Jan Mayen

Geography & Climate

Flagge Norwegen
Jan Mayen is a part of Norway

Jan Mayen Island belongs to Kingdom of Norway and is situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, approx. 600 kilometers northeast from Iceland and 950 kilometers to the west of Norway. With a surface of 373 qkm it is approximately as large as the city of Cologne. The coastal length amounts to 124.1 kilometers. The island is 53.6 kilometers long and only 2.5 to 15.8 kilometers wide.

Similar to Iceland, Jan Mayen lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and is volcanically active. The volcanic activity is caused by the so called Jan Mayen Hotspot. A hotspot is a location in the Earth's mantle, which increases hot magma to the surface. Geologically seen the island is very young. Its age was determined on approximately 700,000 years. On the Jan Mayen Island is also located the northernmost volcano of the world which is over sea level. The 2,277 meters high volcano “Beerenberg” characterises the arctic landscape of the island. Its latest activity was in 1970, 1973 and 1985. But the eruption of 1970 was the only one of longer duration. It began on 18th September 1970 and continued until January 1971. About 0.5 cubic kilometres basalt flew out from a six kilometers long fissure. The eruption in 1985 were small and took only a few hours.

The earliest documented eruption of Beerenberg in historical time was in the year 1616. Since 1732 the volcano erupted six times. The Sør-Jan-Mayen in the southwest of the island with its ash cones and lava domes did not erupt since the end of the Pleistocene, thus for approximately 10,000 years.

Nearly one third of the island - more precisely 114.2 square kilometers, is covered by glaciers, especially the ice cap of the Beerenberg mountain, which divides itself further down into 20 valley glaciers. The largest of them is Søbreen with a surface of 15,0 square kilometers and a length of 8.7 kilometers.

The climate on Jan Mayen is Arctic-maritime. Frequently it is very windy and in the sometimes pack ice surrounds the island. The annual average temperature is 0°C. February is the coldest month and August is the warmest month.

Animals & Plants

On Jan Mayen live numerous kinds of birds, such as puffins for example. In addition, walruses and polar foxes are to be found there. As in the case of Iceland occasionally polar bears are driven here from Greenland with an iceberg. The vegetation is extremely meager and essentially consists of some lichens and mosses.


It is not sure, when the first humans discovered the Jan Mayen. Some historians search for proofs that the Irish monk Brendan already visited the island in the 6th century the island. It is proved however that Jan Mayen was sighted in 1607 by the sailor Henry Hudson, who searched for a shorter sea route to China on his trips through the Arctic. In the year 1614 the island was named after the Netherlands whaler Jan Jacobs May van Schellinkhout. In the bloom time of whaling in the 17. Century up to 1.000 humans were stationed in the summer months on Jan Mayen. In the following centuries the island lost in meaning and if occasionally was visited by seal hunters or whalers.

In 1861 came a Swiss-German expedition team to Jan Mayen and in the years 1882/83 a Austrian-Hungarian research station was established. The first meteorological station on Jan Mayen was put into operation 1921 and is in use until today. In the 1920ies Jan Mayen was visited by fox hunters sometimes. On 27th February 1930 Jan Mayen became part of the Norwegian kingdom. In the World War II the North Atlantic island was attacked occasionally by German airforce. Two German airplanes crashed over Jan Mayen, whereby one bomber hit against a mountain in 1942. Another airplane with four crew members was found in 1950 by British geologists.

Today Norway keeps on the weather station on Jan Mayen, which was operated into the 1960er years by up to 40 scientists. Because of the costs the crew was reduced to 18 humans until today. A part of them also work on the navigation system " Loran C" of the Norwegian military. Further there is a 1,585 meters long landing runway for airplanes. Other signs of human civilization can not be found on Jan Mayen until today.


Jan Mayen is only rarely visited by tourists. The only possibility to reach the isle is by traveling by a cruise liner. Some shipping companies organize cruises over the North Atlantic Ocean. Usually the cruiser are heading for the Faroes, Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard (Spitsbergen) and the Lofoten Islands near West-Norway. On the way from Iceland to Svalbard the ships pass frequently the Jan Mayen Island. A shore leave is usually not planned on these journeys. Since the island does not have a port, the direct landing is not possible. In case of a shore leave the passengers must be brought ashore by boat.

Key facts on Jan Mayen

Location 71° 2' 47" N, 8° 13' 49" W
Area 374 square kilometers
Coastline 124,1 km
Highest mountain Beerenberg (2.277 m)
Temperature (annual average) -1,4 °C
Weather station Olonkinbyen
Population 0 (up to 35 scientists)
Official language Norwegian
State territory Norway (since 1930)

Further topics

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