Montag, 1. Februar 2010



Novaja Semlja Island in Barents Sea
Source Atlas Van Loon 1664 (Wikipedia)

Since the early beginnings of deep-sea shipping from Europe the search of shipping routes to South Asia, alternative to the Cape Hoorn and Cape of Good Hope - passages, have been an important motive for the exploration of polar ocean regions. But the climatic conditions in the so called North-West-Passage (Through the Island Channels of Canadian Franklin District) or North-East-Passage (Barents Sea - Bering Sea route) seldom allow the transit of ships on the northern routes due to the extension of the arctic ice until the canadian and russian continental coasts during most month of the year. For the early explorators of the Eastern route the Island of Novaja Semlja marked an significant barrier in the intents to advance eastward having passed during summer month the norvegian North Cape and the ice-free waters of Barents Sea. Over an extension of about 800 kilometers Novaja Semlja arises like a natural wall from the Arctic Sea and the passage around the northern cape of this island isn`t guaranteed when ice covers densely the ocean. During the beginnings of the North-East-Passage-explorations, when still was unknown the existence of the southern channel between Nowaja Semlja and the russian continent that allowed the transit from Bering to Kara Sea, the islands north cape became an northern equivalent to Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. Expeditions that reached Cape Nassau, the Ice Cape and the Orange Islands at the northern end of Novaja Semlja during summer month June and July had a certain chance to find a passage through the pack ice until the open waters of the Kara Sea, what allowed to advance a certain distance more until Bering Street and East Asia. But also the northern coast of Novaja Semlja became the ending point for several historic arctic sea-route explorations and ship crews have been forced to survive winter month when their vessels remained enclosed in the so called `pack-ice`.

The northern part of the North Island of Novaja Semlja seen by Sattelite photography (Google Earth).

First reports of european sailors concerning Novaja Semlja date from the year 1594. From the Netherland island of Texel on 6th of June of 1594 started an expedition of 4 ships in search of the sea-route to China under the command of Cornelis Rijp and Wilhelm Barents. The expedition reached the Novaja Semlja west coast at 10th of July and brought a first description of the islands northern coast. Probably during this first exploration certain landscape caracters received their initial names such as `Cape Nassau` and `Oranjen Islands` (Orange Islands). Cape Nassau and the hopefully named Orange Islands have been titeled by the netherland sailors as caracteristic coastal and offshore signs when their ships finally began to change course from north-east to east.

The exact location of the Barents-Expedition`s Cape Nassau and the mystic islands is a difficult task. As already mentioned the arctic ocean has not only one fixed reference - the coast line - because also the ice conditions set from year to year changing limits for explorations. So the german artic `Tegethoff` expedition ended at 21st of August 1872 `north-east of Cape Nassau` at
76 ° 30` lat. N. even if from this position still lacks a distance of about 150 kilometers (100 miles) until the geographic exact beginning of the Novaja Semlja `North Coast`. This might explain why reports based on the same expeditions results give later a second position for `Snow-covered mountains around Cape Nassau` sighted from 77 ° 40` lat. N. what corresponds with the nowadays most far north point of the island (MUELLER, Martin - Die Entdeckung des Franz-Josephs-Landes vor 75 Jahren und ihre Bedeutung fuer die weitere Erforschung der Arktis. Polarforschung 1948).

The Tegethoff Expedition Nassau Cape at 76 ° 30` lat. N. (Google Earth)

The german exploration ship Tegethoff enclosed by pack ice `northeast the Nassau Cape` painted by Julius von Payer, 1876

The literally North Coast of Novaja Semlja (Google Earth)
The literally North Coast of Novaja Semlja extends over a distance of 38.3 kilometers (23.8 miles). The actually named shore reference points are (from west to east) Ermolaev Cape, Varneka Cape, Petrovskogo Cape, Carlsen Cape, Loshkin Cape, Elizavety Cape, Serebryannikov Cape, Mavrikya Cape and Cape Zhelanyia, according to dates from Wikimapia on Google Earth from 1st of February 2010. But which of this points was named by Barents in 1594 Cape Nassau ? About this question the study of the literature leads to different answers.

Cape Nassau, also called the `Asian North Cape` is described as `the most outer northwestern cape` of Novaja Semlja followed by the `Ice Cape` with the Orange Islands in the east. This description would allow to assume, that Cape Nassau must be situated between 8 and 16 kilometers west of Cape Carlsen which is `the uppermost northern point` of the island and be synonymous with the Varneka and Petrovskogo Cape or the correspondent cape at the eastern side of Ivanov Bay. Following the Ice Cape would be synonymous with Carlsen Cape or Loshkin Cape, both followed eastward by groups of small offshore rock islands.

Novaja Semlja northwest coastline from Cape Varneka & Petovskogo (downside left), Ivanov Bay, until Cape Carlsen (upside right), the most northern point of the island. (Google Earth)

But other sources describe Cape Nassau as synonymous with the nowadays called Mavrikiya Cape (Cape Mauritius) that is situated as `beforelast most northeastern cape` of the island. Consequently the Ice Cape would be synonymous with Cape Zhelanyia, what would put in question the description of the eastward following Orange Islands.

The most northeastern capes of Novaja Semlja, named `Cape Mavrikiya` (Cape Mauritius) and `Cape Zhelaniya` following dates from Wikimapia on Google Earth. Certain sources describe Cape Mavrikyia as synonymous with the historic Cape Nassau.

The open question of the exact position of Cape Nassau might have motivated research teams to localize that geographic point without doubt and that even more because at 15th May 1596 Barents participated in a second expedition that led him again to Novaja Semlja North Coast (K.E. von Baer 1838). Again the further way to Kara Sea was blocked by ice and the beginning winter forced the ships crew to remain in an natural harbour near Cape Nassau, where a wooden house was constructed to withstand the terrible winter until at 14th June 1597 the way back to Kola Peninsula was intended. The survival site, called `Het Behouden Huys`, is described in Search for Barents: evaluation of possible burial sites on Northern Novaya Zemlya.
at Cape Spory Navolok, even if this point is about 80 kilometers southward from Cape Mauritius (Mavrikiya) and Cape Desire (Zhelaniya) at the east coast of the island.

Het Behouden Huys


K.E.von Baer (1938)
Bericht ueber die neuesten Entdeckungen an der Kueste von Nowaja Semlja.
Annalen der Erd-, Voelker- und Staatenkunde. Dritte Reihe. Band V. Heft IV. Berlin 31.1.1838., p 289-318.

Mueller, Martin (1948)
Die Entdeckung des Franz-Josephs-Landes vor 75 Jahren und ihre Bedeutung fuer die weitere Erforschung der Arktis. Polarforschung, 1948, p.13-15.

Zeeberg, Japaan J. et. al (2001)
Search for Barents. Evaluation of possible burial sites on the north Novaya Zemlya, Russia.
Arctic, Vol. 55, No.4 Dec. 2002 , p. 329-338.

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