Preserving Svea Mines in Svalbard in 3D for the Public

Reconstruction of Svea, Svalbard: Combination of some 3D models of the buildings with background data (landscape model and sky) around Svea. The data shown are colored, high-resolution pixel clouds collected using laser scanning and photography. (Source: NIKU)

Soon only memories remain of the once-active mining community in Svea. However, before liquidation started, Store Norske coalmining company and the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research secured documentation that is to be offered to the public in the form of a virtual reconstruction of the historic Svalbard mines.

In 2017, it was decided to shut down the coal mines in Svea and Lunckefjell in Svalbard after 100 years of operations.

The former mining communities are returned to nature. All traces of human activity are removed, save for a few cultural heritage sites predating 1946, which are automatically protected according to the Svalbard Environment Act.

The same Act states that all traces of human activity constructed after 1946 shall, when being shut down, be removed and the area returned to its natural look.

This means, among others, removing industrial facilities, housing, office buildings, port facilities, airports, and other infrastructure. It also means that masses are to be deposited so that the glacial surface and mountainside to not hold traces of human activity.

Documenting history

Now, the liquidation process is nearing the end and almost only memories remain from the once-active mining community. Store Norske expects to finish the cleanup and return of the area by the fall of 2023.

However, before the enormous liquidation project commenced, a group from the Norwegian Institute of Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) visited Svea to make sure the historic mines are not completely lost.

The working group worked five intensive weeks in Svalbard in the summer of 2019 to document the mines digitally before the stripping process started.

The result is a virtual reconstruction of Svea in 3D that will be made available for the public. A digital preservation of 100 years of industrial history.

“Flying” from the old port in Svea through tank facilities and up to the mine entrance from the 1970s. In this way, the public visiting the virtual reconstruction of Svea is able to move freely through the model using gaming consoles. (Source: NIKU)

Living on

The documentation is a part of the environmental cleanup, which is considered a historic project. Cleaning up after mining in such a grand scale in such a special location as Svalbard is something that has never been done before.

“Svea is and has been a very special place and it deserves to live on for posterity”, says Project Manager Moten H. Johansen of Store Norske in a press release.

He says Store Norske wants to maintain mining history from more recent history too, history not protected by the Svalbard Environment Act. The choice was thus made to use digital documentation.

Large amounts of data

The first mine in Svea was established in 1917 by the Swedish company Spetsbergens Svenska Kolfält [Spitsbergen Swedish Coal Fields]. In 1936, the facilities were acquired by Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani, which has operated the mines since. The mining plant has been operational through the whole 100-year period.

“Mining in Svea has been an important part of Norwegian presence in Svalbard and a significant part of maintaining a stable family community at the archipelago. Svea thus represents a cultural environment holding high historic value and geopolitical significance”, says scientist and civil architect at NIKU Anne-Cathrine Flyen.

The documentation project that NIKU is conducting on behalf of Store Norske is the largest project of this kind that the institute ever had. The 2019 field work led to large amounts of data collected using drones, photography, and ground scanning.

All buildings and constructions related to mining were measured with total station and laser scanner, and thousands of pictures were taken, says archaeologist Erich Nau, who works on digital documentation methods at NIKU.

“These data are what we are now turning into models of Svea.”

Svea deserves to live on for posterity


Project Manager Morten Hagen Johansen at Store Norske

Resembling a computer game

Last all, NIKU started processing and modeling, and the final result will be a 3D model produced in cooperation with the animation and visualization company Nubigon.

In the model, the public may move through the mining town as it was when it was liquidated while also getting more information about Svea’s history in the form of text, images, and video.

The public will find elements and functions they can recognize from computer games, such as controlling using gaming consoles and natural movement in eye height over the terrain.

“Preserving an important part of Svalbard’s and Norwegian history through such an extensive digital project is truly a dream task”, Nau says.

The 3D model is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2022. It has not yet been decided where or how you may access it.

Options for display are currently being explored, Morten H. Johansen of Store Norske says in closing.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.