Novaya Zemlya

Novaya Zemlya

Novaya Zemlya is an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean in the north of Russia.

The former Dutch name of the archipelago is Nova Zembla. Administratively the archipelago belongs to Arkhangelsk region. According to the Census of 2010 the population comes to 2,429 people, of which 2,149 live in the village of Belushya Guba, which is the administrative centre of Novaya Zemlya District.

Novaya Zemlya consists of two major islands and a number of smaller ones. The two main islands are Severny (northern) and Yuzhny (southern), which are separated by Matochkin Strait. Novaya Zemlya is washed by the Barents Sea in the west and by the Kara Sea in the east. The total area of the islands is about 90,650 square kilometres. Novaya Zemlya was a military area during the Cold War years, and the Russian Air Force maintained a presence at Rogachevo air base in the southern part of the island.

Novaya Zemlya is the northern part of the Ural Mountains, so the area is mostly mountainous. The islands are separated from the mainland by the Strait of Kara. The mountains reach the height of 1,070 meters. There are many glaciers on the northern island, while the southern one has got a tundra climate. Natural resources include copper, lead and zinc.

The Russians knew of Novaya Zemlya starting from the 11th century, when Novgorod merchants explored the area. Willem Barents rounded the north point of Novaya Zemlya in 1594, and stayed for one winter on the north-east coast. During a later voyage by Feodor Liitke in 1821–1824, the west coast of the archipelago was mapped.

The first permanent settlement was established in 1870 at Malye Karmakuly, which was the administrative centre of Novaya Zemlya until 1926. Later the it was transferred to Belushya Guba

In July of 1954, Novaya Zemlya became the Novaya Zemlya Test Site. It had existed for more than 35 years. "Zone A", Chyornaya Guba (Black Bay), was used in 1955–1962 and 1972–1975. "Zone B", Matochkin Shar, was used for underground testing in 1964–1990. "Zone C", Sukhoy Nos, was used in 1958–1961 and in 1961 the testing of Tsar Bomba, largest thermonuclear weapon ever tested (50 megatons), was implemented there. Other tests were carried out throughout the islands.

During its entire history as a nuclear test site, Novaya Zemlya had 224 nuclear detonations with a total explosive energy of 265 megatons of TNT. The last nuclear test explosion took place in 1990, which was also the last test for the entire Soviet Union and Russia.

The climate is quite severe. The winter last for 180 days with a long polar night (from November 17 till January 26). There are strong winds and snowstorms, low temperatures in winter. The lowest temperatures are in February-March (average -17°C). Spring lasts only for two months, and it is characterized by fluctuations of temperature. Summer is very short, the highest average temperature is +7 °C in July. It is cool and foggy. In autumn there is a lot rain and snow. The winds become stronger and colder.

The vegitation of the archipelago is various. It is mostly represented by tundra plants. All in all there are 197 vascular species of plants on the territory of the archipelago. The most interesting vegetation place is the cape "Gusiniy Nos" (Goose Nose).

There are a lot of bird species on the islands. They include Glaucous gull, Arctic tern, Hunting gull, Snow owl, White grouse, geese, Eider, etc.

The mammals are represented by lemmings, Arctic foxes, reindeers and polar bears. Different sea mammals can be observed in the surrounding waters such as bearded seal, ringed seal, beluga and walrus.

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