Jan Mayen is Norway's westernmost outpost on the borderline between the Norwegian Sea and the Greenland Sea. In 2010, the seabird colonies on Jan Mayen were surveyed, and the island was incorporated in SEAPOP as a key site in 2011. Jan Mayen is a volcanic island, also known as “Djeveløya” (Devil's Island). The Norwegian Meteorological Institute occupied the island on behalf of Norway in 1922, and it is the breeding area for many seabird populations on the boundary between the American and European continent. Contact person: Hallvard Strøm, Norwegian Polar Institute

The volcano Beerenberg (2277 m.a.s.l in the background) is an impessive landmark at Jan Mayen, but catching a glimpse of the whole mountain is rare. Eroding volcanic rocks form odd shapes in the landscape (foreground) and offer both possibilities and challenges for nesting birds.
Photo: Erlend Lorentzen, Norwegian Polar Institute

Location and description

Jan Mayen (71°N, 8° 30’ W) is midway between Iceland and Spitsbergen, and it lies closer to Greenland than the Norwegian mainland. The island covers 377 km2 and is dominated by the 2277 m high volcano Beerenberg. Beerenberg is Norway’s only and the world’s northernmost active volcano, and it is partly ice-covered all year round. Rocks and sand characterize the landscape, and vegetation is scarce and consists mainly of mosses, lichen and grass in addition to herbs close to the seabird colonies. In 2010, the Norwegian government established a Nature Reserve covering almost all the land on the island and most of the territorial waters surrounding it.

Jan Mayen lies in the transition between Arctic and Boreal climate, with relatively mild winters and cold summers. The mean monthly temperature close to sea level varies between -6°C and +5°C. The annual precipitation varies with the topographic conditions, but is around 700 mm on the middle of the island. Jan Mayen is often wrapped in fog, and there is rarely sea ice in the surrounding waters.

Jan Mayen seen from northeast. The vulcano Beereenberg is the dominating feature.
Photo: www.jan.mayen.no


Access to Jan Mayen is very limited. There is an airstrip on the island which, with few exceptions, is only used by the Norwegian Air Force. There is no harbour at Jan Mayen, which makes landing from ships a bit difficult and risky. Supplies and personnel are brought in with the military’s C-130 Hercules and with the annual supply ship – a former military landing vessel that normally arrives in June. This ship normally needs two-three days to cross the ocean from mainland Norway, depending on the weather conditions. The Norwegian coastguard occasionally visits the island. Tourists are not allowed ashore without permission from the county governor of Nordland, who has the administrative responsibility of Jan Mayen.

The supply ship arrives at Jan Mayen in June. This landing vessel is actually put on shore for the loading and unloading.
Photo: Erlend Lorentzen, Norwegian Polar Institute


Arctic foxes Vulpes lagopus used to roam Jan Mayen, but after intensive trapping in the early 1900s, the species became extinct. When the ice edge is close enough, polar bears Ursus maritimus may turn up, but this is quite rare. The location of the island makes it a meeting point for bird species from both the European and American continent. The seabird survey conducted in 2010 documented an estimated 560 000 seabirds breeding on Jan Mayen, spread across 16 species, but the actual number was likely higher. Visiting individuals of a large number of species have been observed on the island, including waders, swans, ducks and raptors. The northern fulmar Fulmarus glacialis, Brünnich’s guillemot Uria lomvia and the little auk Alle alle are the most abundant species. Other seabird species breeding on Jan Mayen include black-legged kittiwake Rissa tridactyla, Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica, Arctic tern Sterna paradisaea, common guillemot Uria aalge, razorbill Alca torda, black guillemot Cepphus grylle, common eider Somateria mollissima, great skua Stercorarius skua and a variety of gull species.

The northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis is the most abundant bird species on Jan Mayen. The number of breeding pairs is probably higher than 200 000 (2018).
Photo: Erlend Lorentzen, Norwegian Polar Institute

Human activity

Jan Mayen may have been known to people already in the age of the vikings, but it was for certain (re)discovered in 1607. Dutch whalers established whale oil factories on the island in the beginning of the 17th century and, allegedly, in the most hectic period there were around 1000 people working there to produce oil from whale blubber. After the whaling ended around 1645, there was minimal activity on Jan Mayen until an Austrian-Hungarian expedition explored and mapped the island in 1882-83. Norwegian fox trappers operated intensively on Jan Mayen in the beginning of the 20th century, and the island was annexed by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in 1922.

The meteorological institute has had stations at three sites on Jan Mayen since 1921, and with the exception of the winter in 1940-41, meteorological observations have been communicated from the island continuously since then. The weather observations on Jan Mayen have been, and still are, of great importance for the preparation of weather reports in Norway and other European countries. Today, a crew of four people conducts this work. Forurteen people employed by the Norwegian Defence are responsible for the operation and maintainance of the airstrip (established in 1960) and various communication systems. They all stay on Jan Mayen for six months at a time.

The human activity on the island is generally confined to the area around Olonkinbyen and the airstrip, which is excepted from the protection regulations. A gravel road connects Olonkinbyen on the south side with Kvalrossbukta on the north side of the island, where the supply ship most often anchors to bring provisions and materials ashore. The employees at the station are allowed to move freely on the whole island for recreational purposes in accordance with the protection regulations, and there are a few cabins, five of which are former trappers’ cabins, that are popular hiking destinations.

Olonkinbyen houses the permanent residents on Jan Mayen, as well as any visitors.
Photo: www.jan.mayen.no


Fieldworkers from SEAPOP (personnell from the Norwegian Polar Institute) conduct their work on Jan Mayen in June and July, with the station at Olonkinbyen as the base for all operations. From there, they can reach the working areas by foot or by car. Sample plots are established for the monitoring of fulmars, Brünnich’s guillemots, common guillemots, great skuas, glaucous gulls Larus hyperboreus, herring gulls L. argentatus, great black-backed gulls L. marinus and lesser black-backed gulls L. fuscus. The largest seabird colonies are located on the northeastern part of the island, but access to these colonies is by boat only and thus, due to the risks associated with operating small boats around the island, they cannot be visited.

Population counts in sampling plots comprise the main task for the fieldworkers, who always work in teams of at least two. In addition, nests and breeding ledges are monitored to give estimates of annual reproduction rate. Ringing and dietary studies of the common and Brünnich’s guillemots are also included in the daily tasks. For studies of migration routes, GLS loggers are deployed on and retrieved from guillemots and fulmars.

Common and Brünnich’s guillemots are captured and ringed for the estimation of adult survival. The ground on top of the bird cliffs consists of sand and loose rocks, and the fieldworkers have to be secured with ropes during capturing.
Map: Erlend Lorentzen, Norwegian Polar Institute