Mapping in the Arctic

The Svalbard landscape is continuously changing. Glaciers advance and retreat, taking with them enormous amounts of rock, gravel and sand, and rivers appear and disappear. New skerries and islands come to light in the sea, and the sea moves unconsolidated sediment around, forming sandbanks where there was previously deep water. For people travelling in Svalbard, both on land and by sea, it is vital that the map agrees with the terrain, and the mapping of Svalbard is therefore an important process.

The Blomstrand Peninsula in Svalbard is a good example of a landscape that is continuously changing. Until just a few years ago, it appeared to be a peninsula that projected into the sea beneath the Blomstrand Glacier, which calved into the fjord. Now, several hundred metres of the glacier have melted and it is obvious that the peninsula is really an island.

Did you know... information icon Alex Hartley, an English artist, ”discovered” a new island, the size of a football pitch, off Svalbard in 2006. He called it Nymark, demanded its sovereignty and that it should be seceded from the Kingdom of Norway. He advertised competitions to decide the future architecture of the island and a design for its flag. Owing to the Svalbard Treaty, and because the Norwegian Polar Institute had seen the "island" on satellite images as early as 1998, the demand was refused. The artist, however, would not give up hope of it being accepted as a separate nation since it was physical proof of how the effects of global warming had led to the glacier that previously covered Nymark retreating some 1.6 kilometres in just a few years. The name Nymark was, moreover, not approved and the ”island” is now called Nyskjeret. 

Map of the Blomstrand PeninsulaThe Blomstrand Peninsula in Svalbard. The map on the left is from 1927 and shows the whole of the Blomstrand Peninsula covered by a glacier. That on the right shows the glacier snout as it was in 1998. The peninsula has now melted completely out of the glacier and proved to be an island.
Illustration: NPI