The Inhospitable Franz Josef Land Archipelago

Franz Josef Land is considered an archipelago, as it consists of more than eighty islands. It is located in the Arctic Ocean and covers an area of approximately 16 thousand square kilometers. As with most archipelagos, Franz Josef Land is divided into three groups, namely: Greem-Bell; Rudolf Island; and Fligeli Cape. It is believed that this uninhabitable group of Russian Islands was first discovered by two Norwegians, Aidijarvi and Nils Fredrik Ronnbeck, in 1865, but official records state that is was an Austrian exploration team that discovered these desolate islands of Russia in 1873.

In the year 1926, the Soviet Union laid claim to Franz Josef Land archipelago, much to the despair of Norway, who were racing to the islands in hopes of claiming the islands for themselves. Bad weather hampered the Norwegian expedition, and the Soviet Union was able to reach Franz Josef Land first, securing it as a Russian territory. Visitors were very rarely permitted on the islands, as it served as a strategic military position and the perfect location for weather stations for the Soviet Union.

Today, visitors are still not allowed to tour the islands of Franz Josef Land. Even if tourists were permitted to visit the Franz Josef Land islands of Russia, the weather on the islands cause them to almost always be completely covered in ice and snow, and the temperatures and low vegetation make the islands uninhabitable. Winter temperatures on the islands average between minus twenty-two degrees Celsius to minus twenty-five degrees Celsius and in summer the temperatures rise to almost 2 degrees Celsius. The islands were formed due to volcanic eruptions and the land is composed of Jurassic basalts and Tertiary basalts. But being covered in snow and at such low temperatures, the only vegetation that sparsely survives these conditions is moss, flowering Arctic plants and lichens.

There is a fair amount of wildlife activity on the islands, but this consists mainly of polar bears, walruses, bearded seals, seals and Arctic Foxes. Interestingly enough, Caribou antlers have been seen on Hooker Island, which researchers believe must have found their way to the island approximately 1 300 years before. Bird life on the islands consists of gulls, kittiwakes, fulmars and other bird species that are adapted to the unforgiving weather of the islands. The Franz Josef Land islands rarely receive visitors, with most being scientists and researchers, as the islands provide the perfect conditions to study changes in the Barents Sea and sea ice cover. The islands are significant for the icy beauty they hold and the critical information in regard to weather and ocean patterns they provide.


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