Franz Josef Land is a stop off point on our North Pole expeditions as well as being a destination on a limited number of our trips into the Arctic. This uninhabited archipelago is under the sovereignty of Russia and is made up of nearly two hundred islands that are situated in the Arctic Ocean, the Kola Sea, and the Barents Sea.
It is likely to come as no surprise that the islands are named after someone called Franz Josef, but it might be more surprising that this was not the name of the person who discovered them. The first reported discovery was in 1873 by an Austria-Hungarian team headed up by Julius von Payer and Karl Weyprecht. They named the archipelago in honour of the emperor of Austria at the time, Franz Josef the first.
By 1926 the Soviet Union had placed military and research bases on a number of the islands and therefore claimed them under Russian sovereignty. This claim has been disputed several times by Norway in the past but the region is now generally accepted as being part of the Russian Arctic. After periods where the islands where closed to foreign ships, they were given the status of a nature reserve in 1994 and subsequently made part of the Russian Arctic National Park in 2011. Both of these moves have helped to bring tourism to the area.
The islands themselves are predominantly glaciated, but there are areas of the larger islands that remain free of these frozen landscapes. There are also numerous areas of elevation; meaning the terrain of Franz Josef Land is very dramatic and ripe for exploration. The permafrost in the ground may mean that no trees or large plants can survive these harsh conditions, but there are still grassy and mossy areas, as well as parts that are covered with smaller plants.
Where the flora struggles, the fauna flourishes though. With the islands being declared a nature reserve, they are home to some exciting mammal and bird species. It is not uncommon to witness sightings of orcas, humpback whales and walruses in these waters, whilst the land is occasionally trodden by polar bears. However, the most likely wildlife sightings to occur here are that of arctic foxes, harp seals and species of guillemot, gull and skua.