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Geology, flora and fauna of Novaya Zemlya, Russia

Geology, flora and fauna of Novaya Zemlya, Russia

Novaya Zemlya (i.e., "New Land"), is a large island, surrounded by many small ones, situated in the Arctic Ocean ( see vol. ii., plate xxvi.), and belonging to the Russian empire. It lies between 70° 30´ and 77° N. lat. And between 52° and 69° E. long., in the shape of an elongated crescent 600 miles in length, with an average width of 60 miles, and an estimated area of 40,000 square miles, separating the Kara Sea on the east from that part of the Arctic Ocean which is often called Barents´s Sea. The north-eastern extremity of Novaya Zemlyalies a little to the west of the meridian of the peninsula of Yalmal, from the extremity of which it is only 160 miles distant. Its southern part, bending towards the south-east, appears as a continuation of the Vaigatch (Vaygach) Island, from which it is separated by the Kara Strait, 30 miles in width,- the island itself being separated from the continent by the narrow Ugrian Strait, only 7 miles broad. Novaya Zemlya is cut through about the middle by a narrow winding channel, the matotchkin (Matochkin) Shar, which also connects the Arctic Ocean with the Kara Sea.

While the eastern coast runs as a regular curve, with deeper indentations only in its middle, the western is deeply indented by numerous and in some cases fjord-like bays, studded, like the rest of the coast, with many islands. amongst the principal on the western coast are several parallel fjords at the southern extremity and the wide bay of Sakhanikha. Then farther north is the Kostin Shar, bounded on the north by Cape Podrezoff, which forms the southern extremeity of Gusinaya Zemlya or Goose Land, in 72° N. lat.; Moller Bay, 40 miles wide, between Goose Land and Britvin Promontory, has several fjord-like bays, with good anchorages. A broad indentation between Bitvin and Sukhoi Nos Promontories, which has received the general name of Marquis de Traverse Bay, includes several bays with good anchorages for larger vessels. Several other large and deep bays follow until Admiralty Peninsula (75° N. lat.) is reached; of these the chief are Krestovaya and Mashigin. Farther on, Nordenskjold´s Bay is worthy of notice.

Orography and Geology.- The interior of Novaya Zemlya is almost unknown; still; the broad features of its structure can be inferred from data obtained at various points on the coast. Two orographical regions must be distinguished. The first of these south of lat. 72o, appearing as a continuation of the Pay-Kho mountains, is a plateau of moderate height, with several low parallel ridges (2000 feet) running north-west, and separated by level valleys dotted with numerous lakes. It consists of gneisses and clay-slates, with layers of augitic porphyry (north of Kostin Shar), and thick beds of Silurian and perhaps Devonian limestone, continued on Vaigatch Island, where they are partially covered with Carboniferous deposits. On the north-west it terminates in the low plateau (300 to 400 feet) of Goose Land. The middle and northern parts of Novaya Zemlya, on the other hand, form an alpine region with isolated peaks and a complicated system of spurs and deep valleys, extending even under the sea. Instead of being, as it has been frequently described, a single chain running in the main direction of the island closer to its western coast, it appears to be rather a system of shorter chains running due north-east, and disposed in echelons displaced eastwards as they advance towards the north. They terminate seawards in several promontories having the same direction; but the difference of the geological structure on the two sides of the Matotchkin Shar would suggest that it is rather a combination of two longitudinal valleys connected by a transverse cleft than one transverse valley. The highest parts of the alpine region (the Mitusheff kamen, 3200 feet; Wilczek, 3900 feet; and other peaks to the west rising perhaps to 4000 and 4650 feet) are in the neighborhood of this channel; south of the eastern entrance is a peak about 5000 feet in height. Farther north the region sinks much lower, while that part of northern Novaya Zemlya which bends eastward seems to consist of a more massive swelling of land, covered with an immense ice-sheet descending north and south to the sea-coats. The whole of the alpine regionis covered with fields of snow descending in broad strips along the slopes of the isolated peaks, and feeding glaciers in the deeper valleys.

The geological structure of the central region is of the most varied description. The primary rocks which appear at Mitusheff Kamen are overlaid with thick beds of quartzites and clay-slates containing sulphite of iron, with subordinate layers of talc or mica slate, and thinner beds of fossiliferous limestone, Silurianor Devonian. More recent clay-slates and marls belonging to the middle Jurassic occur in the western coast- region about Matotchkin Shar. About 74o N. lat. Te crags of the eastern coast are composed of grey sandstone, while in 76o Barents´s Islands, and possibly a much greater part of the northern coast, show Carboniferous strata. Traces of Eocene deposits, produced under a warmer climate, which are so widely developed in other parts of the polar basin, have not yet been discovered on Novaya Zemlya. During the Glacial period its glaciers were much larger than at present, whilst during a later portion of the Quaternary period (to judge by the marine fossils found as high as 300 feet above the sea) Novaya Zemlya, like the whole of the arctic coast of Russia, was submerged for several hundred feet. At present it appears to partake of the movement of upheaval common to the whole of northern Russia.

The physical manifestations of orogenesis (the process of orogeny/mountain buidling) are orogenic belts or orogens. The name of such orogenic belts often end in -ides, like the Caledonides from the Caledonian orogeny, the Ketilides from the Ketilidian orogen, and indeed the Uralides from the Uralian orogen.

The Uralide/Uralian orogen of central Russia, the geographic and geologic divide between Europe and Asia, marks the Paleozoic collision zone of the East European craton with the Asian collage of terranes. Together with the Appalachian, Caledonian, and Variscan orogens, the Urals were one of the major zones of continental convergence that contributed to the assembly of the late Paleozoic Pangea supercontinent. Tectonic evolution of the Urals began with rifting and the development of a passive continental margin on the East European platform in latest Cambrian to early Ordovician time, followed by Middle Paleozoic rifting of microcontinental fragments, the formation of island arcs and back-arc basins, and assembly of these terranes within the Uralian paleo-ocean. The final collision of Eastern Europe with this complex collage and the Siberian craton took place in Late Carboniferous and Permian time. In contrast to the classic Alpine or Himalayan style of orogeny, involving collision between large continental masses, the Altaids developed through the assembly of a collage of island-arc and microcontinental fragments that subsequently impacted the East European margin in the Late Paleozoic. The Urals are among the world's oldest extant mountain ranges. For its age of 250 to 300 million years, the elevation of the mountains is unusually high (see also my post on Why are the (Norwegian) Mountains so High).

Although Novaya Zemlya can be seen as the most northern part of the Urals, some geologist do not consider it a part of the Uralides, as the Novaya Zemlya fold belt is much younger than the Ural. The Ural is of Hercynian age (late Carboniferous to early Permian) with orogenic activity diminishing until the Triassic, while the Novaya Zemlya fold belt had it's most important orogeny in the Triassic.

Before the turn of the twentieth century, Arctic sea ice used to linger along the coast of Novaya Zemlya´s larger island each July. After the turn of the century, however, increased summertime melt made open ocean more common. On the image we see how a narrow band of sea ice hugs the southeastern coast, and smaller pieces of sea ice float off the northern island´s northeastern tip.

In my youth Novaya Zemlya was particularly known for the Russian nuclear testing, that started in October 1954 (I was 13-14 years old at the time!). All that went wrong at the time - especially bad weather, but apart from that practically everything - was said to be caused by the nuclear testing on Novaja Zemlya, just like global warming gets the blame for everything today. The world needs a scapegoat. This does of course by no means imply that we should not condemn todays nuclear testing by whomever, or do nothing to hinder global warming.

Climate. - Though milder than that of north-eastern Siberia, the climate of Novaya Zemlya is colder even than that of Spitzbergen. The average tempeature about the Matotchkin Shar has been found from three years´ observations to be 17° Fahr., and it decreases towards the south, being only 14.9 at Kamenka (70° 35´ N.). At Shallow Bay, in 73° 55´, it has been found to be 19.6. In the middle parts of the western coast the average temperature of the winter is -4°; that of the summer at Matotchkin Shar is 36.5, -- that is, lower than at Boothia Felix, or Melville Island. On the western coast also warm west winds bring considerable moisture, which is condensed by the mountains, and thus a cloudy sky intercepts the already scanty sunlight. On the eastern coast the summer temperature is less till, the average fort he year being probably 2° Fahr. lower than that of corresponding latitudes of the western coast. The coasts of Novaya Zemlya are less icebound than might be supposed owing to the influence of a warm current which flows along the coast on the north-west, and which may be considered as a continuation of the Gulf Stream. There are years in which the island can be circumnavigated without difficulty. The southern shores, besides experiencing the cold influence of the Kara Sea, are washed by a cold current which issues form Kara Strait and flows north wards along the south-western coast.

Flora.- Grass does not grow to any extent except in Goose Land, where the soil is covered with finer febris. Elsewhere even the leaved lichens are precarious, though the leather lichens flourish, especially the Vermicaria geographia. Of Phanerogams, only the Dryas octopetala covers small areas of the debris, and is interspersed with isolated Cochlearia, Stereocaulon paschale, and Papaver nudi-caule. Silene acaulis, Saxifraga oppositifolia, Arenaria rubella, five or six species of Draba, as well as the Dryas octopetala and Myosotis, are found where the debris permits. Where a layer of thinner clay has been deposited in sheltered places, the surface is covered with Platypetalum purpuracens, Saxifragae, and Draba alpina; and a carpet of mosses allows the Salix polaris to develop its two dwarf leadlets and its catkins. Where a thin sheet of humus, fertilized by lemmings, has accumulated in the course of ages, the Rhociola rosea, the Erigon uniflorum, a Ranunculus nivalis, or an Ozyria reniformis make their appearance, with here and there a Vaccionium (which, however, never flowers). Even where a carpet of plants has developed under specially favorable circumstances, they do not dare raise their stems more than a few inches, and their brilliant flowers spring direct from the soil, concealing the developed leaflets, whilst their horizontally-spread roots grows out of proportion; only the Salix lanata rises to 7 or 8 inches, sending out roots 1 inch thick and 10 to 12 feet long. One hardly understands how these plants propagate; vegetation seems to be maintained, at least partially, by seeds brought by birds or by currents. All this, of course, applies only to the better-known neighborhoods of Matotchkin and Kostin Straits; north of 74° N. but very few species have been found at all (Saxifraga oppositifolia, Papaver nudicaule, Draba alpina, and Oxyria digyna). In all, the phanerogamic flora of Novaya Zemlya and Vaigatch now numbers 185 species, of which 30 have not yet been found on the main island, but may yet be discovered in its southern part. Of the total, 131 are Dicotyledons. As to the much discussed genetic connections of the Novaya Zemlya flora, it appears, according to M. Kjellmann´s researches, that it belongs to the Asiatic arctic region rather than to the European. Eleven species are what Hooker and Grisebach regard as old glacial, 56 are purely alpine, and 6 have been found in other alpine regions of Europe; 36 non-alpine species belong to the flora of middle Europe, 41 to the Scandinavian flora, and only 16 to that of arctic Russia, whilst 29 have not been found in Europe at all. Altogether, 156 species are European (132 from arctic Europe), and 177 Asiatic (164 from arctic Asia), whilst 11 are wanting in both arctic Europe and Asia.

Fauna. - The desolate interior of Novaya Zemlya shows hardly a trace of animal life, save perchance a solitary vagrant bird, a few lemmings, an ice-fox, a brown or white bear, and at times immigrant reindeer. Even insects are few; the very mosquitoes of the tundras are wanting, and only a solitary bee flies among the scanty flowers. The sea-coast, however, is occupied by countless numbers of birds, which come from the south for the breeding season, and at certain parts of the sea-coast the rocks are covered with millions of Uria troile, and the air is resonant with their cries, while numberless flocks of ducks, geese, and swans swarm every summer on the valleys and lakes of the southern parts of the island. Whales, walruses, seals, and dolphins are still abundant. Only two species of fish are of any importance,- the goltzy (Salmo alpinus) in the western rivers, and the omul (Salmo onul) in the eastern.

The following is a list of the land mammals (some of them not satisfactorily determined): - Ursus arctos and maritimus, Rangifer tarandus (Pallas), Vulpes vulgaris and lagopus, Canis lupus, Cuniculus torquatus (Pallas), perhaps Musgroenlandica, or Myodes obensis. The birds are: - Stryx niceta, Falco buteo,m Tringa maritima, Plectrophanes novalis, Otocorys alpestris, and Strepsilas coillaris, all endemic; many species of ducks, Harelda glacialis being the most common, Somateria spectabilis and mollissima in company with the Cephus mandtii, several species of geese and swans (Cygnus musicus included); as also larus glaucus, Uria torile, U. bruen nichii, and Alca ptetorhina. The marine mammals are: - the walrus, Odobaenus rosmarus; seals, Phoca vitulina, P. leporine, P. groenlandica (O. Muller0 in the Kara Sea, P. barbata (?); and dolphins, Delphinus Orca and D. delphis (?).

The numbers of sea mammals in the sea around Novaya Zemlya and the vast quantities of birds attracted Russian hunters as son as they became acquainted with the northern Ural, and even in the 16th century they had extended their huts (stanovishtcha) to the extreme north of the island. Many of them wintered for several consecutive years on Novaya Zemlya without suffering great losses from scurvy; but no inhabitants have ever tried to establish themselves permanently on the island. The hunters were very often extremely successful; but the industry has always been subject to great vicissitudes. During the last twenty-five years the Archangel and Kola hunters have but rarely visitedNovaya Zemlya; on the other hand, both it and the Kara Sea are now more and more visited by Norwegians. A few Samoyede families, recently settled by the Russian Government at Karmakuly, have remained there for several consecutive years, living chiefly by hunting the reindeer which abound on the eastern coast, and of which two varieties are distinguished, one like that of Spitzbergen.

ZDROJ:http://my.opera.com, http://www.1902encyclopedia.com

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