Arkhangelsk Oblast

Russian Arctic National Park

The Russian Arctic National Park was created in 2009 at geographer Petr Boyarsky's initiative to protect the unique nature of the remote islands of the Arctic Ocean, the Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land archipelagos. This truly is the edge of the world: 8.8 mn hectares of polar territory without a permanent population.

The protected northern islands are available to tourists taking cruises across the sea. The Arctic world is not a monotonous ice desert, but a northern wonderland with glaciers, snowfields and waterfalls, the spherulites on Champa Island, bird colonies and walrus rookeries, polar bears, bowhead whales, and seals, especially ringed seals, in their natural habitat. In addition to natural monuments, the Russian Arctic protects a rich historical and cultural heritage, including about 200 monuments and memorial sites associated with the names of great travellers and polar explorers.

Address: 36 Severnaya Dvina Embankment, 163069, Arkhangelsk, Russia
Site on the map

The territory of the national park consists of two clusters, the southern and the northern. The southern cluster comprises the north of Severny Island of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, the Greater and Lesser Oransky Islands, the Heemskerk and Loshkin Islands and several others. The field base of the Russian Arctic in this cluster is located at the northernmost point of Novaya Zemlya, on Cape Zhelaniya. This is the confluence of the Barents and Kara Seas. The Barents Sea, washing the cape from the west, does not freeze completely, while the Kara Sea in the east is covered with a solid sheet of ice for many months. The Pomors once called Cape Zhelaniya 'returns', not meaning profits, but the limit to which fishermen can reach before it gets too dangerous and they need to turn back.

Here at the edge of the world, there are monuments to human activity. In 1596, Willem Barents set up a winter camp on the eastern coast of Severny Island, after circling it from the north. In Soviet times, a polar meteorological station operated at Cape Zhelaniya. Fishermen's camps from the first half of the 20th century and a complex of defensive structures from the Great Patriotic War (WWII) have been preserved on the island.

The southern cluster is relatively close to the mainland and the ice-free Kara Sea, so the fauna and flora are quite diverse here. Eleven species of marine mammals live on or around Novaya Zemlya: polar bears, Atlantic walruses, ringed seals, bearded seals, harp seals, white whales, bowhead (polar) whales and Minke's whales. There are only three land species: Arctic foxes, hoofed lemmings and reindeer. However, there are 48 species of sea and water birds, of which 18 species (kittiwakes, glaucous gulls, fulmars, thick-billed guillemots, Atlantic puffins, etc.) nest on the islands. There are 87 species of vascular plants, as well as mosses and lichens.

The northern cluster of the Russian Arctic is located in a dangerous area, past the point of no return. These are the 192 islands of the Franz Josef Land archipelago in the northeast of the Barents Sea. Of the nearly two hundred islands, only four are relatively large: Georg Land, Wilczek Land, Graham Bell Island and Alexandra Land. The rest are so small that together they occupy 0.4 per cent of the total territory. The archipelago stretches 375 km from west to east and 234 km from north to south. Its northernmost point, Cape Fligely on Rudolf Island, is only 900 km away from the North Pole.

Franz Josef Land is considered the northernmost land area of Eurasia. The existence of these islands in the Barents Sea was already mentioned by the great son of the Pomor people, M.V. Lomonosov, but they were discovered only in 1873. An Austro-Hungarian expedition led by Karl Weyprecht and Julius von Payer reached the archipelago and named it after their emperor, Franz Joseph I.

In the 20th century, unfortunately, people did not leave the nicest traces on the archipelago: scrap metal, fuel barrels, household and industrial waste. Now, one of the urgent tasks of the national park is an extensive cleanup to restore the natural appearance of the area.

85 per cent of the territory of Franz Josef Land is occupied by glaciers. This is the arctic desert climatic zone, where in winter temperatures can drop below –50°C. On average, in January the temperature is –24°C, and in July it warms up to 0°C. Nevertheless, Franz Josef Land cannot be called completely deserted: it is home to both flora and fauna. Most of what grows on the island are mosses and lichens: 167 species of lichens, more than 30 species of liverworts, about 120 species of green mosses and 94 species of mushrooms. There are only 50 species of vascular plants, but in summer, as on Novaya Zemlya, saxifrages, whitlowworts and Arctic poppies bloom. Fauna is represented by 11 species of mammals. First of all, these are polar bears that choose these islands as their second shelter for giving birth and taking care of their offspring, superseded only by Wrangel Island. The waters of the archipelago are inhabited by Atlantic walruses, ringed seals, bearded seals, bowhead whales, white whales and white-beaked dolphins, as well as the rarest marine animal—the narwhal. This sea unicorn has been chosen as the symbol of the Russian Arctic Park. On the islands, there are more than 50 species of birds, mostly seabirds.

The Russian Arctic offers tourists a variety of natural sites and monuments. On Novaya Zemlya, there are bird colonies and a walrus rookery; on the Oran Islands, an icefall in Inostrantsev Bay, the last refuge of V. Barents in Ledyanaya Harbour. Franz Josef Land includes Champ Island with its famous spherulites (round stones of different sizes), Hall Island with the outcrops of Cape Tegetthoff, and Cape Flora on the Northbrook Islands with its rich vegetation, unexpected at these high latitudes. Another beautiful place is Tikhaya Bay and Rubini Rock, which house a huge colony of seabirds. On Hooker Island and Heiss Island, there are the northernmost post offices in the world. Tourists arriving on cruise ships can send home a postcard from the nearest possible point to the Pole.

The main type of tourism in the Russian Arctic is expedition cruise tours in the summer, from June to September: Arctic cruises in the waters of the Franz Josef Land archipelago and cruises to the North Pole with a visit to the territory of the national park. Information about the organisers of such cruises and all the details about the tours can be found on the official website of the Russian Arctic, in the Tourism: for Visitors section.