Tapir Akademisk Forlag | year=2003 | language=Norwegian|id=ISBN 82-519-1851-0] Steven Bennetconducted further exploration in 1603 and 1605 and noted the then rich population of walrus. Starting in the early 17th century, the island was used mainly as a base for whalingand for the hunting of walrusand other seal species. Eggs of seabirds were harvested from the large bird colonies until 1971. cite web | last = Circumpolar Seabird Working Group | first = | authorlink = | coauthors = | year = 2001 | url = http://arcticportal.org/uploads/q8/qo/q8qoUGSfI0InO8Oi1SW23Q/Technical-no-9.pdf | title = Seabird harvest regimes in the circumpolar nations | format = | work = | publisher = | accessmonthday = December 20 | accessyear = 2007]
Bear Island has never been extensively settled. The remnants of a whaling station from the early 20th century can be seen at "Kvalrossbukta" ("walrus bay") in the southeast. From 1916 to 1925
coalwas mined at a small settlement named "Tunheim" on the northeastern coast, but mining was given up as unprofitable. Due to the cold and dry climate, the remains of the settlement, including a half-destroyed jetty and a steam locomotive, are relatively well preserved.
The strategic value of Bear Island was recognised in the late 19th century, when
Imperial Russiaand Imperial Germanydemonstrated their interests in the Barents Sea. The German journalist and adventurer Theodor Lernervisited the island in 1898 and 1899 and claimed rights of ownership. In 1899, the German fishery association "Deutsche Seefischerei-Verein" (DSV) started investigations of whaling and fishery in the Barents Sea. The DSV was secretly in contact with the German naval command and considered the possibility of an occupation of Bear Island. In reaction to these advances, the Russian Navy sent out the protected cruiser "Svetlana" to investigate, and the Russians hoisted their flag over Bear Island on 21 July 1899. Although Lerner protested the action, no violence occurred and the matter was settled diplomatically with no definitive claims of sovereignty over Bear Island by any nation.
The whole island was privately owned by the coal mining company Bjørnøen AS from 1918 to 1932, when the Norwegian state took over the shares. Bjørnøen AS now exists as a state owned company and is jointly managed with
Kings Bay AS, the company that runs the operations of Ny-Ålesundon Spitsbergen. cite web | author=Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry | year=2005| title=The State's Ownership Report 2004 | url=http://www.odin.no/filarkiv/253150/ownership2004.pdf | accessmonthday=February 27 | accessyear=2006] A Norwegian radio station ("Bjørnøya Radio", callsign: "LJB" cite web | year = 2005 | url = http://www.wmo.ch/web/www/ois/Operational_Information/VolumeD/VolumeD/Chapter4.pdf | title = List of coastal radio stations | format = | work = | publisher = World Meteorological Organisation | accessmonthday = October 9 | accessyear = 2006] ) was established in "Herwighamna" on the north coast in 1919. It was later extended to include a meteorological station.
As the shipping routes from the
Atlantic Oceanto Murmanskand the ports of the White Seapass through the Barents Sea, the waters near Bear Island were of great strategic importance in the Second World War as well as the Cold War. Although Svalbard was not occupied by Germany in the Second World War, German forces erected several weather stations there. An automated radio station was deployed on Bjørnøya in 1941. German forces attacked several arctic convoys with military supplies for the Soviet Unionin the waters surrounding Bear Island. They inflicted heavy losses upon Convoy PQ-17in June/July 1942 but were ineffective in the Battle of the Barents Seaon New Year's Eve 1942. The waters southeast of Bear Island were the scene of more naval battles in 1943. In November 1944, the Soviet Union proposed to annul the Svalbard Treaty with the intention of gaining sovereignty over Bear Island. Negotiations with Trygve Lieof the Norwegian government-in-exile had however not lead to an agreement by the end of the Second World War and the Soviet proposals were never implemented. The Soviet Union (and later, Russia) maintained their presence on Spitsbergen, however.
In 2002 a
nature reservewas established that covers all of the island, except 1.2 km² around the meteorological station; the reserve also includes the adjacent waters to four nautical miles (7.4 km) from the coast.cite web | author=Sysselmannen på Svalbard (The Governor of Svalbard)| year=2005| title=Forvaltningsplan for Bjørnøya 2005-2010 ("Administrative plan for Bjørnøya 2005-2010") | url=http://www.sysselmannen.svalbard.no/forvpl_sms.pdf | accessmonthday=November 24 |accessyear=2005] Today, the island's only inhabitants are the ninecite web | title=Badet naken på Bjørnøya ("Swim naked on Bear island") | year=2008 | url=http://www.siste.no/Innenriks/article3730159.ece] person staff of the Norwegian meteorological and radio station at Herwighamna. The station conducts meteorological observations and provides logistic and telecommunication services. It also maintains a landing place for use by helicopters of the Norwegian Coast Guard. The Norwegian Polar Instituteconducts annual expeditions to Bear Island, mostly concerned with ornithological research. Several other research projects, mostly pertaining to geography and climatology, are carried out less regularly. There are very few opportunities for individual travel to Bjørnøya. A few yachts make landfall, usually en route between the Norwegian mainland and Spitsbergen. A small number of cruising ships have visited the island, but tourismis otherwise almost nonexistent.
Hydrography, geography and climate
Agencies of the Norwegian government have conducted
Hydrographic surveys of the waters of Svalbard throughout the 20th century, namely by "Norges Svalbard- og Ishavsundersøkelser" since 1928, its successor, the Norwegian Polar Institute since 1948, and the Norwegian Hydrographic Servicesince 1984. cite book | author= Anon. | title=Den Norske Los - Farvannsbeskrivelse - Sailing Directions, Vol.7: "Arctic Pilot" | publisher=Norsk Polarinstitutt (The Norwegian Polar Research Institute) and Norges Sjøkartverk (The Norwegian Hydrographic Service) | year=1990|language = Norwegian/English| id=ISBN 82-90653-06-9] Land surveyingand mapping are the responsibilities of the Polar Institute.
Bear Island lies in the westernmost part of the Barents Sea on
Spitsbergen Bankwhich extends southward from Spitsbergenand Edgeøya, forming a part of the continental shelf. Water depths near the island and to the north and east do not much exceed 100 metres, but become much greater to the south, and especially some thirty nautical miles to the west, where the continental shelf slopes into the deep water of the Norwegian Seaand Greenland Sea.
The island's outline is an irregular
trianglepointing south with a greatest north-south extension of 20 km and a greatest east-west extension of 15.5 km; its surface area is 178 km². The southern part of Bjørnøya is mountainous, the highest top being Miseryfjelleton the southeast coast at about 536 metres above sea level. Other notable mountains are "Antarcticfjellet" in the southeast, and "Fuglefjellet", "Hambergfjellet", and "Alfredfjellet" in the southwest. The northern part of the island forms a lowland plain that comprises some two thirds of the surface area. The lowland is strewn with shallow freshwater lakes which cover some 19 km² in all. Several streams flow into the sea, often as waterfalls in the steeper parts of the coast. There are no glaciers on Bear Island.
Apart from a few sandy beaches, the coast is mostly steep, with high cliffs and notable signs of erosion such as caverns and isolated rock pillars. A number of anchorages and landing points exist, as well as a small harbor at "Herwighamna" on the north coast. However, none of these are safe in all weather conditions and a ship mooring anywhere on Bear Island must therefore be prepared to weigh anchor at any time.
A branch of the
North Atlantic currentcarries warm water to Svalbard, creating a climate much warmer than that of other regions at similar latitude. Bear Island's climate is maritime-polar with relatively mild temperatures during the winter. January is the coldest month, with a mean temperature of −8.1 °C(base period 1961–1990). July and August are the warmest months, with mean temperatures of 4.4 °C. There is not much precipitation, with an average of 371 mm per year in the northern lowland area. The weather can be quite stable during the summer months, although foggy conditions are common, occurring during 20% of all days in July. Fog develops when warm air of Atlantic origin passes over cold water.
Because Bear Island lies on a boundary between cold water of polar origin and warmer Atlantic water, water temperatures within a few dozen nautical miles of the island are quite variable, sometimes reaching 10 °C in summer. During the winter
fast icedevelops on the coast, but it is rare on the open sea around Bear Island. The Barents Seacarries pack iceto Bjørnøya every winter, sometimes as early as October, but a significant amount of ice is not common before February.
polar nightlasts from 8 Novemberto 3 February, and the period of midnight sunfrom 2 Mayuntil 11 August.
Flora and fauna
There is little plant growth, consisting mostly of
mossand some scurvy grass, but no trees. The only indigenous land mammals are a few arctic foxes. Despite its name, Bear Island is not a permanent residence of polar bears, although many arrive with the expanding pack ice in the winter. Occasionally, a bear will stay behind when the ice retreats in spring and remain through the summer months. cite news | last=Årsæther | first=Jan | title=Isbjørnfamilie fanget på Bjørnøya ("Polar bear family trapped on Bear Island") | date=27 July 2004 | publisher=TV2 (Norway)|url=http://pub.tv2.no/TV2/nyhetene/article258155.ece] Ringed Sealand Bearded Seallive in the waters near Bjørnøya, but the formerly common walrushas nowadays become a rare guest. The only land birds are the snow buntingand ptarmigan, but the island is very rich in guillemot, puffin, fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake, glaucous gulland other seabirds that inhabit the vast cliffs in the south. The pink-footed goose and other species visit the island during their seasonal migration between Svalbard's northern islands and mainland Europe. Bear Island's freshwater lakes are home to a population of arctic char.
Although there are currently no industrial activities on Bjørnøya or in its immediate vicinity, pollution by toxic and radioactive substances remains a threat to the island's virtually untouched nature. Exploration in the Barents sea and the recent development of the
Snøhvitgas field off the northern coast of Norway shows that the ecologically sensitive polar and subpolar sea areas of the Norwegian and Barents Sea have come into the focus of the petrol and gas industry. cite web | author=Norwegian Petroleum Directorate | year=2005| title=Barents Sea exploration celebrates 25 years | url=http://www.npd.no/English/Emner/Geografiske+omraader/Barentshavet/barentshavet_25_aar_jubileum.htm | accessmonthday=March 1 | accessyear=2006] The environmental organisation Bellona has criticised cite web | author=Buch, Cato | year=2002| title=Snøhvit: Reasons for Bellona's opposition | url=http://www.bellona.no/en/energy/fossil/barents/snohvit/24419.html | accessmonthday=October 18 | accessyear=2005] the Norwegian government for licensing these activities without sufficient studies of their ecological impact. Organic toxins, specifically PCBs, have been found in high concentrations in biological samples from Bear Island, especially in Arctic char of the freshwater lake "Ellasjøen". cite paper | author=Herzke, D.; Evenset A. et al. | title=Polybrominated diphenylethers in biota from Bjørnøya (Bear Island) | date=2004|url=http://bfr2004.com/Individual%20Papers/BFR2004%20Abstract%20044%20Herzke.pdf ] The Soviet nuclear submarine"Komsomolets" sank on 7 April 1989some convert|100|nmi|km|-1 southwest of Bear Island. cite paper | author=Montgomery, George | title=The Komsomolets Disaster | publisher=Center for the Studies of Intelligence| date=1995 | url=https://www.cia.gov/csi/studies/95unclass/Montgomery.html ] Leakage of radioactive material from the reactor and nuclear warheads currently poses a minor problem, but severe pollution of the surrounding waters remains possible. cite paper | author=Gwynn, J.P.; Dowdall, M.; Lind, B. | title=The Radiological Environment of Svalbard | publisher=Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority | date=2004 | url=http://www.nrpa.no/dokumentarkiv/StralevernRapport02_2004.pdf]
Bear island has a club for nude dippers ("Bjørnøya nakenbadeforening"), with a little over 2000 members. To qualify for membership one has to take a naked dip (head under water) and the event must be witnessed by someone of the oposite sex. Among the members are Knut Storberget (Norwegian minister of justice) and Kristin Krohn Devold (previous Norwegian minister of defence). The sea temperature is around 4°C.
* List of islands of Norway
* "Bear Island", a novel by
Alistair Macleanwhich is set on Bear Island.
Further information and external links
Publications of administrative and general interest are issued by the
Governor of Svalbard[http://www.sysselmannen.svalbard.no/eng] . Maps, research reports, and scholarly works about Svalbard-related subjects are available from the Norwegian Polar Institute[http://npiweb.npolar.no] .
* [http://www.ikfoundation.org/shop/bear-island.html Bear Island: The story of an isolated arctic island - exploration, people, culture and nature] by
* [http://odin.dep.no/jd/english/doc/white_paper/012001-040007/dok-bn.html Report to the Storting (1999-2000) on Svalbard] by the
Norwegian Ministry of Justice and the Police- extensive report on political, administrative, economical and scientific matters relating to Svalbard
* [http://www.timegenie.com/city.time/xenbj/ TimeGenie.com] - Central Europe Time zone. Standard Time difference compared to UTC/GMT is +1 hours
Maps and photos:
* [http://www.sysselmannen.svalbard.no/bjorn_natres.jpgBear Island nature reserve (JPEG image)] – from the Office of the Governor of Svalbard
* [http://www.sysselmannen.svalbard.no/eng/bjornoya%20nord.pdf Detailed map northeastern part (PDF)] showing the location of the meteorological station near the top
* [http://www.sysselmannen.svalbard.no/eng/bjornoya%20syd.pdf Detailed map southern part (PDF)]
* [http://miljo.npolar.no/mis/multimedia/images/omrade/kart/verneA4.jpgMap showing the location of Bear Island in relation to Svalbard] – from the Norwegian Polar Institute
* [http://www.aftenposten.no/english/bildeserier/article1109832.ece Strategic Arctic outpost] – pictorial introduction to Bear Island, from Norwegian newspaper
Aftenposten, 6 September 2005
Geography, hydrography, meteorology:
* [http://maps.unomaha.edu/Maher/svalbard/bjorn.html Geology of Bear Island, Norway] – by Dr. Harmon D. Maher Jr., Dept of Geography and Geology,
University of Nebraska at Omaha
* [http://met.no/english/about/organisation/met_dep/forecast_nn/bear_island.html Bjørnøya and the island's meteorological station] – by the
Norwegian Meteorological Institute
* [http://met.no/observasjoner/svalbard/normaler_for_kommune_2121.html Monthly temperature, precipitation normals 1961–1990] – upper table: temperature (°C); lower table: precipitation (mm)
* [http://met.no/kyst_og_hav/iskart.html Sea ice charts of the Bjørnøya area] – updated daily on weekdays
* [http://arcticwar.pomorsu.ru/sea/arcticwar2000/selinger.html "Meteorological operations in the Arctic 1940–1945"] – by Franz Selinger; on WWII German Arctic meteorology services, incl. "TAAGET" station, Bjørnøya
* [http://www.sysselmannen.svalbard.no/eng/show.asp?page=goxpage00000026.html Two Russian vessels arrested at Bear Island for violation of fishing regulations]
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