Wrangel Island is an island in the Arctic Ocean, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. Wrangel Island lies astride the 180° meridian. The International Date Line is displaced eastwards at this latitude to avoid the island as well as the Chukchi Peninsula on the Russian mainland. The closest land to Wrangel Island is tiny and rocky Herald Island located 60 km (37 mi) to the east. The distance to the closest point on the mainland is 140 km (87 mi).
Nearly all of Wrangel Island, and Herald Island, are a federally protected nature sanctuary administered by Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources. The island, and their surrounding waters, were classified as a "Zapovednik" (a "strict nature reserve") in 1976 and, as such, receive the highest level of protection and excludes practically all human activity other than for scientific purposes. The Chukotka Regional government extended the marine protected area out to 24 nautical miles in 1999. As of 2003, there were four rangers who reside on the island year-round. In addition a core of about 12 scientists conduct research during the summer months.
Wrangel Island is about 125 km (78 mi) wide and 7,600 sq km(2,900 sq mi) in area. It consists of a southern coastal plain that is as wide as 15 km (9.3 mi); a central belt of low-relief mountains; and a northern coastal plain that is as wide as 25 km (16 mi). The east-west trending central mountain belt, the Tsentral'nye Mountain Range, is as much as 40 km (25 mi) wide and 145 km (90 mi) long from coast to coast. Typically, the mountains are a little over 500 m (1,600 ft) above mean sea level.
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 are intruded by metamorphosed gabbro, diabase, and felsic dikes and sills and granite intrusions.
Fauna and Flora
Wrangel Island is a breeding ground for polar bears (having the highest density of dens in the World), seals, walrus, and lemmings. During the summer it is visited by many types of birds. Arctic fox also make their home on the island. Woolly mammoths survived there until 2000–2500 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.
Domestic reindeer were introduced in the 1950s and their numbers are managed at around 1,000 in order to reduce their impact on nesting bird grounds. In 1975, musk ox were also introduced. The population has grown from 20 to about 200 animals. In 2002 arctic wolves were spotted on the island; wolves have lived on the island in historical times but previous packs were eradicated to reduce predation on reindeer and musk ox.
Wrangel Island has a severe polar climate. The region is blanketed by dry and cold Arctic air masses 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 Siberia comes to the island periodically. Wrangel Island is influenced by both the Arctic and Pacific air masses. One consequence is the predominance of high winds.
The island is subjected to “cyclonic” episodes characterized by rapid circular winds. It is also an island of mists and fogs. 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 140 km/h (87 mph) or above.
This remote Arctic island is believed to be the final place on Earth to support woolly mammoths as an isolated population until their extinction about 2000 BCE, making them the most recent surviving population known to science. Initially, it was assumed that this was a specific dwarfed variant of the species originating from Siberia. However, after further evaluation, these Wrangel island mammoths are no longer considered dwarfs.
A combination of 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.
Tourism on Wrangel
Tourism is primarily by cruise ship and is subject to permits, as well as strict regulations and access criteria. Ships anchor near the island and disembark passengers who roam along the shores outside the Nature Reserve but do not enter the Reserve itself. Tourism into the Reserve is tightly controlled and includes scientific expeditions led by Reserve staff. This is a source of revenue for the Reserve and a means of promoting the Reserve’s values. The facilities on the island are primitive. The Reserve is dependent on oil and diesel generators for all of its energy.
The polar weather station and village of Ushakovskoe, with its surrounding non-Reserve buffer zone lying just outside the Nature Reserve poses the greatest immediate threat to the Reserve. Present day human impact within the Reserve is minimal. According to a 2003 report prepared by the Nature Reserve staff, there has already been environmental damage from the 80-plus years of settlement at Ushakovskoe.
For instance, the staff at the polar weather station are rotational and their behaviour is not always sensitive to the vulnerabilities of the island. The Reserve rangers currently spend much of their time observing the activities at Ushakovskoe to minimize environmental damage. The Reserve staff do not have patrol boats and the threat of unauthorized fishing and poaching is always a serious threat.