Severnaia Zemlia

Severnaia Zemlia


an archipelago north of the Taimyr Peninsula that separates the Kara and Laptev seas; the islands are separated from the Taimyr Peninsula by the Vil’kitskii Strait (60–90 km wide). Administratively Severnaia Zemlia is part of the Taimyr (Dolgan-Nenets) National Okrug, Kras-noiarsk Krai, RSFSR. It consists of four large islands (Oktiabr’-skaia Revoliutsiia, Bol’shevik, Komsomolets. and Pioner) and numerous small islands (Shmidt, Malyi Taimyr, Starokadom-skii, Krupskaia, and others). The archipelago has a total area of approximately 37,000 sq km. In places the shores are rocky, precipitous (with drops to 300 m and greater), and deeply cut by fjordlike inlets.

The archipelago is a part of the Taimyr-Severnaia Zemlia folded region. It is made up of sedimentary (sandstones, shales, marls, limestones, and dolomites), metamorphic, and igneous (diabases, granites) rocks of different age and composition. Relief forms include plateaus (on Bol’shevik Island), rolling hills (on Pioner Island), extensive high plains (up to 200 m above sea level on Oktiabr’skaia Revoliutsiia Island), and low-lying plains (on Komsomolets Island). The ice caps reach elevations of 965 m. Low-lying terraced plains descend gently to the sea and form inshore shoals and a coastline marked by extensive pebbly sandbars and lagoons.

Severnaia Zemlia has a typical arctic climate. The mean annual temperature is sometimes as low as – 14°C. The summer is short and cold, and the winter is severe and long. The winter is marked by strong winds (up to 40 m/sec) and may have as many as 100 days with heavy snowfall. The mean January temperature ranges from – 28° to – 30°C, and the mean July temperature is from – 0.5° to – 1.6°C. Winter temperatures may go down to – 50°C. Fogs are frequent in the summer. The annual precipitation reaches 150–200 mm at sea level and up to 400–450 mm at the summits of the ice caps. The greatest amount of precipitation falls in the northwestern part of the archipelago. The variations in precipitation are explained by the basic characteristics of present-day surface glaciation of the islands of the northwest.

Glaciers occupy 30 percent of the southern part of Bol’shevik Island and as much as 65 percent of the northern part of Komsomolets Island. The total area of glaciers is 17,472 sq km. The island ice sheets consist of caps and outlet glaciers that cover significant parts of the high plateaus and elevated plains; the outlet glaciers partially occupy the terminal parts of deep and narrow fjords along the western coast of Bol’shevik Island and the eastern part of Oktiabr’skaia Revoliutsiia Island. The largest outlet glacier, the Arkticheskii Institut Glacier on the western coast of Komsomolets Island, is about 40 km long.

Glacial meltwaters feed the many small island rivers, including the Ushakov and Ozernaia rivers. None of the rivers is more than 90–100 km long. The largest lakes, with depths to 100 m, exist by virtue of outlet glaciers that dam up the mouth of marine inlets or fjords (Lake Geografov, Lake Fiordovoe).

The archipelago has typical arctic and antarctic desert landscapes with an impoverished fauna and a sparse soil and vegetative cover. Primitive undeveloped sandy and gravel-skeletal arctic soils predominate. Mosses and lichens dominate the vegetation: there are 61 species of flowering plants.

The animal world is very meager. Land mammals are represented by only a few species and are few in number. The arctic lemming, arctic fox, and polar bear (whose life is closely tied to the sea and drifting ice) are common on the northern islands; reindeer are found on the southern islands. The ringed seal, harp seal, walrus, and beluga inhabit the adjacent seas. Not more than 15 bird species nest in Severnaia Zemlia; these sea-birds nest in colonies on Cape Goristyi and Mount Bazarnaia. The most common birds are guillemots, little auks, kittiwakes, ivory gulls, long-tailed ducks, and glaucous gulls. Snowy owls, snow buntings, curlews, and other birds are also encountered.

Severnaia Zemlia was discovered in 1913 by B. Vil’kitskii’s expedition; the islands were first explored thoroughly by the 1930–32 expedition of the Arctic Institute (G. A. Ushakov and N. N. Urvantsev).


Geologiia SSSR, vol. 26: Ostrova Sovetskoi Arktiki. Moscow, 1970.
Sovetskaia Arktika. Moscow, 1970.
Taimyro-Severozemel’skaia oblast’. Leningrad, 1970.
Korotkevich, E. S. Poliarnye pustyni. Leningrad, 1972.
Ushakov, G. A. Po nekhozhenoi zemle. Moscow-Leningrad, 1951.


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