NEVER BEEN TO... SVALBARD

Business Traveller - - UPFRONT -

YOU’D BE WISE TO KEEP AN EYE OUT for prowl­ing po­lar bears if you visit Svalbard, an ar­chi­pel­ago 600 miles or so south of the North Pole. Four years ago, Bri­tish school­boy Ho­ra­tio Chap­ple was trag­i­cally mauled to death here by one of these huge beasts.

Svalbard, well in­side the Arc­tic Cir­cle and part of the King­dom of Nor­way, is very much po­lar bear ter­ri­tory. A group of icy is­lands, it mostly com­prises moun­tains, fjords and glaciers. The 2,600 hu­mans who live there stick to the few set­tle­ments, in­clud­ing the re­gional cen­tre Longyear­byen. Should they need to com­mute be­tween set­tle­ments, they nor­mally travel by boat or snow­mo­bile. In­ter­na­tional flights ar­rive at Svalbard Air­port, Longyear.

Orig­i­nally colonised by whalers and fish­er­men in the 1600s, Svalbard now has three main in­dus­tries – coal min­ing, tourism and sci­en­tific re­search. There’s also an in­trigu­ing place called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, where a mil­lion plant seed sam­ples (“of value for food and agri­cul­ture, and of im­por­tance for re­search, plant breed­ing and ed­u­ca­tion”) are stored at mi­nus 18 de­grees centi­grade. The seed bank doesn’t have many vis­i­tors. But if a plague ever wipes out the planet’s flora, ev­ery­one will be beat­ing a path to its door.

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