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Franz Josef Land

Franz Josef Land is an archipelago located in far north Russia. It is found in the Arctic Ocean northeast of Spitzbergen, and is administered by Arkhangelsk oblast. At latitude 80 to 82° north, it forms the most northerly group of islands in Asia. The archipelago is only 550 miles from the North Pole, closer than all land masses except for Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Franz Josef Land consists of 191 ice-covered islands and is largely uninhabited.

Table of contents
1 Characteristics
2 Weather
3 Wildlife
4 Places of significance
5 History


The archipelago is volcanic, composed of Tertiary and Jurassic basalts, and though covered mostly by ice it does have outcroppings covered with moss and lichens. The northeastern part of the archipelago is locked in pack ice year round, however the ice sometimes retreats past the southern islands in the late summer. The northernmost point in the archipelago, and in the entirety of Asia, is Mys Fligeli (Fligeli Point), on Ostrov Rudol'fa (Rudolfa Island), which reaches as far north as 81°52'N. The largest island is Zemlya Georga (Georga Island) which measures 69 miles (110 km) from end to end. The highest point in the archipelago is on Zemlya Viner-Neyshtadt (Viner-Neyshtadt Island) which reaches 2,035 ft (620 m) MSL.


In January the normal daily low is 5°F and the high is 13°F. In July the normal daily low is 32°F and daily high 36°F. The annual mean temperature of 9°F. In a 30-year period, the highest temperature recorded has been 50°F and lowest -56°F. Precipitation is common year round, but is most common during the transition seasons of late spring and autumn. Fog is very common in the late summer. From data for Nagurskoye.


Native wildlife consists mostly of walrus, Arctic foxes, and polar bears. Common birds include kittiwakes, fulmars, and gulls. Beluga whales are often spotted in the waters. Caribou antlers have been found on Hooker Island, suggesting that herds reached here up to about 1,300 years ago during a warmer climate.

Places of significance

The following list describes important islands in Franz Josef Land and their significance.


The archipelago was discovered in 1873 by
Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition explorers Karl Weyprecht and Julius von Payer while their ship was locked in ice trying to find a "northeast passage". The name was bestowed in honor of Austrian emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. The Norwegians Fritjof Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen passed through the islands in 1886 during an attempt to reach the pole. The islands then became a target of opportunity for explorers trying to reach the pole. By sheer coincidence, explorers Fritjof Nansen and Frederick George Jackson met at Northbrook Island in 1896.

In July 1931, a German airship marked a milestone in Russian polar exploration. The Graf Zeppelin travelled from Berlin to Hooker Island, by way of St. Petersberg. Here it delivered 650 pounds of commemorative mail and met with the icebreaker 'Malygin'. After travelling east along the 81st parallel to Severnaya Zemlya, it returned to Hooker Island and began a groundbreaking aerial survey of the archipelago, flying as far north as Ostrov Rudolfa.

During the Cold War years, the polar regions were a hot buffer zone between the U.S. and Russia, and many points in the arctic became key strategic locations. The islands were declared one of many national security areas from the 1930s to 1991, and were off limits to foreigners. An airfield was built at Greem Bell to serve as a staging base for Russian bomber aircraft, and training missions were quite common between Franz Josef Land, the mainland, and Novaya Zemlya. Though the islands were militarily sensitive, a cruise ship visited in 1971.