Wrangel Island

Wrangel Island (Остров Врангеля) is the easternmost of the Russian Arctic's major islands. It lies 140 km off the mainland coast of Siberia, from which it is separated by the Longa Strait. The East Siberian Sea is to the west and the Chukchi Sea to the southeast. Administratively the island is part of the Chukchi Autonomous Region.

Wrangel measures 150 km in length and 125 km in width, covering an area of 7,608 km². The central and southern areas of the island consist of two eroded mountain ranges that run east to west across the island. The southern range contains the highest peak, where Mt. Sovetskaya rises to 1,093 m above sea level. Within the central mountains lie comparatively warm and sheltered valleys where the growing conditions of the brief Arctic summer are extended. The mountainous areas are flanked by regions of hilly terrain and upland plateaux. The northern half of the island is much flatter, comprising a low plain dotted with numerous lakes and rivers — five of them over 50 km in length. Smaller, tundra-covered plains, lie on the southern side of the mountains. The interior is tundra-like and often stony, and is for much of the year snowbound. The coastlines are varied, with tall cliffs, angled slopes, coastal lagoons, swamps and beaches of sand, rock or shingle.

Unlike the other islands of the Russian Arctic, Wrangel Island was not extensively glaciated during the last ice age. Its ecosystems are thus some of the richest to be found within the entire Arctic region — a fact which has led to the island and its surrounding waters being designated as a World Heritage Site of 19,163 km² in area. Vegetation cover ranges from arctic desert and sparse tundra to rich grasslands, marshland, low shrubs and meadows of dwarf species, to moss and lichen communities. In all, 417 species and sub species of vascular plants are present, of which 23 are endemic.

The island is home to the Russian Arctic's largest populations of Polar Bears (Ursus maritimes) and the worlds largest population of Pacific Walrus (Odeobenus rosmarus) where up to 100,000 individuals can be found in the most ice-free years. Other common mammals include: Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus), and two endemic species of lemming: the Wrangel Lemming (Dycrostonix vinogradovi) and the Siberian Lemming (Lemmus sibiricus portenkoi). Wrangel is also an important site for seabirds — it is northernmost nesting area for over 100 migratory species — and is the only breeding habitat of the Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) in Asia. Offshore the waters around Wrangel Island provide rich feeding grounds for the Grey Polar Whale (Eschrichtius gibbosus) and Beluga (Delphinapterus leucas)

image: MODIS rapid response project at nasa/goddard space flight center

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