Spitsbergen (formerly known as West Spitsbergen) is a Norwegian island, the largest island in the Svalbard archipelago, situated in the Arctic Ocean. The island of Spitsbergen covers approximately 39,044 sq km (15,075 sq miles). This name was also formerly applied to the entire archipelago of Svalbard and occasionally still is. It is around 450 km (280 miles) long and between 40 and 225 km (25 and 140 miles) wide. As Spitsbergen lies within the arctic circle, it is also one of the places in the world where, in June, the sun shines for 24 hours a day.
The name Spitsbergen means "jagged peaks" and was given by the Dutch explorer Willem Barents, who discovered the island while searching for the Northern Sea Route in 1596. However, this archipelago may have been known to Russian Pomor hunters as early as the 14th or 15th century, though solid evidence from before the 17th century is lacking. They concluded that the land they had found was a part of Greenland and, therefore, named it Grumant (Ãðóìàíò). The archipelago may also have been discovered by the Vikings/Norwegians in 1194. The name Svalbard is first mentioned in Icelandic sagas of the 10th and 11th centuries, but they may also refer to the Jan Mayen island or even Greenland.
Spitsbergen is one of three inhabited islands in the archipelago, and according to the terms of the Svalbard Treaty, citizens of any of the signatory countries may settle in the archipelago. Currently, only Norway and Russia make use of this right. The largest settlement on Spitsbergen is the Norwegian town of Longyearbyen, while the second largest settlement is the Russian coal mining settlement of Barentsburg (which was sold by the Netherlands in 1932 to the Soviet company Arktikugol).
Other settlements on the island include the former Russian mining communities of Grumantbyen and Pyramiden (abandoned in 1961 and 1998, respectively), a Polish research station at Hornsundet, and the remote northern settlement of Ny Alesund.
By 2007, the Norwegian government is planning on building a $3 million "doomsday vault" on the island, which would house 10,000 seeds from various plants in case of nuclear war or sudden and severe ecological or environmental change. As reported by BBC News, the Norwegian government built this bank by hollowing out a cave on Spitsbergen and then putting in as many seeds as possible in the vault, with support from countries around the world. The proposed bank will have top security, blastproof doors and would have two airlocks. The amount of seeds deposited will depend on the number of countries participating in the project.
Graphic sourced with thanks from Go to Spitsbergen