Franz Josef Land is a remote world of dense pack ice, towering volcanic mountains, icebergs and glaciers. This archipelago of 191 islands is the most northerly point in Russia and stretches 233 miles (375 km) from west to east and 145 miles (234 km) from north to south. Undiscovered until 1873, it is still relatively unexplored. It is a naturalist's paradise. Polar bears and Arctic fox are common and Beluga whales and narwhal live just offshore. There are good numbers of walrus and seals, and the rocky cliffs are packed with large colonies of seabirds.
The islands consist of three groups. The eastern group includes Rudolf Island and the large islands of Zemlya Vilcheka and Greem-Bell (Graham Bell). Across the Avstriysky (Austrian) Strait is the western group which contains most of the islands. The Britansky Channel (British Channel), contains two large islands, Zemlya Georga (the largest) and Zemlya Aleksandry. The climate is severe, ranging from -8 F (-22 C) in the winter and 35 F (2 C) in summer. Flora consists primarily of lichens, mosses, and about three dozen species of Arctic flowering plants. Wildlife includes polar bears and the Arctic fox, with numerous bird species, of which perhaps 15 nest in the islands. Marine fauna include the walrus, seal, and bearded seal.
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