Earth Observatory at the Northernmost of Earth

A new earth observation station, located in Ny-Ålesund, Norway, is established by the Norwegian Mapping Authority (Kartverket) and developed by NASA.


Adhering to the strict Norwegian standards for low-energy buildings, all the loadbearing elements are constructed using cross-laminated timber, insulated on the outside and cladded with untreated spruce panelling on walls and roofs.

The colour of the wood on the buildings will change to grey with time and blend in with the surrounding wintry scenery.

The Earth Observatory is made up of five main elements – Station building, two VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) antennas, SLR (Satelite Laser Ranging) building and Gravimeter building. The station, antennas and SRL building are connected by a built-in walkway and represent a cross in plan towards the direction of the north-east. The Gravimeter building is located separately.

The cross-shaped form has a very iconic look, however, like the orientation of the building, it is not to cater to aesthetic considerations, but for the purpose of snowdrift analysis.

 “We performed a CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) analysis, and tuned the shape and height above the ground to make sure the entrance would not be blocked by snow deposit,” said Øystein Kaul Kartvedt, who was responsible for this part of work. All buildings are asymmetric with different angles of facade slope, which improves aerodynamic properties.


Ny-Ålesund is a research town on the island of West Spitsbergen of Norwegian archipelago Svalbard. Located in the northernmost outpost on Earth, there are currently only 30 to 35 people living permanently here, increasing to about 120 people in the summer. Ny-Ålesund was founded as a settlement of coal miners in 1917, as coal mining activities dwindled in the 1960s, the place was transformed into a research town.


Excluding this latest addition, there are currently 16 research stations run by scientists from 10 countries.

The 17 research stations make up a global network of space geodetic stations and satellite-based infrastructure (GNSS). They are responsible for making a host of measurements and tracking work such as high-precision time measurements, assist in tracking changes in the ice sheets, increase the efficiency of marine transportation and agriculture, survey changes in the local gravity range and exact distance to orbiting satellites.

The main equipment recently engaged to execute all of the above, will be a new state-of-the-art satellite laser provided by NASA. The Svalbard office of LPO arkitekter has been assigned to designing an infrastructure to house the equipment and provide a functional space for a research team .

Main construction work was completed at the end of 2015, the observatory is to open in June 2018 and all the systems should be in place and running by 2022.

Photo Credit:Hanne Jørgensen