The Cambridge Svalbard Exploration Collection documents many decades of scientific work undertaken by (mostly) Cambridge researchers from 1938 until the early 1990s. These were mostly led by Walter Brian Harland (1917-2003), who also became the collator of the materials collected in Spitsbergen. The documentary archive complements the physical collection of geological specimens collected during those expeditions.
Svalbard is located in the north-western corner of the Barents Shelf 650km north of Norway, and is named after the Dutch Captain, Barents, who is credited with the modern discovery of the islands in 1596 and after whom the Barents Sea is named.
A treaty in 1925 (when Norway assumed administrative responsibility) gave Spitsbergen as the name for the archipelago. The main island had previously been known as West Spitsbergen. The term excluded the outlying islands (Storoya, Kong Karls Lane, Hopen Island (Hope island) and Bjornoya (Bear island). After another revision, Spitsbergen now refers only to the main island, and excludes Nordaustlandet (North East Land), Barentsoya, Edgeoya, and Prins Karls Forland. The name Svalbard was formally introduced by A.K Orvin in Place Names of Svalbard (1942), by the Norsk Polarinstitutt (NP), and all official names have been Norwegianized since then.
Svalbards long record of geological history provides essential evidence for all theories of Arctic evolution. The rock successions span the Phanerozoic and extend well back into the esoproterozoic; fragments of Palaeoproterozoic and even Archaean 'basement' provide glimpses of an even older history.
Most of the expeditions (approx. 28) were directed by Harland, a Cambridge graduate, who wrote extensively on the area and was himself a demonstrator, lecturer and reader in the Department of Geology (which would later become the Department of Earth Sciences). Harland established the Cambridge Arctic Shelf Programme (CASP) in 1975 as a scientific research company and charity that would foster Anglo-Norwegian (and broader international) scientific co-operation. CASP continues today as a very active scientific research company with charitable status.
According to Brian Harland the expeditions underwent a major change in the early 1960s. Up until then, they had been organized on a “largely ad-hoc basis, with poor finance and limited objectives- each one was often the last. After 1960 the opportunity for exploring wider areas came with grants from Government Research funds and the oil industry”. [Report NCSE R34.4].
The Svalbard geological expeditions averaged about 9 members divided into 3 person project parties, each led by a graduate (research) geologist with (mainly) undergraduate geologist assistants. Of the persons participating 87 were graduate geologists including staff research assistants and 28 research students. From this work there were at least 250 geological publications.
The specimen collection is comprehensive including igneous and metamorphic rocks as well as structural, geochemical, geophysical and subsurface samples. Fossils were collected during the expeditions along with the rock not only for taxonomy but for their environmental significance and tectonic importance.
Summaries of each expedition were usually published in the Polar Record Journal. [copies available].