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This article is about the Norwegian island of Bjørnøya (Bear Island in English). See Bear Island for other places of that name.


Bjørnøya (Norwegian for "Bear Island") is a Norwegian island that constitutes a part of Svalbard. It is located in the western part of the Barents Sea at 78°N 19°E, about halfway between Spitsbergen and the North Cape.

Contents

Geography and nature

Map

Bjørnøya's outline is an irregular triangle pointing 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. A nature reserve covers all of the island, except 1.2 km² around the meteorological station; the reserve also stretches 4 nautical miles into the ocean.

The southern part of Bjørnøya is mountainous, the highest top being Miseryfjellet on the southeast coast at about 536 metres above sea level. Other notable mountains are Antarcticfjellet in the southeast, and Fuglefjellet, Hamburgfjellet, 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 many 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 Bjørnøya.

The coast is mostly steep with high cliffs and notable signs of erosion, such as caverns and isolated rock pillars. There are also a few sandy beaches. 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.

The climate is maritime-subarctic with relatively mild temperatures during the winter. January is the coldest month, with a mean temperature of -7.9°C. July and August are the warmest, with mean temperatures of 4.4 and 4.5°C respectively. There is not much precipitation, with an average of 350 mm per year in the northern lowland area. During the winter there is fast ice on the coast, but very rarely on the open sea around Bjørnøya. Pack ice is regularly carried to Bjørnøya from the Barents Sea, sometimes as early as October, but a significant amount of ice is not common before February.

The polar night lasts from 8th November until 3rd February, and the period of midnight sun from 2nd May until 11th August.

Missing image
Bjoern5.jpg
Stappen bird cliff at Bjørnøya

There is little plant growth, mostly moss and some scurvy grass, but no trees. Despite its name, Bjørnøya 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 stay over the summer months. There are also a few arctic foxes but no other indigenous land mammals. Ringed Seal and Bearded Seal live in the waters near Bjørnøya; the formerly common walrus has nowadays become a rare guest. The only land birds are the snow bunting and ptarmigan, but the island is very rich in sea birds that inhabit the vast cliffs in the south, among them the guillemot.

History

Although Norwegian seafarers of the Viking era may have known Bjørnøya, the first documented sighting was by Willem Barents on his third expedition in 1596. In the following centuries, the island was much used as a base for whaling as well as hunting of walrus and other seal species.

The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 placed Bjørnøya under Norwegian sovereignty.

There have never been extensive settlements on Bjørnøya. The remnants of a whaling station from the early 20th century can be seen at Kvallrossbukta in the southeast. A coal mine existed 19161925 in Tunheim on the northeastern coast, but mining was given up due to lack of profitability.

As of 2004, the only population on the island (approximately ten persons) is the staff of the Norwegian meteorological 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 Institute conducts annual expeditions to Bjørnøya, mostly concerned with ornithological research. There are also several other research projects under way, mostly pertaining to geography and climatology.

There are very few opportunities for individual travel to Bjørnøya. A few yachts make landfall, usually en route between Norway and Spitsbergen. Tourism is almost nonexistent. A small number of cruising ships have visited the island.

Miscellanous

Bjørnøya is featured in Alistair MacLean's adventure book "Bear Island". See Bear Island (novel).

References

  • Sysselmannen på Svalbard (The Governor of Svalbard), 2003. "Forvaltningsplan for Bjørnøya 2003-2008" (Administrative plan for Bjørnøya 2003-2008) (in Norwegian), Retrieved Oct. 11, 2004 from http://www.sysselmannen.svalbard.no/forvpl_sms.pdf
  • Norsk Polarinstitutt (The Norwegian Polar Research Institute) and Norges Sjøkartverk (The Norwegian Hydrographic Service), 1990. "Den Norske Los - Farvannsbeskrivelse - Sailing Directions", vol.7: "Arctic Pilot", 2nd ed., reprinted 1998. ISBN 82-90653-06-9

External links

Pictures

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