Wednesday, 28 November 2012

yupiii, 150 000 at last !

Celebration day, as I reach a magic number of viewers, one hundred and fifty thousand!

This is the statistic of the 10 most visited posts on Ultima Thule:







04/09/2010, 3 comentários




(I still wonder why Oymyakon is the winner...)

Thank you all so much !

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Belushya Guba, main town in Novaya Zemlya (continued)

Belushya Guba is a small permanent settlement on the west coast of Novaya Zemlya, in a sheltered bay of the southern island .

There are presently around 2 000 people living in Novaya Zemlya's only town.

Belushya Guba ( "beluga whale bay", in russian: Белу́шья Губа́, or just Belushye, Belushka) is also the administrative center of Novaya Zemlya.

Coordinates: 71.5° N, 52.3° E

Belushya Guba was founded in 1895. The settlement started to flourish in 1954, when Novaya Zemlya became established as a nuclear test site.

Largely home to military personnel and their families, the town is being looked to as a future oil and mining hub as Arctic shipping lanes develop. It has recently been upgraded with colourful painting and new services.

The new church, landmark of a washed and painted Belushya Guba for the 21st century.

Two icons of Russia, the orthodox church and a statue of Lenine, facing defiantly each other.

Colourful playground for the local school

A new lifestyle arrives with democracy and economic growth.

At present, the town offers a middle school for 560 people, kindergartens, apartment houses, hotels, shop, a hairdressing salon, a photo studio, several consumer services, hospitals with 200 beds, a clinic, the base Club, sports center with a 25 m. swimming pool...

Belushya Guba's main and best building - the House of Officers

Rogachevo airbase

The airfield lies around 9 kilometers northeast of Belushya Guba.

It is the major airport of the archipelago, receiving two scheduled flights from the mainland each week. Rogachevo was founded in the 1950s as a staging base for long-range bombing missions.

The port at Belushya Guba

Novaya Zemlya is becoming popular with cruise ships looking to catch glimpses of the isolated polar bear population that inhabit the islands, as well as their mountains and glaciers.

The natural conditions allow year-round sailing of all types and classes of vessels with minimal cost for icebreaking support. The bay is well protected from high surf and drifting ice.

The bay is located in a zone of warm sea currents. Natural conditions allow for all types and classes of ships, with minimal need for ice-breaking support. The bay is well protected from sea turbulence and penetration of drifting ice.

The temperature in Belushya Guba ranges from −12°C  to +10°C  in the summer months.


Aurora over Belushya

Due to its arctic location north of the polar circle, Belushya Guba is often the scenery of magnificent auroras.

A reason enough for a larger touristic developpment.

Next post: Tyko Vylka, an artist from Novaya Zemlya, arctic Russia

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Novaya Zemlya and Belushya Guba : from desolate bomb test site to happier days

Norhern Siberia and Arctic Russia have been a cursed land for centuries - the 'Gulag' camps, the miserable native (Nenets) settlements, and soviet hell-like heavy industrial towns, were the territory's landmarks, along with the destruction of nature resources and environment, sometimes with heavy costs - like the building of railway lines through the unstable flooded tundra in the soviet era that took the lives of many thousands.

But in recent years things started running in a happier direction; I already gave notice here of some uplifted attractive towns in the siberian far-east, like Khabarovsk, Ussuriysk or Anadyr. This time I look upon Novaya Zemlya, a group of islands infamously known for the nuclear tests that took place there during the Cold War, but nowadays taking a turn to modern life with decent standards of living, as in the colourful newly-painted Belushya Guba, the main town. Slowly, the archipelago is opening to the world, still with many restrictions, but finally showing glorious natural territory, mostly unknown before.

Novaya Zemlya, the northeasternmost extreme of Europe

This achipelago lies between the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea.

Location:  70°30′ to 77°N, and 51°10′ to 70°E

Novaya Zemlya (New Land) is a large Russian landmass, with a total area of 83000 km2, located in the Arctic sea off the coast of Siberia. Those rugged Arctic islands have one of the most severe climates on Earth.

It is an archipelago that consists of two main islands, Severny and Yuzhny, separated by a narrow natural channel, the Matochkin strait, used for centuries to shorten a northeast passage through the Artic sea.

In winter, an ice sheet covers the islands and the frozen sea around.

The archipelago is actually a northern extension of the Ural Mountains, from which derives its long, skinny shape.

Arctic tundra covers the southern island. The northern island, Severny, is covered by a permanent ice cap that feeds several glaciers, most of them running to the Barents sea.

Inostrantseva Glacier, a distinctive shape.

Thousands of years ago, all Novaya Zemlya was covered by a glacial ice sheet. As the ice sheet advanced over the islands, it scoured the bedrock below, leaving giant parallel striations and scrapes across the landscape.

Reflections of Severny coast, Barents sea

Detail of the northeastern coast.

Cape Zhelaniya, the extreme northeast of Novaya Zemlya and of Europe, at 76° 57′ N, 68° 34′ E.

A view of Matochkin strait.

The strait also separates the north arctic desert landscape from the southern tundra, where most inhabitants live.

The native population

Amazingly, there are over 2 700 people living in Novaya Zemlya, of which 2 600 live in the only major settlement, Belushya Guba.

Before the bomb test program, only the southern island was inhabited by a small number of Samoyedic people, the native population: about 50 to 300 nomadic Nenets who subsisted mainly on fishing, trapping, reindeer herding, polar bear and seal hunting.

Matochkin Shar's nenet comunity.

Seeing the strait, by Nenets artist Tyko Vylka

A lonely chapel on the ice, close to Matochkin strait.


The first visit from a west European was by Hugh Willoughby in 1553, and he met Russian ships from the already established hunting trade. Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz reached the west coast of Novaya Zemlya in 1594, and in a subsequent expedition of 1596 rounded the northern point and wintered on the northeast coast.

Entering 'Matochkin Shar' (strait).

While many expeditions reached the west coast, the east coast remained unvisited until a hunting and exploring expedition in 1760, led by Savva Loshkin, cruised north from Kara Strait to spend two winters here, returning the third year along the west coast to complete the first circumnavigation.

In July 1954, Novaya Zemlya was designated; a Test Site, and so remained during much of the Cold War. Sukhoy Nos peninsula (73.7° N,  54° E) was used in 1958–1961 and was the 1961 explosion site of the 100 megaton Tsar Bomba.

Sukhoy Nos Peninsula, on the east coast north of Matochkin strait, was the site of the Tsar bomba .

Just to the northeast of Belushya Guba is the major airport and air base, at Rogachevo, which receives scheduled flights from the mainland.

Rogachevo air base was founded in the 1950s as a staging base for long-range bombing missions. Novaya Zemlya was home to the most powerful nuclear explosion everrecorded: the 1961 detonation of the Tsar Bomba.

The bomb obliterated everything within a 55km range and broke windows 90km away, almost reaching the plane pilots 10 km above. To the south, Matochkin strait was under severe effects of the blast.

50 years on, the massive black scar left by the bomb can still be seen. At the centre of the scar lies this crater-shaped lake.

The surface of the island was levelled, and the rocks melted.

But somehow nature seems to have recovered:

A bear over Sukhoy Nos peninsula

The diversity of arctic flora in spring

For now, Novaya Zemlya remains mostly a military outpost at the edge of Europe, with restricted access to visitors.

Next post: Belushya Guba, the main settlement

Friday, 2 November 2012

Winter in the Arctic, Summer in Antarctica

As the arctic prepares for some months of long dark night...

... in the extreme south arrives a short summer, not warm but as good as it gets.

This is the best time of the year in Antarctica, with luck you can even find some flowers !

Have a nice summer down there, people of the iced South!