Thursday, September 3, 2009

Franz Josef Land

A wonderfully compelling world of icebergs, glaciers and the midnight sun, Franz Josef Land is one of the few remaining truly wild places on the planet. It is an archipelago of 191 volcanic islands, intended with dramatic bays and fjords, covering an area of 16,130 sq km in the Barents Sea, almost entirely within the Arctic Circle. There is located the most northerly point of Europe, only 911 km from the North Pole, at Cape Fligely on Rudolph Island.

Two Austrian explorers, Julius Payer and Karl Weyprecht landed there in 1873 and named the archipelago Franz Joseph Land. But Austria never claimed the territory; it now belongs to Russia . Over a fifty- year period, the highest temperature recorded is 13 degrees Celsius and the lowest -54 degrees Celsius.

During the summer months the icy sea takes crazy mosaic forms. Almost 85 per cent of the land surface is glaciated with an ice layer averaging 180 m thick. The only colour to be seen in this blinding ice-white wilderness is the extraordinary reds and greens lichens and mosses. The dramatic scenery is at its most majestic on Champ Island in the centre of the archipelago. The unforgiving climate supports arctic foxes, walruses, polar bears and beluga whales, and 37 bird species, featuring kittiwakes and fulmars. A journey to Franz Josef Land is a unique experience.

When to go: July to August. Population: Uninhabited. How to get there: on a cruise boat from Spitzbergen. You should know: A trip to Franz Josef Land is an extreme adventure. It’s a Russian military zone and you can only go there on an escorted expedition.

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