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The Russian Arctic - a New National Park Next Door to North Pole
May 23, 2011 15:43

Frantz Joseph Land is an archipelago in the Arctic sea and one of the northernmost territories of Russia. 900 kilometers away from the North Pole is the northernmost island of archipelago - the Rudolph Island.

Archipelago is a part of Primorsky District of Arkhangelsk Region and consists of 191 islands. The national park of the Russian Arctic has existed here since 2009. Wild nature park comprises Frantz Joseph Land and the northern part of archipelago of Novaya Zemlya. The largest bird colonies and walrus rookeries in the Northern hemisphere are situated here. Moreover, Frantz Joseph Land is one of major breeding sites of polar bears. Total area of the park reaches 1,4 million square hectares.

It was already in mid-18th century that the great Russian scientist Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov suspected that an archipelago could be located here. Two expeditions were organized in 1765 and 1766 in order to detect the land. Unfortunately, both had to return to Arkhangelsk because of impassable fields of ice. In one hundred years the theme of unknown northern land actualized in connection with 100 years anniversary of Lomonosov's death. More precise calculations were founded on the analysis of ice drift between Novaya Zemlya and Spitsbergen.

In the end, the coveted Archipelago was discovered by accident. Austro-Hungarian expedition headed by Julius Payer and Karl Weiprecht went to Arctic Ocean. They planned to go through the North-east Passage from the Barents Sea to the Bering Sea. In summer of 1872 their ship Tegethof stuck in the ices not far from Novaya Zemlya. After a year-long drifting, on August, 30, 1973 they saw the rocks of unknown archipelago. Payer gave this land name of Frantz Joseph, Emperor of Austro-Hungaria. The northernmost island of archipelago he called in honor of Crown Prince Rudolph.

Frantz Joseph Land is almost completely covered with ice. Only one seventh part of it is ice-free. Average thickness of ice is 180 meters. According to glaciologist V. A. Markin, the entire space of Frantz Joseph Land ice is 2, 500 cubic kilometers. It contains 2, 250 billion tons of fresh water - more than in the Baikal Lake! Ice Shelves appeared on basalt rocks about one million years ago, when climate in the northern hemisphere got colder. The ice can tell much about climate and its changes, including the current climatic fluctuations. Climatic changes cause deglaciation now: it the trend persists, the glacial shelves of Frantz Joseph Land can disappear in 300 years. The short Arctic summer of Frantz Joseph Land has become warmer.

Flora in this severe place is represented by polar willow, 37 species of flowering plants, mosses and lichens. Fauna consists of polar bears coming here for breeding, walruses and seals, but mainly of birds. Summer here is time for huge birdy spots on the rocks, the largest ones in the northern hemisphere. Most birds are larine species, like little auks, tysties, burgomasters, and other polar birds.

The park is rather young, but is already open to tourists. Guide book on Frantz Joseph Land is being prepared and should be issued in 2012.

Author: Yulia Buzykina

Tags: Franz Joseph Land Russian National Parks Arctic ecotourism  

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