Barentsburg

Barentsburg (78°03' N 14°20' E) is a coal-mining settlement on the eastern coast of Gr0nfjorden (Green Harbour) in the Norwegian High Arctic Svalbard archipelago. Gr0nfjorden is a southern branch of Isfjorden, the largest fjord on the western coast of Spitsbergen. The mining settlement is owned by "Trust Arktikugol," a Russian-based mining company; therefore, the inhabitants of Barentsburg are predominantly Russian or Ukrainian citizens. The mining settlement is on Norwegian territory, however, and it is governed by Norwegian law and regulations.

The mining settlement was originally established by a Norwegian company in 1900, but sold to a Russian syndicate in 1915 that resold the claim to a Dutch company "Nederlandsche Spitsbergen Compagnie." In 1922, this company named the settlement "Barentsburg" after Willem Barentsz, the pilot of the Dutch ship that discovered Spitsbergen in 1596. Barentsburg was sold to Trust Arktikugol for 1.25 million guilders in 1932. The inhabitants were evacuated in 1941, because of World War II, to Arkhangel'sk (Russia), and in September 1943 Barentsburg was completely destroyed by a German naval attack, and first rebuilt after the war.

The number of inhabitants in Barentsburg has varied in recent years. In 1993, there were 1500 residents, but in 1994, due to financial difficulties in Russia, the local school was closed and children and housewives had to leave. By 1998, the population had been reduced to 800; this has gradually increased and by 2001 was almost 1000. A kindergarten has opened and the primary school is planned to reopen.

Barentsburg is based industrially on mining Tertiary age coal. The yearly production varies; 390,000 tons were mined in 1999. Approximately 10% is used in the local power plant and the rest is exported.

Barentsburg is a typical company town, and was only opened up to visitors in the 1990s. A hotel opened in 1989, and there was a cafeteria and a souvenir shop in the town. There is a hospital; a textile company that employed 30-40 seamstresses; a research station that specializes in geophysics, geology, and archaeology; a meteorological station; a museum; and a Russian Consulate. There is no road connection between Barentsburg and other parts of Svalbard.

At Heerodden, 3 km (1.9 mi) north of Barentsburg, there is a small heliport, established in 1978, to shuttle personnel between Barentsburg and the international airport in Longyearbyen. Transportation within Svalbard, if not by air, has to be by boat or snowmobile.

Ian Gjertz

See also Svalbard Further Reading

Arctic Pilot: Sailing Directions Svalbard-Jan Mayen, Stavanger: Norwegian Hydrographic Service and Norwegian Polar Research Institute, 1988 Orheim, Olav (editor), The Placenames of Svalbard, Oslo: Norsk Polarinstitutt, 1991

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