Novaya Zemlya
History • Location • Effect

Novaya Zemlya Archipelago

Novaya Zemlya is an Arctic archipelago that consists of two main islands and a number of smaller ones located off the coast of northeastern Europe. Novaya Zelmya literally translates to “New Land”.

Novaya Zely Location

It lies between the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea, between 70°30′ and 77°N and 51°10′ and 70°E The islands have a total area of 81,279 sq km (31,382 squares miles).

Administratively, they belong to Archangel (Arkhangelsk) oblast in the Russian Federation.

The two main islands are separated by the strait of Matochkin Shar - a narrow channel for the most part only 1–1.5 miles wide - while the Karskiye Vorota separates the archipelago from Vaigach Island to the southeast.

The west coast usually becomes accessible in midsummer as far north as Matochkin Strait and, less frequently, beyond. The east coast is much more difficult to approach, cut off from the comparatively warm waters of the Gulf Stream.

Novaya Zemlya is an extension of the Pai-Khoi hills, a branch of the northern Urals. The highest point is Sedova with 1,115 meters and it is located at the southern end of the northern island. Almost half of the northern island is covered with ice; the rest is bare—an Arctic desert. Arctic tundra covers the southern island. There are no trees or bushes. The islands contain deposits of copper, lead and zinc ores, pyrite, and asphaltite.

Average temperatures range from −22° C (−7.6° F) in January to 6.4° C (43.5° F) in July. Precipitation varies from approximately 152–229 mm (6 to 9 inches) annually. On the Map and Location page you can also see the Novaya Zemlya Sea surface temperature map.

Only the southern island is partly inhabited—by a small number of Samoyeds who engage in reindeer herding and trapping. Wildlife in the region include polar fox, polar bear, and lemming as well as a variety of birds, including seagulls.

→ Importance of Novaya Zemlya

Between 1955 and 1990, Novaya Zemlya was also the site of nuclear testing.

Overall, 224 nuclear tests were conducted here.

In October 1961, the Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear bomb was detonated in Novaya Zemlya.

Novaya Zemlya has an important place in the history of polar aviation too.

The first successful flights anywhere in the Arctic were made by Jan Nagorski in 1914 during the search for Sedov's missing expedition.

The first scientific station was opened at Maliye Karmakuly during the first International Polar Year (1882–1883), under the command of K. P. Andreyev, a Russian naval lieutenant.

The station was reopened in 1896 and has remained open ever since, being the longest-operating station in the Russian Arctic.

The Northern Scientific-Commercial Expedition of Rudolf Samoylovich began a program of systematic research in 1921. This was subsequently inherited by the Arctic Institute at Leningrad.

Novaya Zemlya