Franz Josef Land

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Franz Josef Land

(frăns jō`zəf, fränts yō`zĕf), Rus. Zemlya Frantsa Iosifa, archipelago, c.6,300 sq mi (16,320 sq km), in the Arctic Ocean N of Novaya Zemlya, Russia. It consists of more than 190 islands of volcanic origin, including Aleksandra Land, George Land, Wilczek Land, Graham Bell Island, Hooker Island, and Rudolf Island. Government observation stations (erected 1929) and settlements are on the latter two islands, and a military base (erected 2015) is on Aleksandra Land. Some 90% of Franz Josef Land is covered by ice interspersed with poor lichen vegetation; the average mean temperature is 6.5°F; (−14.2°C;).

The islands were explored in 1873 by Karl Weyprecht and Julius von Payer, leaders of an Austrian expedition, and were subsequently more fully explored by expeditions such as those led by Frederick George Jackson (1894–97), Fridtjof Nansen (who spent the winter of 1895–96 in Franz Josef Land), Walter Wellman (1898–99), the duke of the Abruzzi (1899–1900), Evelyn Baldwin (1902–3), and Anthony Fiala (1903–5). In 1926 Russia, then a constituent republic of the USSR, claimed the archipelago as national territory, which was disputed by Norway; they now are part of the Russian Arctic National Park.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Franz Josef Land


(Russian, Zemlia Frantsa-Iosifa), an archipelago in the northeastern Barents Sea; part of Arkhangel’sk Oblast, RSFSR.

Franz Josef Land comprises 191 islands, with a total area of 16,134 sq km, and is divided into three parts. The eastern part, which is separated from the others by the Avstriiskii (Austrian) Sound, includes the large islands Zemlia Vil’cheka (Wilczek Land; 2,000 sq km) and Greem-Bell (Graham Bell; 1,700 sq km). The central part lies between the Avstriiskii Sound and the strait known as the Britanskii (British) Channel and contains the most numerous group of islands. The western part lies west of the Britanskii Channel and includes the archipelago’s largest island, Zemlia Georga (George Land; 2,900 sq km).

Many of the islands of the archipelago are formed of sandstones, aleurolites, and limestones; these rocks are overlain with extrusive horizontal basaltic crusts. Most of the islands constitute remnants of an extensive basaltic plateau that are covered by glaciers, which occupy a total area of 13,735 sq km. The maximum elevation of these islands is 620 m. The straits are wide troughs, with depths reaching 500–600 m, that have been scoured by glaciers. The principal elements of the ice sheets are ice caps and outlet glaciers, from the fronts of which icebergs break off. The surface area free of ice is occupied by small “oases,” capes, and nunataks. Relatively large ice-free areas on the islands Zemlia Aleksandry, Zemlia Georga, Greem-Bell, and Kheis (Hayes) have a hilly terrain.

The climate is typically arctic. The mean annual temperature is approximately – 12°C on Rudol’f Island. The mean July temperature ranges from – 1.2°C in Tikhaia Bay on the coast of Guker (Hooker) Island to 1.6°C on Kheis Island. The mean January temperature is approximately –24°C, with winter temperatures dropping to a low of – 52°C; winds may reach a velocity of 40 m per sec. Annual precipitation varies from 200–300 mm to 500–550 mm; maximum precipitation occurs in the zone where ice caps accumulate.

The islands have a total of approximately 1,000 lakes, with depths of up to 10 m and areas of up to 2 sq km. There are several rivers on the islands, ranging in length from 10 to 15 km. Landscapes typical of the arctic desert zone predominate. The dominant forms of vegetation are mosses and lichens. Mammals include the polar bear and, more rarely, the arctic fox. The waters that wash the islands are inhabited by the ringed seal, the bearded seal, the harp seal, the walrus, the narwhal, and beluga. Birds are the most numerous type of fauna; 26 species are represented, including dovekies, guillemots, kittiwakes, ivory gulls, and glaucous gulls. Polar stations are located on Zemlia Aleksandry and Rudol’f Island. In 1957 the E. T. Krenkel’ Geophysical Observatory was established on Kheis Island.

Franz Josef Land was discovered in 1873 by the Austro-Hun-garian expedition of J. Payer and K. Weyprecht and was named for the Austrian emperor Franz Josef I.


Geologiia SSSR, vol. 26: Ostrova Sovetskoi Arktiki. Moscow, 1970.
Sovetskaia Arktika: Moria i ostrova Severnogo Ledovitogo okeana. Moscow, 1970. (In the series Prirodnye usloviia i estestvennye resursy SSSR.)
Oledenennie Zemli Frantsa-Iosifa. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Franz Josef Land

an archipelago of over 100 islands in the Arctic Ocean, administratively part of Russia. Area: about 21 000 sq. km (8000 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005