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The personal journal of technology journalist and conference speaker Randall S. Newton.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Beating the Great Arctic Land Rush In Svalbard

Several months ago, writing about Google Earth for AECnews, I mentioned that I would be using it to identify a good place to buy oceanfront property in the Arctic. Why the Arctic? Because global warming means there will soon (more or less) be a year-around shipping channel connecting Europe to Asia via the Arctic Ocean. Property values will rise. I want in on the action. (You think I'm kidding, right?)

Well, I think I've found a good spot to look for land. Check out Svalbard, possibly the northernmost human settlement in the world.

Svalbard is located north of Iceland and Norway, east of Greenland. The largest town, Longyearbyen, has a population of 1,800--about half the total population. There are more polar bears on Svalbard than people. Despite its northern location, the western side has temperatures that could be considered moderate for an Arctic environment, due to the influence of the north Atlantic current. Today, for example, the high was -5C, about 24F. It's colder than that at my house today. The tallest peak is Newtontopp (love the name) at 1713m (5,620ft).

Svalbard has an interesting history. It is considered a part of the Kingdom of Norway, an administrative agreement established by an international treaty in 1920. But there are some unusual aspects. If you can get to Svalbard directly, and you are a citizen of one of the nations which signed the treaty, you "shall have equal liberty of access and entry for any reason or object whatever to the waters, fjords and ports of the territories." The signatory nations (including the US) have mineral extraction rights, but most of the coal mines there closed years ago. Some immigrants who were denied access to EU countries have supposedly moved on to Svalbard.

Two of the smaller communities on Svalbard were first settled by Russian mining interests, so to this day Russian is spoken in these villages. There is a small but growing tourism industry, catering mostly to Norwegians.

If you draw a line straight line from Copenhagen, Denmark to the Bering Straight, it goes right through Svalbard. NASA and the EU have scientific operations there, and a few years ago they laid a fiber optic cable to the island. So it has great internet service.

I've sent an email to the keeper of the Svalbard FAQ , asking if there are restrictions on buying real estate there. I think the place will become a cruise ship port in 20 years, so I want to buy my piece of the north now before prices go up.

Remember, you read it here first.


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