The number of registered snowmobiles

A small group of people on snow mobiles in Svalbard.
Photo: Gerit Rotschky / Norwegian Polar Institute

The number of snowmobiles registered in Svalbard is monitored because the figure is thought to correlate with the amount of traffic outside the settlements and thus with the potential for impact on the environment.

What is being monitored?

Number of registered snowmobiles at Svalbard

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The number of snowmobiles registered in Svalbard as per 31.12. The increase has been enormous since 1973, the number more than doubled between 2003 and 2009. There was a reduction of approximately 500 from 2009 to 2010. From that year on, ZN-registered snowmobiles that were transported to the mainland were excluded from the data set. Since then, the decrease in numbers has continued and has stabilized around 2100.

Status and trend

Since 1973, there has been a steady increase in the number of registered snowmobiles. The number more than doubled in 2003–2009, accelerating in the period from 2005 to 2009, when about 300 new snowmobiles were registered each year. A marked peak was reached in 2009.

The introduction of new rules for registration brought a drop in the number of snowmobiles in 2010, but the number is now rising again slowly. The reduction of about 500 snowmobiles from 2009 to 2010 was because ZN-registered snowmobiles which were transported to the mainland were excluded.

Causal factors

Svalbard has relatively liberal regulations for off-road motorised traffic compared with the mainland.

Particularly people domiciled in Svalbard can travel freely over large areas and can also seek permission to travel by snowmobile inside the old national parks from 1973 (Sør-Spitsbergen, Forlandet and Nordvest-Spitsbergen national parks).

Visitors have more limitations regarding where they may travel. The opportunity to drive snowmobiles in magnificent, scenic landscape is advertised by the tourism firms in Svalbard, and many tourists come here to drive snowmobiles, either on guided trips or on their own with hired snowmobiles.

Snowmobiles cost less in Svalbard than on the mainland due to lower taxes. The price of petrol is low and most people have a good income. Many put priority on buying a snowmobile when they come to Svalbard to live for some years.

Consequences

Snowmobiles help people to get out of the settlements and can potentially transport people over long distances and large areas. Travellers on snowmobiles are generally considerate to other users and the fauna, and such transport can give magnificent scenic thrills.

The peak season for snowmobile travelling (March–May) coincides with the hardest period of the year (late winter / spring) for many species of animals. Reckless driving can easily disturb the fauna (polar bears, reindeer, arctic foxes, seals, geese and so on). The consequences may be

  • unnecessary use of energy, stress
  • avoidance of areas with heavy traffic
  • dangerous situations (polar bears)

Most snowmobile drivers follow frequently used routes along valley floors leading to the most important destinations. This limits the disturbance. However, there are always some who choose their own routes away from the main ones into branch valleys and on valley sides. Not all give consideration to animals and birds by driving carefully.

In 2013, a trend of more people renting snowmobiles for individual travelling without a guide caused concern for environmental impacts.

Snowmobiles discharge greenhouse gases and soot. This is difficult to quantify and is obviously minimal in the global perspective.

Locally, snowmobile traffic gives noise pollution, which is noticeable in the peak season and at certain times of the day.

About the monitoring

The number of snowmobiles provides a basis for designing monitoring that can give information on where there is traffic and the volume of snowmobile traffic in Svalbard.

The monitoring does not give information on the volume, but the potential for this type of traffic. Efforts are being made to find more parameters that focus on the volume of traffic outside the settlements and effects on the environment.

Places and areas

Relations to other monitoring

Monitoring programme
International environmental agreements
Voluntary international cooperation
Related monitoring