Spitsbergen (formerly known as West Spitsbergen; Norwegian: ''Vest Spitsbergen'' or ''Vestspitsbergen'')〔“Of this Spitsbergen archipelago, the main island (the biggest) had the Norwegian name ‘Vest Spitsbergen’ (‘West Spitsbergen’ in English).” Umbreit, ''Spitsbergen'' (2009), p. ix.〕〔”Spitsbergen… an Arctic archipelago… comprising the five large islands of West Spitsbergen…”. Hugh Chisholm (ed.), ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' (1911), p. 708〕〔”… the Archipelago of Spitsbergen, comprising, with Bear Island… all the islands situated between 10deg. and 35deg. longitude East of Greenwich and between 74deg. and 81 deg. latitude North, especially West Spitsbergen…” ''Treaty concerning the Archipelago of Spitsbergen'' (1920), p. 1.〕 is the largest and only permanently populated island of the Svalbard archipelago in northern Norway. Constituting the westernmost bulk of the archipelago, it borders the Arctic Ocean, the Norwegian Sea, and the Greenland Sea. Spitsbergen covers an area of , making it the largest island in Norway and the 36th-largest in the world. The administrative centre is Longyearbyen. Other settlements, in addition to research outposts, are the Russian mining community of Barentsburg, the research community of Ny-Ålesund, and the mining outpost of Sveagruva.
The island was first used as a whaling base in the 17th and 18th centuries, after which it was abandoned. Coal mining started at the end of the 19th century and several permanent communities were established. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920 recognized Norwegian sovereignty and established Svalbard as a free economic zone and a demilitarized zone.
The Norwegian Store Norske and the Russian Arktikugol remain the only mining companies. Research and tourism have become important supplementary industries, featuring among others the University Centre in Svalbard and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. No roads connect the settlements; instead snowmobiles, aircraft, and boats serve as local transport. Svalbard Airport, Longyear provides the main point of entry and exit.
The island has an Arctic climate, although with significantly higher temperatures than other places at the same latitude. The flora benefits from the long period of midnight sun, which compensates for the polar night. Svalbard is a breeding ground for many seabirds, and also supports polar bears, reindeer and marine mammals. Six national parks protect the largely untouched, yet fragile environment. The island has many glaciers, mountains and fjords.
Spitsbergen was named by its discoverer, the Dutch navigator Willem Barentsz, in 1596. The name Spitsbergen, meaning “pointed mountains” (from the Dutch ''spits'' - pointed, ''bergen'' - mountains),〔(''In Search of Het Behouden Huys: A Survey of the Remains of the House of Willem Barentsz on Novaya Zemlya'', LOUWRENS HACQUEBORD, p. 250 )〕 was at first applied to both the main island and the archipelago as a whole. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, English whalers referred to the islands as "Greenland," 〔Fotherby, (1613) P45 () by Haven, S (1860)〕 a practice still followed in 1780 and criticized by Sigismund Bacstrom at that time.〔("Account of a voyage 1780" ), ''Philosophical Magazine'', 1799〕 The "Spitzbergen" spelling was used in English during the 19th century, for instance by Beechey,〔(Description ) Aston Barker, Beechey,〕 Laing,〔(A Voyage ) Laing 1822〕 and the Royal Society.〔(Proceedings vol 12 ) Royal Society 1863〕
In 1906, the Arctic explorer Sir Martin Conway thought that the ''Spitzbergen'' spelling was incorrect, preferring ''Spitsbergen'' as he noted that the name was Dutch, not German.〔"Spitsbergen is the only correct spelling; Spitzbergen is a relatively modern blunder. The name is Dutch, not German. The second S asserts and commemorates the nationality of the discoverer." – Sir Martin Conway, ''No Man’s Land'', 1906, p. vii.〕 This had little effect on British practice.〔Lockyer, N ("The Conway expedition to Spitzbergen" ), ''Nature'' (1896)〕〔(British documents on foreign affairs ) British Foreign Office (1908)〕 In 1920, the international treaty determining the fate of the islands was entitled the "Spitsbergen Treaty." The islands were generally referred to in the USA as ''Spitsbergen'' from that time,〔(TIME magazine ) ''NORWAY: Formal Annexation''〕 although the spelling ''Spitzbergen'' was also commonly used through the 20th century.〔(Hansard ) (1977)〕
Under Norwegian governance, the archipelago was named ''Svalbard'' in 1925, the main island becoming ''Spitsbergen.'' By the end of the 20th century, this usage had become common.
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