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  • Come take a walk with me, around Longyearbyen.

  • That's the largest town on the Norwegian islands of Svalbard.

  • Parts of it may look familiar.

  • But make no mistake,

  • this place IS different.

  • At 78° north,

  • It is just 1800mi/1300km from the North Pole.

  • And with over 2000 permanent residents,

  • it is the northernmost real town on Earth.

  • There are only 50km (31mi) of road, including the small streets between houses.

  • So people get around the island mainly on snowmobile.

  • In fact, there are more registered snowmobiles, than residents.

  • Anyone leaving town is required to travel with a gun and someone who knows how to use it.

  • Because the islands are also home to polar bears.

  • The average daytime high,

  • is below freezing for all but four months of the year.

  • Hi.

  • And from the end of October to mid February,

  • the sun doesn't rise at all.

  • This is the long polar night.

  • Living here, is tough.

  • This past December, an avalanche in town destroyed 10 homes,

  • which used to be here, killing two people.

  • So how did this cold, remote, ice-covered archipelago come to be inhabited?

  • Well, the hills around town are rich in coal deposits,

  • that have been mined for over 100 years.

  • The coal was transported to the port via a series of aerial tramways.

  • Some of which remain today, though they are no longer operational.

  • Coal is a reminder that Svalbard was not always an Arctic ice world.

  • 360 million yaers ago it was actually in the tropics, just north of the equator.

  • A swampy area it was covered with a precursor to modern ferns,

  • which were much larger than they are today, reaching 10-30m (33-98ft) in height.

  • This vegetation was then covered in mud and sand,

  • and submerged under the sea.

  • Over time, it turned into the coal deposites that in the 20th century

  • brought miners from Norway, Russia and the US.

  • Most of the coal mines have now closed and the economy

  • is gradually shifting towards tourism, education and research.

  • Tourists take trips on snowmobiles and dog sleds.

  • There is a university center in Svalbard which offers semester courses

  • in biology, physics and geology.

  • And up on the side of a mountain, is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

  • But that's a story for another time.

  • The locals tell me that interest in the region from different nations

  • is increasing.

  • As the globe warms and Arctic ice shrinks

  • trade routs are opening up across the north.

  • And Svalbard is strategically placed between North America, Asia and Europe.

  • So one day in the future, Svaldbard may no longer be as cold or as remote as it once was.

  • But for now, it is a reminder of how through our ingenuity people can live

  • in even the most inhospitable of places.

Come take a walk with me, around Longyearbyen.

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B1 coal town north arctic covered polar

The Northernmost Town on Earth (Svalbard in 4K)

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    BH posted on 2017/01/15
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