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Franz Josef Land

Franz Josef Land
Russian: Земля Франца-Иосифа
Map of Franz Josef Land
Location of Franz Josef Land
Location Arctic Ocean
Total islands 191
Area 16,134 km2 (6,229 sq mi)
Highest elevation 670 m (2,200 ft)
Highest point Wilczek Land
Federal subject Arkhangelsk Oblast
Population uninhabited (as of 2013)

Franz Josef Land, Franz Joseph Land or Francis Joseph's Land (Wilczek Land, Graham Bell Island and Alexandra Land.

Eighty-five percent of the archipelago is glaciated, with large unglaciated areas being located on the largest islands and many of the smallest islands. The islands have a combined coastline of 4,425 kilometers (2,750 mi). Compared to other Arctic archipelagos, Franz Joseph Land has a high dissection rate of 3.6 square kilometers per coastline kilometer. Cape Fligely on Rudolf Island is the northernmost point of the Eastern Hemisphere. The highest elevations are found in the eastern group, with the highest point located on Wilczek Land, 670 meters (2,200 ft) above mean sea level.

The archipelago was first spotted by the Norwegian sealers Nils Fredrik Rønnbeck and Johan Petter Aidijärvi in 1865, although they did not report their finding. The first reported finding was in the 1873 Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition led by Julius von Payer and Karl Weyprecht, who named the area after Emperor Franz Joseph I. The islands were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1926, who settled small outposts for research and military purposes. The Kingdom of Norway rejected the claim and several private expeditions were sent to the islands. With the Cold War, the islands became off limits for foreigners and two military airfields were built. The islands have been a nature sanctuary since 1994 and became part of the Russian Arctic National Park in 2012.


  • History 1
  • Geography 2
  • Hydrology 3
  • Climate 4
  • Nature 5
    • Marine mammals 5.1
      • Critically endangered cetaceans 5.1.1
  • Human activity 6
  • References 7
    • Bibliography 7.1


There are two candidates for the discovery of Franz Josef Land. The first was the Norwegian sealing vessel Spidsbergen, with captain Nils Fredrik Rønnbeck and harpooner Johan Petter Aidijärvi. They sailed northeast from Svalbard in 1865 searching for suitable sealing sites and found land which was most likely Franz Josef Land. The account is believed to be factual, but an announcement of the discovery was never made, and their sighting therefore remained unknown to subsequent explorers. It was at the time common to keep newly discovered areas secret, as their discovery was aimed at exploiting them for sealing and whaling, and exposure would cause competitors to flock to the site.[1] Russian scientist N. G. Schilling proposed in 1865 that the ice conditions in the Barents Sea could only be explained if there was another land mass in the area, but he never received funding for an expedition.[2]

The Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition of 1872–74 was the first to announce the discovery of the islands. Led by Julius von Payer and Karl Weyprecht of Austria–Hungary on board the schooner Tegetthoff, the expedition's primary goal was to find the north-east passage and its secondary goal to reach the North Pole.[3] Starting in July 1872,[4] the vessel drifted from Novaya Zemlya to a new landmass,[5] which they named in honor of Franz Joseph I (1830–1916), Emperor of Austria.[6] The expedition contributed significantly to the mapping and exploration of the islands. The next expedition to spot the archipelago was the Dutch Expedition for the Exploration of the Barents Sea, on board the schooner Willem Barents. Constrained by the ice, they never reached land.[7]

magnetic field occur in cycles of fifteen years.[24] It also conducted topographical surveys of the surrounding area.[25] Scurvy set in during the second winter, killing a machinist. Despite lacking prior experience or sufficient provisions, Sedov insisted on pressing forward with a march to the pole. His condition deteriorated and he died on 6 March.[26]

America anchored at Tepliz Bay

Hertha was sent to explore the area, and its captain, I. I. Islyamov hoisted a Russian iron flag at Cape Flora and proclaimed Russian sovereignty over the archipelago. The act was motivated by the ongoing First World War and Russian fears of the Central Powers establishing themselves there. The world's first Arctic flight took place in August, 1914, when Polish aviator (one of the first pilots of the Russian Navy) Jan Nagórski overflew Franz Josef Land in search of Sedov's group. Andromeda set out for the same purpose; while failing to locate them, the crew were able to finally determine the non-existence of Peterman Land and King Oscar Land, suspected lands north of the islands.[27]

Soviet expeditions were sent almost yearly from 1923.[27] Franz Josef Land had been considered terra nullius - land belonging to no one - but on 15 April 1926 the Soviet Union declared its annexation of the archipelago. Emulating Canada's declaration of the sector principle, they pronounced all land between the Soviet mainland and the North Pole to be Soviet territory. This principle has never been internationally recognized.[28] Both Italy and Norway protested.[27] Norway was first and foremost concerned about its economic interests in the area, in a period when Norwegian hunters and whalers were also being barred from the White Sea, Novaya Zemlya and Greenland; the Soviet government, however, largely remained passive, and did not evict Norwegian hunting ships during the following years. Nor did the Soviets interfere when, in 1926, several foreign ships entered the waters in search of the disappeared airship Italia.[28]

Norway attempted both a diplomatic solution and a Lars Christensen-financed expedition to establish a weather station to gain economic control over the islands, but both failed in 1929.[29] Instead the Soviet icebreaker Sedov set out, led by Otto Schmidt, landed in Tikhaya Bay, and began construction of a permanent base.[30] The Soviet government proposed renaming the archipelago Fridtjof Nansen Land in 1930, but the name never came into use.[29] In 1930 the Norwegian Bratvaag Expedition visited the archipelago, but was asked by Soviet authorities to respect Soviet territorial water in the future. Other expeditions that year were the Norwegian-Swedish balloon expedition led by Hans Wilhelmsson Ahlmann on Quest and the German Graf Zeppelin.[31] Except for a German weather station emplaced during the Second World War, these were the last Western expeditions to Franz Josef Land until 1990.[32]

Soviet activities grew rapidly following the International Polar Year in 1932. The archipelago was circumnavigated, people were landed on Victoria Island, and a topographical map was completed. In 1934–35 geological and glaciological expeditions were carried out, cartographic flights were flown, and up to sixty people stayed the winters between 1934 and 1936, which also saw the first birth. The first drifting ice station was set up out of Rudolf Island in 1936.[33] An airstrip was then constructed on a glacier on the island and by 1937 the winter population hit 300.[34]

Activity dwindled during the Second World War and only a small group of men were kept at Rudolf Island, remaining unsupplied throughout the war.[35] They never discovered that a German weather station, named Schatzgrüber, had been established on Alexandra Land. However, it was evacuated in 1944 after the men were struck by trichinosis.[36] The Cold War produced renewed Soviet interest in the islands because of their strategic military significance. The islands were regarded as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier". The site of the former German weather station was selected as the location of a Soviet aerodrome and military base, Nagurskoye. With the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Soviet Union changed its military strategy in 1956, abolishing the strategic need for an airbase on the archipelago. The International Geophysical Year of 1957 and 1958 gave a new rise to the scientific interest in the archipelago and an airstrip was built on Heiss Island in 1956. The following year the geophysical Ernst Krenkel Observatory was established there.[35] Activity at Tikhaya Bay was closed in 1959.[37]

Because of the islands' military significance, the Soviet Union closed off the area to foreign researchers, although Soviet researchers carried out various expeditions, including in geophysics, studies of the ionosphere, marine biology, botany, ornithology and glaciology.[38] The Soviet Union opened up the archipelago for international activities from 1990, with foreigners having fairly straightforward access.[39] The base on Graham Bell Island was abandoned in the early 1990s. The military presence at Nagurskoye was reduced to that of a border post, and the number of people stationed at Krenkel Observatory were reduced from seventy to a dozen.[40] The archipelago and the surrounding waters was declared a nature reserve in April 1994. The opening of the archipelago also saw the introduction of tourism, most of which takes place on Russian-operated icebreakers.[41] In 2011, in a move to better accommodate tourism in the archipelago, the Russian Arctic National Park was expanded to include Franz Josef Land.[42] In 2012 the Russian Air Force decided to reopen Graham Bell Airfield as part of a series of reopenings of air bases in the Arctic.[43]


The archipelago constituted the northernmost part of Russia's Arkhangelsk Oblast, located between 79°46′ and 81°52′ north and 44°52′ and 62°25′ east. It is situated 360 kilometers (220 mi) north of Novaya Zemlya and 260 kilometers (160 mi) east of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.[44] Located within the Arctic Ocean, Franz Josef Land constitutes the northeastern border of the Barents Sea and the northwestern border of the Kara Sea. The islands are 900 kilometers (560 mi) from the North Pole and 750 kilometers (470 mi) from the Yamal Peninsula, the closest point of the Eurasian mainland.[44] The archipelago falls within varying definitions of the Asia–Europe border, and is therefore variously defined as part of Asia or Europe. Cape Flighely, situated at 81°50′ north, is the northernmost point in Eurasia and the Eastern Hemisphere,[44] and of either Europe or Asia, depending on the continental definition. It is the third-closest landmass to the North Pole.[45]

The archipelago counts 191 uninhabited islands with a combined area of 16,134 square kilometers (6,229 sq mi). These stretch 375 kilometers (233 mi) from east to west and 234 kilometers (145 mi) from north to south.[44] The islands are categorized in three groups, a western, central and eastern, separated by the British Channel and the Austrian Strait. The central group is further divided into a northern and southern section by the Markham Strait. Graham Bell Island is separated from the eastern group by the Severo–Vostochnyi Strait.[46] There are two named island clusters: Zichy Land north of the Markham Sound and Belaya Zemlya to the extreme northeast. The straits are narrow, between several hundred meters to 3 kilometers (2 mi) wide. They reach depths of 500 to 600 meters (1,600 to 2,000 ft), 150 to 300 meters (500 to 1,000 ft) below the shelf of the Barents Sea.[46]

Cape Tegethoff on Hall Island

The largest island is Wilczek Land, Graham Bell Island and Alexandra Land. Five more islands exceed 500 square kilometers (190 sq mi): Hall Island, Salisbury Island, McClintock Island, Jackson Island and Hooker Island. The smallest 135 islands constitute 0.4 percent of the archipelago's area.[44] The highest elevation is a peak on Wilczek Land, which rises 670 meters (2,200 ft) above mean sea level. Victoria Island, located 170 kilometers (110 mi) to the west of Alexandra Land, is administratively part of the archipelago, but the island is not geographically part of the island group and is closer to Svalbard, located 60 kilometers (37 mi) from Kvitøya.[47] Geologically the archipelago is located on the northern edge of the Barents Sea Platform, within an area where Mesozoic sedimentary rocks are exposed. The area has four units separated by regional erosion surfaces. The Upper Paleozoic unit is poorly exposed and was created by folding during the Caledonian period. The Lower Mesozoic unit, consisting of coastal and marine sediments from the Upper Terassic period are present on most island and on the bottom of straights, and consist of limestones, shales, sandstones and conglomerate. The Upper Mesozoic unit dominates in the southern and western parts, consisting of massive effusive rocks made up of basaltic sheets separated by volcanic ashes and tuffs, mixed with terrigenous rocks with layers of coal.[48] The Mesozonic-Tertiary unit remains mostly on the sea floor and consist of marine quartz sandstones and shales. Plate tectonics of the Arctic Ocean created basalt lavas and dolerite sheets and dykes in the Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous periods.[49] The land is rising by 2.5 to 3.0 millimeters (0.098 to 0.118 in) per year, due to the melting of the Barents Sea Ice Sheet ca. 10,000 years ago.[50]


Franz Josef Land is dominated by glaciation, which covers an area of 13,735 square kilometers (5,303 sq mi), or 85 percent of the archipelago.[44] The glaciers have an average thickness of 180 meters (590 ft), which would convert to 2,500 cubic kilometers (600 cu mi). This would alone give a 6 millimeters (0.24 in)

  • Julius Payer: New Lands within the Arctic Circle. Narrative of the Discoveries of the Austrian Ship Tegetthoff in the Years 1872-74 (D. Appleton, New York 1877)
  • Fridtjof Nansen: Farthest North. Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship FRAM 1893-96. (Archilbald Constable and Co, Westminster 1897)
  • Frederick G. Jackson: A Thousand Days in the Arctic (Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London 1899)
  • Luigi Amedeo of Savoy: On the Polar Star in the Arctic Sea (Dodd, Mead & Co., New York 1903 and Hutchinson & Co., London 1903)
  • Anthony Fiala: Fighting the Polar Ice (Doubleday, Page & Company, New York 1906)
  • Gunnar Horn: Franz Josef Land. Natural History, Discovery, Exploration and Hunting (Skrifter om Svalbard og Ishavet No. 29. Oslo 1930)
  • Barr, Susan (1995). Franz Josef Land. Oslo:  
  • Lück, Michael (2008). The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments. CABI.  


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  29. ^ a b Barr (1995): 96
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  39. ^ Barr (1995): 104
  40. ^ Barr (1995): 151
  41. ^ Barr (1995): 152
  42. ^ Sazhenova, Anastasia (29 August 2011). "Russia ready to boost Arctic tourism".  
  43. ^ Pettersen, Trude (31 May 2012). "Russia reopens Arctic airbases".  
  44. ^ a b c d e f g Barr (1995): 8
  45. ^ Lück (2008): 182
  46. ^ a b Barr (1995): 9
  47. ^ "Victoria Island". 
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  61. ^ —Погода и Климат. Retrieved 17 November 2012.
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  74. ^ Obbard M., Thiemann G., Peacock E., DeBruyn T. (eds), 2010. Polar Bears: Proceedings of the 15th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group. Retrieved on 04-01-2015
  75. ^ Obbard M. et. al. (2010).
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  77. ^ Nefedova T., Gavrilo M., Gorshkov S., 2013. Летом в Арктике стало меньше льда. Russian Geographical Society. retrieved on 24-05-2014
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  79. ^ Sala E., 2013. Franz Josef Land Expedition: First Look at Post-Expedition Discoveries. Pristine Seas Expeditions. National Geographic. retrieved on 24-05-2014
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  81. ^ ECS, the European Cetacean Society. Bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) sighting in the Franz Josef Land area.. retrieved on 24-05-2014
  82. ^ Scalini I., 2014. Всемирный день китов. Russian Arctic National Park. retrieved on 24-05-2014
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Tourism travel to the archipelago is severely limited. There is no infrastructure to support tourists and the only way to reach the islands is by icebreaker, typically operating out of Murmansk. In 2012 there were only eight successful landings on the islands. A contributing factor to the low utilization is the difficulty of obtaining permissions and frequent closing of the Kola Bay to accommodate military exercises. The most frequent service is a three-week North Pole tour with Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy, which stops by the islands en route.[83] The most popular destinations are areas with bird cliffs and walrus colonies, such as Cape Flora on Northbrook Island and Cape Rubini on Hooker Island, as well as historical remains such as Nansen's hut on Jackson Island.[84] Tourists are commonly landed by helicopter.[85]

Human activity

Occasionally there are sightings of the bowhead whale.[80] The Russian Arctic stock of this species, ranging from Cape Farewell in Greenland and Svalbard/Spitsbergen areas to East Siberian Sea is considered to be the most endangered of all populations in the world. Waters around Franz Josef Land is seemingly the most important place for this stock[81][82]

Critically endangered cetaceans

Minke whales, humpback whale, and beluga whales are commonly seen around the island, and less commonly orcas and narwhales, with the archipelago being located on the northern edge of their summer range. Fin whales were newly confirmed to migrate into the waters.[79]

Three species of seals habit the archipelago. Harp seal is the most common, although it breeds in the White Sea. Slightly less common is the bearded seal. Walruses were previously hunted, dramatically reducing the formerly abundant species.[78] They have been internationally protected since 1952 and their numbers have since been on the rise, with between one and three thousand walruses living in the archipelago. The population is common with Svalbard and northern Novaja Zemlja.

Being declared as a marine mammal sanctuary,[77] the island has rich biodiversity of rare marine mammals.

Marine mammals

The polar bear population of Franz Josef Land lies within the Barents Sea subpopulation, which also includes polar bears inhabiting Svalbard and the western coast of Novaya Zemlya.[74] In 2004, the Barents Sea subpopulation was estimated at 2,650.[75] There is also a population of Arctic fox, which typically have their territories near seabird habitats.[76]

There are 33 species of fish in the waters, none of which are abundant or commercially exploitable.[70] The most common are polar cod, which reach lengths of 20 centimeters (7.9 in), and liparidae. There are no endemic species within the archipelago.[71] Forty-one species of birds have been documented in the archipelago, of which fourteen breed. These are dominated by seabirds such as fulmar, kittiwake, Brünnich's guillemot, black guillemot and little auk are common throughout the archipelago, while seven other species prefer nesting on flat tundra: common eider, purple sandpiper, Arctic skua, glaucous gull, ivory gull, Arctic tern and snow bunting.[72] Some ivory gulls, little auks and Brünnich's guillemots opt to spend the winter on the islands.[73]

More than one hundred taxa of single-cell pelagic algae have been identified around the archipelago, the most common being Thalassiosira antarctica and Chaetoceros decipiens. The bloom takes place between May and August.[68] Of the roughly fifty species of zooplankton, calanoids dominate, with Calanus glacialis and Calanus hyperboreus constituting the greater portion of the biomass. On the sea bottom there are 34 species of macroalgae and at least 500 species of macrofauna. Most common are crustaceans such as amphipods and shrimps, polychaetes and echinoderms, such as sea bristles.[69] The ice scouring causes there to be little life in the littoral zone, but the sublittoral zone (2 to 25 meters (6 ft 7 in to 82 ft 0 in)) is dominated by laminaria, most commonly Laminaria sachcharina, and red algae, such as Phycodrys rubens.[70]

Trees, shrubs and tall plants cannot survive. About 150 species of bryophytes dominate the grassy turf, of which two-thirds are mosses and a third liverworts. The most common species are Aulacomnium, Ditrichum, Drepanocladus, Orthothecium and Tomenthypnum. More than 100 species of lichen are found on the island, the most common being Caloplaca, Lecanora, Lecidea, Ochrolechia and Rinodina.[65] There are sixteen species of grass and about 100 species of algae, most commonly Cyanophyta and Diatomea.[66] Fifty-seven species of vascular plants have been reported. The most common are Arctic poppy and saxifraga, which grow everywhere, independent of habitat, with the latter's nine species being found on all islands. A common plant in wet areas is alpine foxtail and buttercups,[67] while polar willow is common in wet areas. Alopercurus aplinus and Papaver dahlianum are the tallest plants, able to reach heights of 30 centimeters (12 in).[66]

The flora varies between islands, based on the natural conditions. On the least thriving islands vegetation is limited to lichen growing on stones.[64] Vegetation typically covers five to ten percent of the ground surface, with notable exceptions under bird colonies where it can reach one hundred percent. Vegetation varies with the altitude: up to 120 to 130 meters (390 to 430 ft) there is a belt of grass-moss arctic desert, then moss-lichen arctic desert to 175 to 200 meters (574 to 656 ft), then lichen arctic desert up to 250 to 315 meters (820 to 1,033 ft) and above lifeless snow desert, with occasional lichens on nunataks and snow algae on glacier surfaces.[65]

[63] Arctic desert soils occur on the eastern group islands, while the areas near the edge of the glaciers can give semi-bog arctic soil.[62] The climate and permafrost limits soil development in the archipelago. Large areas are void of soil, with permafrost polygons being the most common site for soil to occur. The soil typically has incomplete


Climate data for Ernst Krenkel Observatory, Heiss Island
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 1.9
Average high °C (°F) −19.2
Daily mean °C (°F) −22.7
Average low °C (°F) −26.2
Record low °C (°F) −42.1
Average precipitation mm (inches) 32
Average rainy days 0.1 0.1 0 0.1 0.5 3 12 12 6 0.5 0.1 0 34
Average snowy days 20 19 19 16 22 15 7 10 18 24 21 19 209
Average relative humidity (%) 83 82 80 81 85 88 91 92 90 86 84 83 85

During winter, high-pressure weather and clear skies cause radiation loss from the ground, sending temperatures down to −40 °C (−40 °F). Low-pressure weather gives strong winds and precipitation, with temperature spells creeping up to and above the freezing point. During shifts the temperatures can change by 20 °C (36 °F) within hours. Coastal stations experience mean January temperatures of between −20 °C (−4 °F) −30 °C (−22 °F), varying heavily from year to year depending on the degree of cycles in weather patterns. During summer the temperatures are a lot more even and average at between 0 °C (32 °F) and 3 °C (37 °F) at Hayes Island.[58] Fog is most common during the summer. Average annual precipitation at the coastal stations is between 100 and 150 millimetres (3.9 and 5.9 in), with the wettest months being from July through September. Elevated areas can experience considerably higher precipitation.[59] Franz Josef Land is significantly colder than Spitsbergen, which experiences 8 °C (14 °F) warmer winter averages, but is warmer than the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.[60]

The main forces influencing the climate are the glaciation and sea ice. At 81° north the archipelago experiences 141 annual days of midnight sun, from 12 April to 30 August. During the winter it experiences 128 days of polar night from 19 October to 23 February. Even during summer the angle of the sun ray spreads the limited radiated energy over a large area. Further cooling is caused by the high amount of cloudiness. The sea starts to freeze in late September and reaches its annual maximum in March, at which time ninety-five percent of the sea is ice-covered. The ice starts to decrease in May and suffers a major melting in June, with the minimum occurring in August or early September.[57]

Satellite image of Franz Josef Land from August 2011


The sea currents surrounding the archipelago are common with those around eastern Svalbard and northern Novaja Zemlja. The cold Makarov Current flows from the north and the Arctic Current flows from the northwest, while the warmer Novaja Zemlja Current flows from the south. The latter has temperatures over 0.5 °C (32.9 °F), while the bottom water lies below −1.7 °C (28.9 °F). The southern coastal regions of the archipelago experience currents from east to west. Average velocity is between 2 and 5 centimeters (0.79 and 1.97 in) per second. The tidal component in coastal areas is 15 centimeters (5.9 in) per second.[54] Pack ice occurs throughout the year around the entire island group, with the lowest levels being during August and September. One-year winter ice starts forming in October and reaches a thickness of 1.5 meters (4 ft 11 in).[55] Icebergs are common year-round.[56]

Streams only form during the runoff period from May through early September. Permafrost causes most of the runoff take place on the surface, with stream only forming on the largest islands. The longest river is 19 kilometers (12 mi) long and forms on George Land, while there are several streams on Alexandra Land, the longest being 8.4 kilometers (5.2 mi).[52] There are about one thousand lakes in the archipelago, the majority of which are located on Alexandra Land and George Land. Most lakes are located in depressions caused by glacial erosion, in addition to a smaller number of lagoon lakes. Their sizes vary from 2 square kilometers (0.77 sq mi) to 0.4 hectares (0.99 acres). Most are only 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) deep, with the deepest measured at 10 meters (33 ft).[53]

[44] The first Russian expedition was carried out in 1901, when the icebreaker

Anthony Fiala, second-in-command in the first expedition, as leader.[20] It arrived in 1903 and spent the winter. Their ship, America, was crushed beyond repair in December and disappeared in January. Still, they made two attempts towards the pole, both of which were quickly abandoned.[21] They were forced to stay another year, making yet another unsuccessful attempt at the pole, before being evacuated in 1905 by the Terra Nova.[22]

The Stella Polare was trapped and threatened to sink. The crew were obliged to land with the utmost haste and to secure materials for building a dwelling.

Stella Polare.[17] They stayed the winter,[18] and in February and again in March 1900 set out towards the pole, but failed to get far.[19]

Two men shake hands in the midst of a snowfield, with a dog sitting nearby. Dark hills are shown in the background.
The Nansen–Jackson meeting at Cape Flora, 17 June 1896 (a posed photograph taken hours after the initial meeting)

[11] These early expeditions concentrated their explorations on the southern and central parts of the archipelago.[10] the following summer.Hope and Kara to be rescued by the British vessels [9] sank on 21 August. They built a cottage and stayed the winter,Eira, and Cape Flora The explorers were stopped by ice at [8]

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