The archipelago of Svalbard is a good example of an Arctic locale undergoing rapid changes on multiple levels. This contribution is a joint effort of three anthropologists with up-to-date ethnographic data from Svalbard (mostly Longyearbyen and Barentsburg) to frame and interpret interconnected changes. The processes impacting Svalbard are related to issues such as geopolitical interests, and increasing pressure by the Norwegian government to exercise presence and control over the territory. Our interpretations are based on a bottom-up approach, drawing on experiences living in the field. We identify three great ruptures in recent years – the avalanche of 2015, the gradual phasing out of mining enterprises and the COVID-19 pandemic – and show how they further impact, accelerate or highlight preexisting vulnerabilities in terms of socio-economic development, and environmental and climate change. We discuss the shift from coal mining to the industries of tourism, education, and research and development, and the resulting changed social and demographic structure of the settlements. Another facet is the complexity of environmental drivers of change and how they relate to the socio-economic ones. This article serves as an introductory text to the collection of articles published in Polar Record in 2021/2022 with the overarching theme “changing Svalbard”. Issues discussed range from socio-economic change and its implications for local populations including identity of place, through tourism (value creation, mediation, human–environment relations, environmental dilemmas, balancing contradictory trends), to security and risk perception, and environmental and climate change issues.