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”.
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
Administratively, they belong to
Archangel (Arkhangelsk) oblast in the Russian
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
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
Between 1955 and 1990, Novaya Zemlya was
also the site of nuclear testing.
Overall, 224 nuclear tests were
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
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