Nordaust-Svalbard nature reserve

North-east Svalbard nature reserve is the most high-arctic part of Svalbard. The fjords are covered in ice and the ice surround the islands large parts of the year. Glaciers cover most of the land. This is the realm of the polar bear and the walrus. The area has been protected as a nature reserve since 1973 and covers all of Nordauslandet, Kvitøya, north-eastern parts of Spitsbergen and the archipelago of Kong Karls Land. The Hinlopenstretet strait that separates Spitsbergen from Nordaustlandet is also part of the reserve.

Map of Nordaustlandet in Svalbard

Map of Nordaustlandet in Svalbard. Map: Norwegian Polar Institute


Nordaust-Svalbard nature reserve has a distinct high arctic polar desert climate.

With its 14.443 square kilometres, Nordaustlandet is the second biggest island on Svalbard. Austfonna and Vestfonna on the island are Norway's two largest glaciers, and the landscape is characterized by large plateu glaciers. In the ocean north of Nordaustlandet one finds the small archipelago of Sjuøyane, with their characteristic hat-like mountains. Thousands of breeding sea birds give the hard granite rock a sheer of green moss. Sorgfjorden is northeasternmost on Spitsbergen, by the mouth of the Hinlopenstretet. It is surrounded by large beaches and the characteristic mountain Heclahuken to the southeast.

The parts not covered in ice make up around 27% of the land in the nature reserve. The topography is strongly affected by the inland ice during earlier ice ages, and has more large plains and grounded mountain formations than the more alpine areas in the other parts of Svalbard. The northeast coast of Spitsbergen is covered in glaciers dropping into the sea, and has few ice-free areas.

Most of the reserve has a polar desert climate, and large parts of the area does not have any vegetation. Nordaustlandet looks from a distance a cold, inhospitable and barren place. Some smaller areas are more fertile, like the Sjuøyane. The north coast has several smaller bird mountains that are key biotopes in this precious area. North east Svalbard nature reserve has populations of arctic fox and Svalbard reindeer, and along the coast one will find several spots where the walrus makes its home. Kong Karls Land is the key area for the reproductive part of the polar bear populations. Also the north-eastern parts of the reserve is assumed to be important for the polar bear. North east Svalbard nature reserve is on the UNESCO list of biosphere-reserves.

Cultural remains

M/K Viking's arrival in Beverlysundet

M/K Viking's arrival in the Beverlysundet sound, with the Sjuøyane islands in the background. The nature reserve has seen less human activity than the rest of Svalbard, but some remains can also be found here. Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute

There are few cultural remains in this area. The vegetation on land and the production in the sea has been the grounds for wildlife both on land and at sea. This has given humans opportunities for hunting. Nordaustlandet has not been the scene for as much human activity as the rest of Svalbard, but there are some remains to be found. Some of these are unique on Svalbard, and are connected to Russian hunting in the 18th and 19th century, and also some related to the Second World War.

Kinnvika in Murchisonfjorden has a whole research station from the international geophysical year in 1957-58. The German weather station Station Haudegen from the Second World War can be found in Rijpfjorden. On Kvitøya the fate of Andrée and his balloon was finally discovered.