Novaya Zemlya - Encyclopedia

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NOVAYA ZEMLYA (Nova Zembla, " new land"), an Arctic land off the coast of European Russia, to which it belongs, consisting of two large islands separated by a narrow winding channel, the Matochkin Shar. It lies between 70° 31' and 77° 6' N., and between 51° 35' and 69° 2' E. It forms an elongated crescent, being nearly 600 m. long with a width of 30 to go m., and an area of about 36,000 sq. m. It separates the Barents Sea on the W. from the Kara Sea on the E. With Vaygach Island, between it and the mainland, Novaya Zemlya forms a continuation of the Pae-Khoy hills. Vaygach is separated from it by the Kara Strait, 30 m. wide, and from the continent by the Yugor or Ugrian Strait, only 7 m. across. On the E. coast of Novaya Zemlya, especially between the Matochkin Shar and 75° N., there are a number of fjord-like inlets - such as Chekina, Rasmyslov and Medvizhiy bays. The greater part of the W. coast is fretted into bays and promontories, and a large number of islets lie off it. At the S. extremity there are a number of fjords and the wide bay of Sakhanikha. Then farther N. is the Kostin Shar, a strait separating Mezhdusharskiy Island from the coast, and having at its N. entrance South Goose Cape, which forms the S. extremity of Goose Land (Gusinaya Zemlya) in 72° N. Next follows Moller Bay, between Goose Land and Cape Britvin, with several minor bays affording anchorages. On the W. coast of the N. island are Krestovaya, Mashigin and Nordenskjdld bays, and to the N. are several groups of islands - Gorbovyi, Pankratiev, the Gulf Stream Islands and the Orange Islands. Off the E. coast that called Pakhtusov (actually divided by a strait into two) may be mentioned. Little is known of the interior of Novaya Zemlya. It is mountainous throughout. Transverse chains are thrown off from the main chain, and are separated by deep narrow valleys, some of which are watered by streams of considerable size, which, at the spring thaw, bring down a remarkable bulk of detritus. The general slope of the land is steeper on the E. than on the W., and at the N. and S. extremities there is a descent to a comparatively low plateau. In the S. this plateau is broken by several parallel ridges, with level valleys between them, dotted with numerous small lakes. On either side of the Matochkin Shar the hills reach 4000 ft. and upwards. The more elevated region is covered with snow-fields which feed glaciers in some cases, while the N. seems to be covered with a great ice-sheet.


The geological structure of the central region is of the most varied description. The primary rocks which appear at Mitushev Kamen are overlaid with thick beds of quartzites and clayslates containing sulphide of iron, with subordinate layers of talc or mica slate, and thinner beds of fossiliferous limestone, Silurian or Devonian. More recent clay-slates and marls belonging to the middle Jurassic occur in the western coast-region about Matochkin Shar. About 74° N. the crags of the E. coast are composed of grey sandstone, while in 76° Barents's Islands, and possibly a much greater part of the N. coast, show Carboniferous strata. Traces of Eocene deposits have not been discovered on Novaya Zemlya. During the Glacial period its glaciers were much larger than at present, whilst during a later portion of the Quaternary period (to judge by the marine fossils found as high as 300 ft. above the sea) Novaya Zemlya, like the whole of the arctic coast of Russia, was submerged for several hundred feet. At present it appears to partake of the movement of upheaval common to the whole of N. Russia.


Novaya Zemlya is colder than Spitsbergen (which lies more to the N.) as in some degree it shares in the continental conditions of northern Russia and Siberia. The middle and northern parts of the W. coast are not so cold as the E. On the W. coast the temperature appears to decrease S. of the Matochkin Shar, being reduced by a cold current from the Kara Sea through Kara Strait. On the other hand, the climate of the northern part of the W. coast is affected by a relatively warm drift from the W. Under this influence there are years when the islands can be circumnavigated without difficulty. In the Matochkin Shar region the snow-line is estimated at about 1800 to 2000 ft. Glaciers are rare S. of 72° N.

Flora and Fauna. - Grass does not grow to any extent except in Goose Land. Elsewhere even the leaved lichens are precarious, though the leather lichens flourish. Of Phanerogams, only the Dryas octopetala covers small areas of the debris, interspersed with isolated Cochlearia, &c., and, where a layer of thinner clay has been deposited in sheltered places, the surface is covered with saxifrages, &c.; and a carpet of mosses allows the arctic willow (Salix polaris) to develop. Where a thin sheet of humus, fertilized by lemmings, has accumulated, a few flowering plants appear, but even so their brilliant flowers spring direct from the soil, concealing the developed leaflets, while their horizontally spread roots grow out of proportion; only the Salix lanata rises to 7 or 8 in., sending out roots I in. thick and 10 to 12 ft. long. This applies only to the better-known neighbourhoods of Matochkin Shar and Kostin Shar; N. of 74° N. very few species have been found. The phanerogamic flora of Novaya Zemlya and Vaygach numbers about two hundred species. As to the genetic connexions of the Novaya Zemlya flora, it appears, according to M. Kjellmann's researches, to belong to the Asiatic rather than to the European arctic region.

The interior of Novaya Zemlya shows hardly a trace of animal life, save here and there a vagrant bird, a few lemmings, an ice-fox, a brown or white bear, and at times immigrant reindeer. Even insects are few. The sea-coast, however, is occupied by countless birds, which come from the S. for the breeding season, and at certain parts of the sea-coast the rocks are covered with millions of guillemots, while great flocks of ducks of various sorts, geese and swans swarm every summer on the valleys and lakes of the south. Whales, walruses, various seals and dolphins are frequently met with. Only two species of fish are of any importance - the goltzy (Salmo alpinus) in the western rivers, and the omul (Salmo omul) in the eastern.

The numbers of sea mammals and birds attracted Russian hunters, and even in the 16th century they had extended their huts (stanovishtcha) to the extreme N. of the island. Many of them wintered for years on Novaya Zemlya without great loss from scurvy. Owing to the ice in the White Sea Russian hunters found Novaya Zemlya less easy of access than did the Norwegians. But about 1877 systematic attempts at settlement were made by the Russian government, several families of Samoyedes being established at stations on the W. coast of the S. island, the chief of which is Karmakuly on Moller Bay, where there is a church. Novaya Zemlya is included in the Russian province of Archangel.


Novaya Zemlya seems to have been known to Novgorod hunters in the 11th century; but its geographical discovery dates from the great movement for the discovery of the N.E. passage. In 1553 Sir Hugh Willoughby sighted what was probably Goose Land; Richard Chancellor penetrated into the White Sea. In 1556 Stephen Borough reached the S. extremity of the island, being the first western European to do so. William Barents touched the island (1594) at Sukhoy Nos (73° 46'), and followed the coast N. to the Orange Islands and S. to the Kostin Shar. Rumours of silver ore having been found induced the Russian government to send out expeditions during the second half of the 18th century. In 1760 Savva Loshkin cruised along the E. coast, spent two winters there, and in the next year, after having reached Cape Begehrte (Begheerte), returned along the W. coast, thus accomplishing the first circumnavigation; but the valuable records of his voyage have been lost. In 1768 the Russian Lieutenant Rozmyslov reached Goose Land and penetrated into the Kara Sea by the Matochkin Shar, where he spent the winter; in the following year he pursued the exploration of the Kara Sea, but was compelled to return and abandon his ship. The first real scientific information about the island is due to the expeditions (1821-1824) of Count Feodor Petrovich Liitke (1797-1882), after whom part of the N. island is named Lake Land. Nearly all the W. coast as far as Cape Nassau, as well as Matochkin Shar, was mapped, and valuable scientific information obtained. In 1832 Lieutenant Pakhtusov mapped the E. coast as far as Matochkin Shar; and in 1835 Pakhtusov and Tsivolka his pilot, or commander of his second ship, mapped the coast as far as 74° 24'. The next expedition was that of the naturalist Karl von Baer in 1838. A new era of scientific exploration began in 1868, while Norwegian seahunters brought in valuable geographical information. In 1870 the Norwegian Captain Johannesen penetrated as far as 79° E., in 76° 13' N., and afterwards accomplished the second circumnavigation of Novaya Zemlya. These explorations led the way for the famous voyages of Baron Nordenskidld (1875-1878), which included investigations in Novaya Zemlya. In 1877 the Russian Lieutenant, Tyaghin, attempted to cross the S. island, and in 1878 M. Grinevetskiy succeeded in doing so. Among later expeditions may be mentioned those of C. Nossilov (1887-1892), T. N. Chernychev (1895) who made a crossing of the S. island, H. J. Pearson (1895 and 18 9 7), Lieutenant Borisov (1899 and 1900) and O. Ekstam (1900 and 1903).

See accounts of the expeditions above mentioned, and especially, among earlier works, K. E. von Baer, Expedition a Novaia Zemlia et en Lapponie (St Petersburg, 1838, &c.); and among later works H. J. Pearson, Beyond Petsora Eastward, with botanical and geological appendices by H. W. Feilden (London, 1899); also J. Sporer, Nowaja Semlja (Gotha, 1867); A. P. Engelhardt, A Russian Province of the North (Archangel, of which the author was governor), translated by H. Cooke (London, 1899).

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