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Russia’s Arctic Park Imaged from Space

This satellite image of Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in Russia’s Arctic, launches a new ad hoc series on this blog I will call Earth from Space.

Look out for regular updates for unusual, beautiful, educational, newsworthy images released by public and commercial space agencies. I will be looking particularly for images that highlight the special geographic features of our planet.


Today’s NASA Earth Observatory image of Novaya Zemlya gives us an opportunity to view not only a magnificent view but also the terrain that Russia recently proclaimed as a national park, a 3.7 million-acre zone that includes the northern part of Novaya Zemlya and some adjacent marine areas. The park will provide a much-needed sanctuary for polar bears and other Arctic species.

Novaya Zemlya consists of two major islands, Severny in the north and Yuzhny in the south, separated by a narrow strait, Matochkin Shar.

An extension of the Ural Mountains, this mountainous archipelago has an average altitude of roughly 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level, and glaciers cover much of the northern island, according to the original NASA caption.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Novaya Zemlya was used as a nuclear test site.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this true-color image of Novaya Zemlya on July 27, 2009. (This image focuses primarily on the northern island. See an image for the entire archipelago on NASA’s Web site.)

The sparsely vegetated land appears in shades of beige and icy white, NASA says. “Hints of turquoise along the northwestern coast likely result from sediments running off the island, or getting churned up by currents from the ocean floor, A narrow band of sea ice hugs the southeastern coast, and smaller pieces of sea ice float off the northern island’s northeastern tip.”

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, NASA says.

NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Original NASA caption by Michon Scott based on interpretation by Walt Meier, National Snow and Ice Data Center.