You Can’t Die in Svalbard

30 Sep

It’s illegal. At least in Longyearbyen, their largest town.

Svalbard is an icy archipelago that lies well north of the Arctic Circle. It’s nearly 400 miles from the rest of Norway and temperatures tend to stay between -16 and 6 degrees centigrade year round, barely rising above freezing in the summer. More than two-thirds of the islands’ area has been declared as nature reserves and arctic wildlife is plentiful. In fact, polar bears are so common here that people are required to carry rifles while outside of town, just in case.  The resident population numbers in the low thousands, but a constant stream of researchers and tourists keep the island active. There are even a number of hotels for temporary visitors.

But even though these arctic islands continue to welcome numerous guests, there is one place that you will absolutely not be allowed to stay: Longyearbyen’s graveyard. For the last seventy years, officials have not admitted any new bodies to be buried here.

At its heart, the problem stems from the fact that most of Svalbard’s soil is permafrost, land that is kept below freezing year round. Decades ago, officials discovered that the bodies simply weren’t decomposing like they should. The cold was essentially keeping them refrigerated year-round. Scientists have even been able to recover traces of the dreaded Spanish flu from a body interred in 1917.

Instead, if you fall terminally ill, either you or your body will be flown back to Norway’s mainland. It might seem harsh, but I guess when you live on the edge of the world sometimes you have to make concessions.

Longyearbyen is also the home of Norway’s famous seed vault.

Sources: BBC

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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Modernity


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