Franz Josef Land is an archipelago, inhabited only by Russian military base personnel, located in the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea and Kara Sea, constituting the northernmost part of Arkhangelsk Oblast in Russia.
The archipelago was first spotted by the Norwegian sealers Nils Fredrik Rønnbeck and Johan Petter Aidijärvi in 1865, although they did not report their finding. The first reported finding was in the 1873 Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition led by Julius von Payer and Karl Weyprecht, who named the area after Emperor Franz Joseph I. The islands were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1926, who settled small outposts for research and military purposes. The Kingdom of Norway rejected the claim and several private expeditions were sent to the islands. With the Cold War, the islands became off limits for foreigners and two military airfields were built. The islands have been a nature sanctuary since 1994 and became part of the Russian Arctic National Park in 2012.
It consists of 191 islands, which cover an area of 16,134 square kilometres, stretching 375 kilometres from east to west and 234 kilometres from north to south. The islands are categorized in three groups, a western, central and eastern, separated by the British Channel and the Austrian Strait. The central group is further divided into a northern and southern section by the Markham Strait. The largest island is George Land, which measures 2,741 square kilometres, followed by Wilczek Land, Graham Bell Island and Alexandra Land.
85 percent of the archipelago is glaciated, with large unglaciated areas being located on the largest islands and many of the smallest islands. The islands have a combined coastline of 4,425 kilometres. Compared to other Arctic archipelagos, Franz Joseph Land has a high dissection rate of 3.6 square kilometres per coastline kilometer. Cape Fligely on Rudolf Island is the northernmost point of the Eastern Hemisphere. The highest elevations are found in the eastern group, with the highest point located on Wilczek Land, 670 metres above mean sea level.
The main forces influencing the climate are the glaciation and sea ice. At 81° north the archipelago experiences 141 annual days of midnight sun, from 12 April to 30 August. During the winter it experiences 128 days of polar night from 19 October to 23 February. Even during summer the angle of the sun ray spreads the limited radiated energy over a large area. Further cooling is caused by the high amount of cloudiness. The sea starts to freeze in late September and reaches its annual maximum in March, at which time ninety-five percent of the sea is ice-covered. The ice starts to decrease in May and suffers a major melting in June, with the minimum occurring in August or early September.
During winter, high-pressure weather and clear skies cause radiation loss from the ground, sending temperatures down to -40 °C. Low-pressure weather gives strong winds and precipitation, with temperature spells creeping up to and above the freezing point. During shifts the temperatures can change by 20 °C within hours. Coastal stations experience mean January temperatures of between -20 °C and -30 °C, varying heavily from year to year depending on the degree of cycles in weather patterns. During summer the temperatures are a lot more even and average at between 0 °C and 3 °C at Hayes Island. Fog is most common during the summer. Average annual precipitation at the coastal stations is between 100 and 150 millimetres, with the wettest months being from July through September. Elevated areas can experience considerably higher precipitation. Franz Josef Land is significantly colder than Spitsbergen, which experiences 8 °C warmer winter averages, but is warmer than the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
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