Wrangel Island

Travel Guide Europe Russia Far Eastern Russia Wrangel Island

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Introduction

Wrangel Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Line is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland. The closest land to Wrangel Island is tiny and rocky Herald Island located 60 kilometres to the east. The distance to the closest point on the mainland is 140 kilometres. Wrangel Island may have been the last place on earth where mammoths survived.

Nearly all of Wrangel Island, and Herald Island, are a federally protected nature sanctuary administered by Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. The island, and its surrounding waters, were classified as a "Zapovednik" (a "strict nature reserve") in 1976 and, as such, receive the highest level of protection and exclude practically all human activity other than for scientific purposes. Wrangel Island Nature Reserve is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chukotka Regional government extended the marine protected area out to 24 nautical miles in 1999. As of 2003, there were four rangers who reside on the island year-round. In addition a core of about 12 scientists conduct research during the summer months.

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Geography

Wrangel Island is about 125 kilometres wide and 7,600 km2 in area. It consists of a southern coastal plain that is as wide as 15 kilometres; a central belt of low-relief mountains; and a northern coastal plain that is as wide as 25 kilometres. The east-west trending central mountain belt, the Tsentral'nye Mountain Range, is as much as 40 kilometres wide and 145 kilometres long from coast to coast. Typically, the mountains are a little over 500 metres above mean sea level. The highest mountain on this island is Sovetskaya Mountain with an elevation of 1,096 metres above mean sea level. The east-west trending mountain range terminates at sea cliffs at either end of the island.

Wrangel Island belongs administratively to the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug of the Russian Federation. This rocky island has a weather station and, formerly, two Chukchi fishing settlements on the southern side of the island (Ushakovskoye and Zvyozdny on the shore of Somnitelnaya Bay).

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Sights and Activities

Flora and Fauna

Wrangel Island is a breeding ground for polar bears (having the highest density of dens in the world), seals, walrus, and lemmings. During the summer it is visited by many types of birds. Arctic foxes also make their home on the island. Cetaceans such as bowhead whales, gray whales, and belugas can be seen close to shore.

Woolly mammoths survived there until 2500–2000 BC, the most recent survival of all known mammoth populations. Isolated from the mainland for 6,000 years, about 500 to 1,000 mammoths lived on the island at a time. Domestic reindeer were introduced in the 1950s and their numbers are managed at around 1,000 in order to reduce their impact on nesting bird grounds. In 1975, the musk ox was also introduced. The population has grown from 20 to about 200 animals. In 2002 Arctic wolves were spotted on the island; wolves lived on the island in historical times.

The flora includes 417 species of plants, double that of any other Arctic tundra territory of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island. For these reasons, the island was proclaimed the northernmost World Heritage Site in 2004.

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Events and Festivals

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Weather

Wrangel Island has a severe polar climate. The region is blanketed by dry and cold Arctic air masses for most of the year. Warmer and more humid air can reach the island from the south-east during summer. Dry and heated air from Siberia comes to the island periodically.

Wrangel Island is influenced by both the Arctic and Pacific air masses. One consequence is the predominance of high winds. The island is subjected to "cyclonic" episodes characterized by rapid circular winds. It is also an island of mists and fogs.

Winters are prolonged and are characterized by steady frosty weather and high northerly winds. During this period the temperatures usually stay well below freezing for months. In February and March there are frequent snow-storms with wind speeds of 140 km/h or above.

There are noticeable differences in climate between the northern, central and southern parts of the island. The central and southern portion is warmer, with some of the valleys having semi-continental climates that support a number of sub-Arctic steppe-like meadow species.

The short summers are cool but comparatively mild as the polar day generally keeps temperatures above 0 °C. Some frosts and snowfalls occur, and fog is common. Warmer and drier weather is experienced in the center of the island because the interior's topography encourages foehn winds. As of 2003, the frost-free period on the island was very short, usually not more than 20 to 25 days, and more often only two weeks. Average relative humidity is about 83%.

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Getting There and Around

Wrangel Island is difficult to get to independently. Access to the Wrangel Island reserve is strictly controlled. In summer, when ice conditions allow, occasional tourist ships stop in at the Island. Expedition ships, run by Heritage Expeditions, take passengers every July and August to Wrangel Island. These expeditions take two weeks and start and finish in the Port of Anadyr, which is accessible by direct flight from Moscow, and also charter flight from Nome, Alaska.

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Eat/Drink/Sleep

When visiting by expedition ship, all food, some drinks, and accommodation are on board.

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This is version 1. Last edited at 9:36 on Feb 16, 16 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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