Although administered separately, Svalbard and Jan Mayen are collectively assigned the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code "SJ".
Jan Mayen Island has one exploitable natural resource, gravel, from the site at Trongskaret. Other than this, economic activity is limited to providing services for employees of Norway's radio communications and meteorological stations located on the island. Jan Mayen has one unpaved airstrip, Jan Mayensfield, which is about 1,585 m (5,200 ft) long. The 124.1 km (77.1 mi) coast has no ports or harbours, only offshore anchorages.
There are important fishing resources, and the existence of Jan Mayen establishes a large Exclusive Economic Zone around it. A dispute between Norway and Denmark regarding the fishing exclusion zone between Jan Mayen and Greenland was settled in 1988 granting Denmark the greater area of sovereignty. Significant deposits of petroleum and natural gas are suspected by geologists to lie below Jan Mayen's surrounding seafloors.
Jan Mayen Island is an integral part of the Kingdom of Norway. Since 1995, Jan Mayen has been administered by the County Governor (fylkesmann) of the northern Norwegian county of Nordland to which it is closest. However, some authority over Jan Mayen has been assigned to the station commander of the Norwegian Defence Logistics Organisation, a branch of the Norwegian Armed Forces.
The only inhabitants on the island are personnel working for the Norwegian Armed Forces and the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. Eighteen people spend the winter on the island, but the population may double (35) during the summer, when heavy maintenance is performed. Personnel serve either six months or one year, and are exchanged twice a year in April and October. The support crew, including mechanics, cooks, and a nurse, are among the military personnel. The military personnel operated a Loran-C base, until it closed at the end of 2015. Both the LORAN transmitter and the meteorological station are located a few kilometres away from the settlement Olonkinbyen (Olonkin City), where all personnel live.
Transport to the island is provided by C-130 Hercules military transport planes operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force that land at Jan Mayensfield's gravel runway. The planes fly in from Bodø Main Air Station eight times a year. Since the airport does not have any instrument landing capabilities, good visibility is required, and it is not uncommon for the planes to have to return to Bodø, two hours away, without landing. For heavy goods, freight ships visit during the summer, but since there are no harbours, the ships must anchor.
The island has no indigenous population, but is assigned the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country code SJ (together with Svalbard). It uses the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD).no (.sj is allocated but not used) and data code JN. Jan Mayen has telephone and internet connection over satellite, using Norwegian telephone numbers (country code 47). Its amateur radio call sign prefix is JX. It has a postal code, NO-8099 JAN MAYEN, but delivery time varies, especially during the winter.
Between the fifth and ninth centuries ( 400-900 AD/CE ), numerous communities of monks originating in west Ireland (Papar) navigated throughout the north Atlantic in leather boats, exploring and sometimes settling in distant islands where their monastic communities could be separated from close contact with others. Strong indicators exist of their presence in the Faroe Islands and Iceland before the arrival of the Vikings, and medieval chronicles such as the famous Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot testify to the extensive interest in exploration at the time. A modern-day trans-Atlantic journey proved the ability of the early navigators to reach all lands of the north Atlantic even farther from Ireland than Jan Mayen—and, given favorable winds, at a speed roughly equal to that of modern yachts. Though quite feasible, there is nevertheless no direct physical trace of medieval landings or settlement on Jan Mayen.
The land named Svalbarð ("cold coast") by the Vikings in the early medieval book Landnámabók may have been Jan Mayen (instead of Spitsbergen, renamed Svalbard by the Norwegians in modern times); the distance from Iceland to Svalbarð mentioned in this book is two days' sailing (with favorable winds), consistent with the approximate 550 km (340 mi) to Jan Mayen and not with the minimum 1,550 km (960 mi) to Spitsbergen. However much Jan Mayen may have been known in Europe at that time, it was subsequently forgotten for some centuries.
In the 17th century, many claims of the island's rediscovery were made, spurred by the rivalry on the Arctic whaling grounds, and the island received many names. According to Thomas Edge, an early 17th-century whaling captain who was often inaccurate, "William [sic] Hudson" discovered the island in 1608 and named it "Hudson's Touches" (or "Tutches"). However, Henry Hudson could only have come by on his voyage in 1607 (if he had made an illogical detour) and he made no mention of it in his journal. Douglas Hunter, in Half Moon (2009), believes Hudson may not have mentioned his supposed discovery of the island because he was "loath to address a crew insurrection that might well have erupted at that time, when the men realized where he was trying to take them." This is, however, merely speculation on Hunter's part. There is absolutely no evidence to support such a claim.
According to William Scoresby (1820: p. 154), referring to the mistaken belief that the Dutch had discovered the island in 1611, Hull whalers discovered the island "about the same time" and named it "Trinity Island". Muller (1874: pp. 190–191) took this to mean they had come upon Jan Mayen in 1611 or 1612, which was repeated by many subsequent authors. There were, in fact, no Hull whalers in either of these years, the first Hull whaling expedition having been sent to the island only in 1616 (see below). As with the previous claim made by Edge, there is no cartographical or written proof for this supposed discovery.
The first verified discoveries of Jan Mayen, by three separate expeditions, occurred in the summer of 1614, probably within one month of each other. The Dutchman Fopp Gerritsz, whilst in command of a whaling expedition sent out by the Englishman John Clarke, of Dunkirk, claimed (in 1631) to have discovered the island on June 28 and named it "Isabella". In January the Noordsche Compagnie (Northern Company), modelled on the Dutch East India Company, had been established to support Dutch whaling in the Arctic. Two of its ships, financed by merchants from Amsterdam and Enkhuizen, reached Jan Mayen in July 1614. The captains of these ships—Jan Jacobszoon May van Schellinkhout on the Gouden Cath (Golden Cat), and Jacob de Gouwenaer on the Orangienboom (Orange Tree)—named it Mr. Joris Eylant after the Dutch cartographer Joris Carolus who was on board and mapped the island. The captains acknowledged that a third Dutch ship, the Cleyn Swaentgen (Little Swan) captained by Jan Jansz Kerckhoff and financed by Noordsche Compagnie shareholders from Delft, had already been at the island when they arrived. They had assumed the latter, who named the island Maurits Eylandt (or Mauritius) after Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, would report their discovery to the States General. However, the Delft merchants had decided to keep the discovery secret and returned in 1615 to hunt for their own profit. The ensuing dispute was only settled in 1617, though both companies were allowed to whale at Jan Mayen in the meantime.
In 1615, Robert Fotherby went ashore. Apparently thinking he had made a new discovery, he named the island "Sir Thomas Smith's Island" and the volcano "Mount Hakluyt". On a map of c. 1634, Jean Vrolicq renamed the island Île de Richelieu.
Jan Mayen first appeared on Willem Jansz Blaeu's 1620 edition map of Europe, originally published by Cornelis Doedz in 1606. Blaeu, who lived in Amsterdam, named it "Jan Mayen" after captain Jan Jacobszoon May of the Amsterdam-financed Gouden Cath. Blaeu made the first detailed map of the island in his famous "Zeespiegel" atlas of 1623, establishing its current name.
From 1615 to 1638, Jan Mayen was used as a whaling base by the Dutch Noordsche Compagnie, which had been given a monopoly on whaling in the Arctic regions by the States General in 1614. Only two ships, one from the Noordsche Compagnie, and the other from the Delft merchants, were off Jan Mayen in 1615. The following year a score of vessels were sent to the island. The Noordsche Compagnie sent eight ships escorted by three warships under Jan Jacobsz. Schrobop; while the Delft merchants sent up five ships under Adriaen Dircksz. Leversteyn, son of one of the above merchants. There were also two ships from Dunkirk sent by John Clarke, as well as a ship each from London and Hull.
Heertje Jansz, master of the Hope, of Enkhuizen, wrote a day-by-day account of the season. The ships took two weeks to reach Jan Mayen, arriving early in June. On 15 June they met the two English ships, which Schrobop allowed to remain, on condition they gave half their catch to the Dutch. The ships from Dunkirk were given the same conditions. By late July the first ship had left with a full cargo of whale oil; the rest left early in August, several filled with oil.
That year 200 men were seasonally living and working on the island at six temporary whaling stations (spread along the northwest coast). During the first decade of whaling more than ten ships visited Jan Mayen each year, while in the second period (1624 and later) five to ten ships were sent. With the exception of a few ships from Dunkirk, which came to the island in 1617 and were either driven away or forced to give a third of their catch to the Dutch, only the Dutch and merchants from Hull sent up ships to Jan Mayen from 1616 onward. In 1624 ten wooden houses were built in South Bay. About this time the Dutch appear to have abandoned the temporary stations consisting of tents of sail and crude furnaces, replacing them with two semi-permanent stations with wooden storehouses and dwellings and large brick furnaces, one in the above-mentioned South Bay and the other in the North Bay. In 1628 two forts were built to protect the stations. Among the sailors active at Jan Mayen was the later admiral Michiel Adriaensz de Ruyter. In 1633, at the age of 26, he was for the first time listed as an officer aboard de Groene Leeuw (The Green Lion). He again went to Jan Mayen in 1635, aboard the same ship.
In 1632 the Noordsche Compagnie expelled the Danish-employed Basque whalers from Spitsbergen. In revenge, the latter sailed to Jan Mayen, where the Dutch had left for the winter, to plunder the Dutch equipment and burn down the settlements and factories. Captain Outger Jacobsz of Grootebroek was asked to stay the next winter (1633/34) on Jan Mayen with six shipmates to defend the island. While a group with the same task survived the winter on Spitsbergen, all seven on Jan Mayen died of scurvy or trichinosis (from eating raw polar bear meat) combined with the harsh conditions.
During the first phase of whaling the hauls were generally good, some exceptional. For example, Mathijs Jansz. Hoepstock caught 44 whales in Hoepstockbukta in 1619, which produced 2,300 casks of whale oil. During the second phase the hauls were much lower. While 1631 turned out to be a very good season, the following year, due to the weather and ice, only eight whales were caught. In 1633 eleven ships managed to catch just 47 whales; while a meager 42 were caught by the same number in 1635. The bowhead whale was locally hunted to near-extinction around 1640 (approximately 1000 had been killed and processed on the island), at which time Jan Mayen was abandoned and stayed uninhabited for two and a half centuries.
During the International Polar Year 1882-1883 the Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition stayed one year at Jan Mayen. The expedition performed extensive mapping of the area, their maps being of such quality that they were used until the 1950s. The Austrian polar station on Jan Mayen Island was built and equipped in 1882 fully at Count Wilczek's own expense.
Polar bears appear on Jan Mayen, although in diminished numbers compared with earlier times. Between 1900 and 1920, there were a number of Norwegian trappers spending winters on Jan Mayen, hunting Arctic foxes in addition to some polar bears. But the exploitation soon made the profits decline, and the hunting ended. Polar bears are genetically distinguishable in this region of the Arctic from those living elsewhere.
The League of Nations gave Norway jurisdiction over the island, and in 1921 Norway opened the first meteorological station. The Norwegian Meteorological Institute annexed the island for Norway in 1922 and the whole island in 1926 when Hallvard Devold was head of the weather observations base on the island. On 27 February 1930, the island was made de jure a part of the Kingdom of Norway.
During World War II, continental Norway was invaded and occupied by Germany in spring 1940. The four-man team on Jan Mayen stayed at their posts and in an act of defiance began sending their weather reports to the United Kingdom instead of Norway. The British codenamed Jan Mayen 'Island X' and attempted to reinforce it with troops to counteract any German attack. The Norwegian patrol boat HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen ran aground on one of the islands' many uncharted lava reefs and the 68-man crew abandoned ship and joined the Norwegian team on shore. The British expedition commander, prompted by the loss of the gunboat, decided to abandon Jan Mayen until the following spring and radioed for a rescue ship. Within a few days a ship arrived and evacuated the four Norwegians and their would-be reinforcements after demolishing the weather station to prevent it from falling into German hands. The Germans attempted to land a weather team on the island on 16 November 1940. The German naval trawler carrying the team crashed on the rocks just off Jan Mayen after a patrolling British destroyer had picked them up on radar. This was not a coincidence as the German plan had been compromised from the beginning with British wireless interceptors of the Radio Security Service following the communications of the Abwehr (the German Intelligence service) concerning the operation and the destroyer had been waiting. Most of the crew struggled ashore and were taken prisoner by a landing party from the destroyer.
The Allies returned to the island on 10 March 1941, when the Norwegian ship Veslekari, escorted by the patrol boat Honningsvaag, dropped 12 Norwegian weathermen on the island. The team's radio transmissions soon betrayed its presence to the Axis, and German planes from Norway began to bomb and strafe Jan Mayen whenever weather would permit it, though they did little damage. Soon supplies and reinforcements arrived and even some anti-aircraft guns, giving the island a garrison of a few dozen weathermen and soldiers. By 1941, Germany had given up hope of evicting the Allies from the island and the constant air raids stopped.
On 7 August 1942, a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 "Condor", probably on a mission to bomb the station, smashed into the nearby mountainside of Danielssenkrateret in fog, killing all 9 crewmembers. In 1950, the wreck of another German plane with 4 crew members was discovered on the southwest side of the island. In 1943, the Americans established a radio locating station named Atlantic City in the north to try to locate German radio bases in Greenland.
After the war, the meteorological station was located at Atlantic City, but moved in 1949 to a new location. Radio Jan Mayen also served as an important radio station for ship traffic in the Arctic Ocean. In 1959, NATO decided to build the LORAN-C network in the Atlantic Ocean, and one of the transmitters had to be on Jan Mayen. By 1961, the new military installations, including a new airfield, were operational.
For some time, scientists doubted if there could be any activity in the Beerenberg volcano, but in 1970 the volcano erupted, and added another 3 km2 (1.2 sq mi) of land mass to the island during the three-to-four weeks it lasted. It had more eruptions in 1973 and 1985. During an eruption, the sea temperature around the island may increase from just above freezing to about 30 °C (86 °F).
Historic stations and huts on the island are Hoyberg, Vera, Olsbu, Puppebu (cabin), Gamlemetten or Gamlestasjonen (the old weather station), Jan Mayen Radio, Helenehytta, Margarethhytta, and Ulla (a cabin at the foot of the Beerenberg).
A regulation dating from 2010 renders the island a nature reserve under Norwegian jurisdiction. The aim of this regulation is to ensure the preservation of a pristine Arctic island and the marine life nearby, including the ocean floor. Landings at Jan Mayen can be done by boat. However, this is permitted only at a small part of the island, named Båtvika (Boat Bay). As there is no commercial airline operating at the island, one cannot get there by plane except by chartering one. Admission for landings by a charter plane has to be obtained in advance. Admission to stay on the island has to be obtained in advance, and is generally limited to a few days (or even hours). Putting up a tent or setting up camp is prohibited. There is a separate regulation for the stay of foreigners.
Jan Mayen consists of two geographically distinct parts. Nord-Jan has a round shape and is dominated by the 2,277 m (7,470 ft) high Beerenberg volcano with its large ice cap (114.2 km2 or 44 sq mi), which can be divided into twenty individual outlet glaciers. The largest of those is Sørbreen, with an area of 15 km2 (5.8 sq mi) and a length of 8.7 km (5.41 mi). South-Jan is narrow, comparatively flat and unglaciated. Its highest elevation is Rudolftoppen at 769 m (2,523 ft). The station and living quarters are located on South-Jan. The island lies at the northern end of the Jan Mayen Microcontinent. The microcontinent was originally part of the Greenland Plate, but now forms part of the Eurasian Plate. In terms of land area, it is approximately twice the size of Lichtenstein with the addition of San Marino.
The island was identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because it is a breeding site for large numbers of seabirds, supporting populations of northern fulmars (78,000–160,000 pairs), little auks (10,000–100,000 pairs), thick-billed guillemot (74,000–147,000 pairs) and black guillemots (100–1,000 pairs).
Jan Mayen has a hyperoceanic polar climate, similar to Greenland and Svalbard, with a Köppen classification of ET. The Gulf Stream's powerful influence makes seasonal temperature variations extremely small considering the latitude of the island, with ranges from around 6 °C (43 °F) in August to −6 °C (21 °F) in February, but also makes the island extremely cloudy with little sunshine even during the continuous polar day. The deep snow cover prevents any permafrost from developing despite a mean annual temperature slightly below freezing.