Last updated 5 June 2023

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.

The number of registered snowmobiles
Snowmobile group on their way to Lomonosovfonna. Photo: Gerit Rotschky / Norwegian Polar Institute

What is being monitored?


Number of registered snowmobiles at Svalbard

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. From 2011 to 2019, the number of snowmobiles on Svalbard has been stable at approx 2100 scooters. In 2020 and 2021, the number of snowmobiles increased to approx 2,300 and 2,500 scooters and the number increased further in 2022 to almost 2,900 scooters. The reason for this is not clear.
(Cite these data: sysselmesteren.no (2023). Number of snowmobiles. Environmental monitoring of Svalbard and Jan Mayen (MOSJ). URL:http://mosj.no/en/indikator/influence/traffic/the-number-of-registered-snowmobiles/l)

Details on these data

Last updated5 June 2023
Update intervalYearly
Next updateMay 2024
Commissioning organizationNorwegian Polar Institute
Executive organizationGovernor of Svalbard
Contact personsfirmapost@sysselmesteren.no

Method

Since 2010, only snowmobiles with the Svalbard registration number, ZN, and registered in Autosys (the Norwegian Public Roads Administration’s e-tool for licenses and vehicles) with code 17 (Svalbard vehicles), are included in the monitoring.

Numbers in previous years also include snowmobiles with a ZN-registration that are taken to the mainland and used there. Snowmobiles in Svalbard that belong to persons whose home address and postal code is on the mainland are excluded from the data set.

The change in the method in 2010 limits the possibilities for comparing years and looking for trends.

Quality

The transportation authorities are expected to have reliable registration methods.

Reference level and action level

There is no defined level for action.

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, increasing 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.

From 2011 to 2019, the number of snowmobiles on Svalbard has been stable at approx 2100 scooters. In 2020 and 2021, the number of snowmobiles increased to approx 2,300 and 2,500 scooters and the number increased further in 2022 to almost 2,900 scooters. The reason for this is not clear.

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.

Since 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

  • None

International environmental agreements

  • None

Voluntary international cooperation

  • None

Related monitoring

  • None

Further reading

Links

Publications

  1. Hagen, D., Eide, N.E., Fangel, K., Flyen, A.C., & Vistad, O.I. (2012). Sårbarhetsvurdering og bruk av lokaliteter på Svalbard. NINA Rapport 785. Trondheim/Lillehammer/Oslo: Norsk institutt for naturforskning. 110 pp. https://doi.org/11250/2642884.
  2. Overrein, Ø. (2002). Virkninger av motorferdsel på fauna og vegetasjon. Kunnskapsstatus med relevans for Svalbard. Rapportserie 115. Norsk Polarinstitutt. 28 pp. https://doi.org/11250/173284.
  3. Overrein, Ø. (ed.) (2010). MOSJ-rapport – Ferdsel. Kortrapport no. 015. Norsk Polarinstitutt. 24 pp. https://doi.org/11250/173001.
  4. Vistad, O.I., Eide, N.E., Hagen, D., Erikstad, L., & Landa, A.M. (2008). Miljøeffekter av ferdsel og turisme i Arktis – en litteratur– og forstudie med vekt på Svalbard. NINA Rapport 316. 124 pp. https://doi.org/11250/2458892.