The Archipelago of Svalbard was discovered by the Dutch captain Willem Barentsz in 1596. Most parts of the area are untouched wilderness, but throughout the past five hundred years, Svalbard has been host to fishermen and hunters, mining companies and science expeditions. The Treaty on Svalbard was signed in Paris the 9th of February 1920, and since the 17th of July 1925 Svalbard has been part of The Kingdom of Norway.
As much as 60 percent of the landmass is covered in ice, and less than ten percent has any vegetation. The nature preserves of Svalbard today comprise around 65 percent of the total land mass of the archipelago, and around 85 percent of the territorial waters out to 12 nautical miles. Svalbard has 29 protected areas, and these are protected by the Svalbard Environment Law which was passed the 1st of July 2002.
Svalbard is surrounded by a shallow sea-shelf. The annual average temperature in Longyearbyen is -4o C, but the climatic differences in the archipelago are greater. The highest measured temperature in Svalbard is 21.3° C, and the lowest is -46.3° C. Longyearbyen has the Midnight Sun from 20 April until 23 August, and the Polar Night from 26 October until 15 February. As ice disappears, the land rises out of the sea, it is called isostatic (or post-glacial) rebound. In Svalbard, the shoreline is now 40 to 80 m lower than it was at the end of the last glaciation.
Svalbard has no indigenous population. In 2009, Svalbard had a population of 2,753, of which 423 were Russian and Ukrainian, 10 were Polish and 322 were other non-Norwegians living in Norwegian settlements.