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Wrangel Island ( , ostrov Vrangelya) is an island in the Arctic Oceanmarker, between the Chukchi Seamarker and East Siberian Seamarker. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Linemarker is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsulamarker on the Russianmarker mainland. The closest land to Wrangel Island is tiny and rocky Herald Islandmarker located to the east.

Wrangel Island is about wide and in area. It consists of a southern coastal plain that is as wide as ; a central belt of low-relief mountains; and a northern coastal plain that is as wide as . The east-west trending central mountain belt, the Tsentral'nye Mountain Range, is as much as wide and long from coast to coast. Typically, the mountains are a little over above mean sea level. The highest mountain on this island is Sovetskaya Mountain with an elevation of above mean sea level. The east-west trending mountain range terminates at sea cliffs at either end of the island.

Wrangel Island belongs administratively to the Chukotka Autonomous Okrugmarker of the Russian Federation. This rocky island has a weather station and two permanent Chukchi fishing settlements on the southern side of the island (Ushakovskoye and Starry).


Wrangel Island as seen from space
Wrangel Island consists of folded, faulted, and metamorphosed volcanic, intrusive, and sedimentary rocks ranging in age from Upper Precambrian to Lower Mesozoic. The Precambrian rocks, which are about 2 km (1.2 mi) thick, consist of Upper Proterozoic sericite and chlorite slate and schist that contain minor amounts of metavolcanic rocks, metaconglomerates, and quartzite. These rocks is intruded by metamorphosed gabbro, diabase, and felsic dikes and sills and granite intrusions. Overlying the Precambrian strata are up to 2.25 km (1.4 mi) of Upper Silurian to Lower Carboniferous consisting of interbedded sandstone, siltstone, slate, argillite, some conglomerate and rare limestone and dolomite. These strata are overlain by up to 2.15 km (1.34 mi) of Carboniferous to Permian limestone, often composed largely of crinoid plates, that is interbedded with slate, argillite and locally minor amounts of thick breccia, sandstone, and chert. The uppermost stratum consists of 0.7 to 1.5 km (0.4 to 0.9 mi) of Triassic clayey quartzose turbidites interbedded with black slate and siltstone.

A thin veneer of Cenozoic gravel, sand, clay and mud underlie the coastal plains of Wrangel Island. Late Neogene clay and gravel, which are only a few tens of meters thick, rest upon the eroded surface of the folded and faulted strata that comprise Wrangel Island. Indurated Pliocene mud and gravel, which are only a few meters thick, overlie the Late Neogene sediments. Sandy Pleistocene sediments occur as fluvial sediments along rivers and streams and as a very thin and patchy surficial layer of either colluvium or eluvium.

Fauna and Flora

Arctic tundra on Wrangel Island
Wrangel Island is a breeding ground for polar bears (having the highest density of dens in the world), seal, and lemmings. During the summer it is visited by many types of birds.

Woolly mammoths survived there until 1700 BCE, the most recent survival of all known mammoth populations. However, due to limited food supply, they were much smaller in size than typical mammoths.

Recently, populations of Arctic wolf have been spotted on the island.

The flora includes 417 species of plants, double that of any other arctic tundra territory of comparable size and more than any other Arctic island. For these reasons, the island was proclaimed the northernmost World Heritage Site in 2004.


Wrangel Island has a severe polar climate. The region is blanketed by masses of dry and cold Arctic air for most of the year. Warmer and more humid air can reach the island from the south-east during summer. Dry and heated air from Siberiamarker comes to the island periodically.

Winters are prolonged and are characterized by steady frosty weather and high northerly winds. During this period the temperatures usually stay well below freezing for months. In February and March there are frequent snow-storms with wind speeds of or above.

The short summers are cool but comparatively mild as the polar day generally keeps temperatures above . Some frosts and snowfalls occur, and fog is common. Warmer and drier weather are experienced in the center of the island because the interior's topography encourages foehn winds.

Average relative humidity is about 82%.



This remote Arctic Island is believed to be the final place on Earth to support Woolly Mammoths as an isolated population until their extinction 4000 years ago, making them the most recent surviving population known to science. A specific variant of the species seems to have survived as a dwarf version of the species originating from Siberia. A combination late climate change (warming) and the presence of modern humans using advanced hunting and survival skills probably hastened their demise on this frozen isle which until recently was ice bound for most years with infrequent breaks of clear water in some Arctic summers. A mirror development can be found with the Dwarf elephant on Malta, originating from the African species.

Evidence for prehistoric human occupation was uncovered in 1975 at the Chertov Ovrag site. Various stone and ivory tools were found, including a toggling harpoon. Radiocarbon dating shows the human inhabitation roughly coeval with the last mammoths on the island circa 1700 BCE, though no direct evidence of mammoth hunting has been found.

A legend prevalent among the Chukchi people of Siberia tells of a chief Krachai (or Krächoj or Krahay), who fled with his people (the Krachaians or Krahays, also identified as the Onkilon or Omoki) across the ice to settle in a northern land. Though the story is mythical, the existence of an island or continent to the north was lent credence by the annual migration of reindeer across the ice, as well as the appearance of slate spear-points washed up on Arctic shores, made in a fashion unknown to the Chukchi.

Outside discovery

In 1764 the Cossack Sergeant Stepan Andreyev claimed to have sighted the island, called "Tikegen Land," and found evidence of its inhabitants, the Krahay. The island was named after Baron Ferdinand von Wrangel (1797–1870), who, after reading Andreyev's report and hearing Chukchi stories of land at the island's coordinates, set off on an expedition (1820–1824) to discover the island, with no success.

British and American Expeditions

In 1849, Henry Kellett, captain of HMS Herald, landed on and named Herald Island, and thought he saw another island to the west, which he called "Plover Island"; thereafter it was indicated on Britishmarker Admiralty charts as "Kellett Land."

The first recorded landing on the island was by a German whaler, Eduard Dallmann, in 1866.

In August 1867, Thomas Long, an Americanmarker whaling captain, "approached it as near as fifteen miles. I have named this northern land Wrangell [sic] Land … as an appropriate tribute to the memory of a man who spent three consecutive years north of latitude 68°, and demonstrated the problem of this open polar sea forty-five years ago, although others of much later date have endeavored to claim the merit of this discovery."

George W. DeLong, commanding USS Jeanette, led an expedition in 1879 attempting to reach the North Polemarker, expecting to go by the "east side of Kellett land," which he thought extended far into the Arctic. His ship became locked in the polar ice pack and drifted eastward within sight of Wrangel before being crushed and sunk. A landing on Wrangel Island took place on August 12, 1881, by a party from the USRC Corwin, who claimed the island for the United States and named it "New Columbia." The expedition, under the command of Calvin L. Hooper, was seeking the Jeannette and two missing whalers in addition to conducting general exploration. It included naturalist John Muir, who published the first description of Wrangel Island.

Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition of Russia

In 1911, the Russian Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition on icebreakers Vaygach and Taymyr under Boris Vilkitsky, landed on the island.

Stefansson expedition survivors

In 1914, the survivors of the ill-equipped Canadian Arctic Expedition, organized by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, were marooned there for nine months after their ship, the Karluk, was crushed in the ice pack. The survivors were rescued by the American motorized fishing schooner King & Winge after Captain Robert Bartlett walked across the Chukchi Seamarker to Siberia to summon help.

1921 Second Stefansson expedition fiasco

In 1921 Wrangel Island would become the stage for one of history's tragedies when Stefansson sent five settlers (one Canadian, three Americans, and one Inuit) in a speculative attempt to claim the island for Canadamarker. The explorers were handpicked by Stefansson based upon their previous experience and academic credentials. Stefansson considered those with advanced knowledge in the fields of geography and science for this expedition. At the time, Stefansson claimed that his purpose was to head off a possible Japanese claim . The initial group consisted of Allan Crawford of Canada, and Fred Maurer, Lorne Knight and Milton Galle of the US. An attempt to relieve this group in 1922 was thwarted when the schooner Teddy Bear under Captain Joe Bernard became stuck in the ice . In 1923, the sole survivor of the Wrangel Island expedition, the Inuk Ada Blackjack, was rescued by a ship that left another party of 13 (American Charles Wells and 12 Inuit). In 1924, the Soviet Unionmarker removed the members of this settlement and established the settlement that survives to this day on the island.

Soviet rule

Badge of the 1929 expedition
In 1926, a team of Soviet explorers, equipped with three years of supplies, landed on Wrangel Island. Clear waters that facilitated the 1926 landing were followed by years of continuous heavy ice surrounding the island. Attempts to reach the island by sea failed and it was feared that the team would not survive their fourth winter.

In 1929, the icebreaker Fyodor Litke was chosen for a rescue operation. It sailed from Sevastopolmarker, commanded by captain Konstantin Dublitsky. On July 4, it reached Vladivostokmarker where all Black Seamarker sailors were replaced by local crew members. Ten days later Litke sailed north; it passed Bering Straitmarker, and tried to pass De Long Straitmarker and approach the island from south. On August 8 a scout plane reported impassable ice in the strait, and Litke turned north, heading to Herald Islandmarker. It failed to escape mounting ice; August 12 the captain shut down the engines to save coal and had to wait two weeks until the ice pressure eased. Making a few hundred meters a day, Litke reached the settlement August 28. On September 5, Litke turned back, taking all the 'islanders' to safety. This operation earned Litke the order of the Red Banner of Labour (January 20, 1930), as well as commemorative badges for the crew.

In the 1930s, Wrangel Island became the scene of a bizarre criminal story when it fell under the increasingly arbitrary rule of its appointed governor Konstantin Semenchuk, who controlled the local populace and his own staff through open extortion and murder. He forbade the local Eskimos to hunt walruses, which put them in danger of starvation, while collecting food for himself. He was then implicated in the mysterious deaths of some of his opponents, including the local doctor. The subsequent Moscowmarker trial in June 1936 sentenced Semenchuk to death for "banditry" and violation of Soviet law.

During and after World War II, many German Schutzstaffelmarker (SS) prisoners of war and the remnants of Andrey Vlasov's Russian Liberation Army were imprisoned and died on Wrangel Island. A prisoner who later emigrated to Israelmarker, Efim Moshinsky, claims to have seen Raoul Wallenberg there in 1962.

Post-Soviet era

According to some US individuals, including the group State Department Watch, eight Arctic islands currently controlled by Russia, including Wrangel Island, are claimed by the United States. However, according to the United States Department of Statemarker no such claim exists. The USSR/USA Maritime Boundary Treaty, which has yet to be approved by the Russian Duma, does not address the status of these islands.

In 2004 Wrangel Island and neighboring Herald Island, along with their surrounding waters, were added to UNESCO's World Heritage List.

In popular culture

In Jules Verne's novel César Cascabel, the protagonists float past Wrangel Island on an iceberg. In Verne's description, a live volcano is located on the island: "Between the two capes on its southern coast, Cape Hawan and Cape Thomas, it is surmounted by a live volcano, which is marked on the recent maps."


  1. Kos,ko, M.K., M.P. Cecile, J.C. Harrison, V.G. Ganelin, N.V., Khandoshko, and B.G. Lopatin, 1993, Geology of Wrangel Island, Between Chukchi and East Siberian Seas, Northeastern Russia. Bulletin 461, Geological Survey of Canada, Ottawa Ontario, 101 pp.
  2. Von Wrangel, Ferdinand Petrovich (1840). Narrative of an expedition to the polar sea, in 1820, 1821, 1822 & 1823, edited by Major Edward Sabine. James Madden and Company, London. 465 pp.
  3. Muir, John, 1917, The Cruise of the Corwin: Journal of the Arctic Expedition of 1881 in search of De Long and the Jeannette. Norman S. Berg, Dunwoody, Georgia. (John Muir's description of the 1881 exploration of Wrangel Island.)
  4. Great Soviet Encyclopedia, entry on "Вайгач"
  5. Niven, Jennifer, The Ice Master, The Doomed 1913 Voyage of the Karluk. Hyperion Books, New York, New York. 431 pp.
  6. Newell, Gordon R., 1966, H.W. McCurdy Maritime History of the Pacific Northwest, Superior Publishing, Seattle, Washington, 242 pp.
  7. Niven, Jennifer, 2003, Ada Blackjack: A True Story Of Survival In The Arctic. Hyperion Books, New York, New York. 431 pp.
  8. New York Times March 20, 1922
  9. New York Times September 25, 1922
  10. Anonymous, 1936, Crazy Governor. Time Magazine, vol. XXVI, no. 22, pp. ??-??. (June 1, 1936).
  11. Anonymous, 2008, Giveaway of 8 American Alaskan Islands and Vast Resource-Rich Seabeds to Russians. State Department Watch, Washington, D.C.
  12. *Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, 2003, Status of Wrangel and Other Arctic Islands. U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C. (Fact sheet on Wrangel Island).
  13. US Department of State and USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1990, 1990 USSR/USA Maritime Boundary Treaty. DOALOS/OLA - United Nations Delimitation Treaties Infobase, New York, New York.
  14. First wave of new properties added to World Heritage List for 2004

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