Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen is an island situated 550 km north-east of Iceland and 500 km east of Greenland, between 75° 5’N and 72° N, and between 7° 5’W and 8° 5’W. The island is 53 km long and covers 377 km2. As recently as 1985 there was an eruption from the volcano Beerenberg (2277 m) on the island - the world´s northernmost volcano above sea level, and Norway's only active volcano. There is a constant threat of new eruptions and earthquakes.

The crater in Beerenberg Photo: Johan Hustadnes / Norwegian Polar Institute

Map of Jan Mayen

Jan Mayen. Map: Norwegian Polar Institute

The Beerenberg volcano on Jan Mayen

Norway's only active volcano Beerenberg is located on the island, and Jan Mayen is dominated by volcanic formations. Photo: Johan Hustadnes, Norwegian Polar Institute

A volcanic eruption on Jan Mayen

From a volcanic eruption on Jan Mayen Photo: Thor Siggerud, Norwegian Polar Institute

Jan Mayen's climate is Arctic-maritime, with relatively mild winters and cold summers. Clear days are rare, foggy days are more the rule. The waters surrounding the island are normally icy from February until April, but this varies from year to year.

The Arctic fox was earlier the only numerous mammal on Jan Mayen but excessive hunting nearly led to its extinction. Polar bears are not normally found on Jan Mayen. Hooded seals and harp seals have important breeding areas north-west of Jan Mayen, and some years even near the shores of the island, due to ice conditions. 27 species of birds use the island as their regular nesting site. The tidal zone around Jan Mayen has a limited flora and fauna. The marine fauna is similar to what can be found by the south-eastern coast of Greenland. The two most commercially valuable marine resources around the island are shrimp and Iceland scallop.

Norsk Polarinstitutts Meddelelser no. 144 delineates Jan Mayen´s natural and cultural conditions, the environmental threats to the island and its surrounding waters, and recommendations for further investigations. The report, written in Norwegian, states that the main local environmental threat is the Norwegian Armed Forces´ waste disposal site on the island. The site contains high levels of PCBs, and is situated close to the shore. Due to wave erosion, the site may erode before the PCBs have deteriorated. Other threats to Jan Mayen´s natural environment are long-range transported pollutants, climatic changes, and a danger of excess fishing of marine stocks.

History and cultural remains

An old drawing of Jan Mayen and Beerenberg from the 17th century.

Jan Mayen has been known to sailors for a long time, and in the 17th century Dutch whalers established whaling factories on the island. Illustration: Norwegian Polar Institute

Though Jan Mayen has most likely been known of since the Viking Age, evidence of human activity on the island dates back to the 15th century. The Dutch established land stations for whaling, which were gradually abandoned after 1634. Research activities date back to 1882-83 and their remains are still to be found in Maria Muschbukta, protected according to preservation regulations. At the beginning of the 1900s, Norwegians started to hunt for Arctic fox on the island. Of the original 13 hunting cabins, five still remain. In 1921 Hagbart Ekerold established the first meteorological station on Jan Mayen, and the following year, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute annexed a part of the island. In 1926 the Institute annexed the whole island, but it was not until 27 February 1930 that Jan Mayen was incorporated in the Kingdom of Norway by law.