Paint by numbers: Cold, hard stats add up to compelling portrait of recent drastic change in ‘This is Svalbard 2016’


Tourism and mining have essentially swamped positions in terms of their economic importance. Many more foreigners and far fewer Norwegians are filling those jobs, and on a temporary or part-time basis for less money than traditional wage earners. The presence and stability of wildlife and natural elements have gone haywire in all directions. And the community has taken many steps toward what is considered normal – which plenty of locals will doubtlessly consider an affront.

Those conclusions are part of the “This is Svalbard 2016” report released this month by Statistics Norway. While the document’s presentation is remarkably similar to the initial report released in 2009 – much of the text is the same with updated numbers plugged in –  it’s a striking tale about how Svalbard’s has changed more dramatically in many ways during the past eight years than it did during previous century.


A chart shows the number of Norwegian mining company employees in Svalbard since World War II. The red bar is the projected total at the end of 2016. Graph courtesy of Statistics Norway.

“Mining is no longer Svalbard’s heart,” the report declares. “There is only Mine 7 in Adventdalen in operation. In 2015 there were about 300 different businesses in Longyearbyen, Ny-Ålesund and Svea, divided into many different industries, a growth of over 70 percent since 2007.”

Mining accounted for 30 percent of the jobs and half of the total economic output, according to the 2009 report that used figures from the previous two years. But coal production dropped by nearly 75 percent between then and 2015, and the shift in jobs has been equally momentous.

“The mining industry currently represents only 17 percent of the approximately 1,650 FTEs being performed in Norwegian operations in Svalbard,” the report states. However “the number of total FTEs total has increased slightly since 2008 despite the decline in coal mining.”

“The trend towards a broader industry structure has been happening for a long time. A total of 30 percent of the employment is now in tourism and culture, and 15 percent in research and teaching with 240 FTEs (i.e. only slightly less than in the mining industry.)”

Government grants and subsidies have increased significantly, with 650 million kroner in 2015 accounting for 18 percent of Svalbard’s total economic output. A total of 308 million kroner in 2008 represented six percent of the economic output. Seventy-two percent of Svalbard’s research and education activities are financed with public funds.

Those employment by industry figures are likely even more divergent now since Store Norske continued downsizing until this fall and many tourism businesses are reporting record years.

The huge downsizing in mining means the virtually disappearance of “shift” workers (two weeks on, two weeks off that were often spent on the mainland) that once represented most of Store Norske’s workforce. The report also notes there is an annual turnover in the population of about 20 percent, down from 25 percent in the previous report. The average resident now stays about seven years, up from 6.3 in the 2009 report.

But while most of Longyearbyen’s workers now live full-time in the city, there is less stability in another sense since 47 percent of them are seasonal employees compared to 33 percent in the 2009 report.

Svalbard’s population has also increased, from 2,570 inhabitants in 2009 to 2,650 this year. But it has also seen landmark shifts within those relatively stable totals.