Overview Franz Josef Land, map
General, landscape: Alexandra Island with ca. 1050 km² isthe fourth biggest island of the archipelago, situated in its Northwest. Its larger southwest part (Moon Ice Cap) and a monor part in the East (Kropotkina Ice Cap) are covered almost completely by two ice caps, out of which only a few capes, promontories and coastal rock faces protrude. Among these capes: Cape Mary Harmsworth as the westernmost point, Cape Lofley and Cape Ludlow in the south and Cape George Thomas as the easternmost promontory. On the northern shore, the rocks of Cape Nimrod are most markant. The north of Alexandra Land is quite different to the heavily glaciated south: a relatively flat, hilly tundra region with numerous ponds and ice-age moraine ridges - one of the largest ice-free zones of the whole archipelago. The highest point of the island is the top of Moon Ice Cap, with about 380 m.
Climate, light: Alexandra Land´s northern latitude is up to almost 81°N - here, polar day lasts permanently from about April 10th to September 5th. Snow melts away for only a few weeks on the ice-free areas. Annual average temperature is -14,8°C. So far observed extreme temperatures: -48,9°C and +13,8°C. As everywhere in Franz-Joseph-Land, amounts of precipitation are fairly low, though the sky can be overcast frequently.
Research has shown that the extensive tundra areas of the high North of Alexandra are free of glacier ice since probably more than 8500 years. From some coastal areas, the ice retreated even about 10500 years ago. Reindeer antlers found on Alexandra Land were dated to ages of almost 6000 to about 4000 years, giving evidence of long post-iceage periods with a milder climate allowing sufficient vegetation for sustaining a reindeer population before a gradual cooling set an end to this episode.
Geology: Next to Nagurskoe, an exploratory drilling was done in 1977 in search of coal deposis to a depth of 3204 m. The uppermost 1900 m were cretaceous, triassic and carboniferous sediments, followed by vendian metamorphites. Both sediments and metamorphites were separated repeatedly by in total 21 intrusive layers of 2-20 m thickness, 3 of them between sediments. These intrusions document a long-lasting history of vucanism in the natural history of the islands.
History to presence: The first definite sighting of the island can be ascribed to the Leigh Smith Expedition of 1880, which in August reached Cape Neale ((Prince George Land) before being stopped by ice on its course, but was able to identify clearly two new capes in the northwest, calling them Cape Ludlow and Cape Lofley (captain of EIRA). Leigh Smith called the discovered coasts west of Cape Grant Alexandra Land after the wife of George Prince of Wales, while he kept the name Zichy Land (TEGETTHOFF expedition 1874) for the eastern coast of Prince George Land - not knowing, that what he regarded as one huge land mass, was in reality 2 separate islands. Discovering this was left to the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition (1894-97), which mapped the southwest of Alexandra Land by ship and explored the remaining parts in spring 1897 on a long sledge tour, during which today´s Moon Ice Cap was named as Payer glacier and HMS WORCESTER glacier, and which introduced also most of the cape names valid until today. A major discovery of the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition was that the areas formerly summarized under Zichy Land and Alexandra Land consisted in reality of 2 major islands. As Leigh Smith had chosen the name Alexandra Land already for the western part, Jackson kept this name for the western island and named the eastern island after Alexandras husband Prince George Land.
During world war II, the German military weather station "Schatzgräber" was operative in the north of Alexandra Land from September 1943 to July 1944, when it had to be evacuated due to a trichinosis infection from a polar bear eaten as a fresh food supplement by all men except of the vegetarian doctor. The remains of the station were gradually destroyed during the subsequent decades by Russians.
During the 1950s, the northernmost Russian military base on land, Nagurskoe, was established nearby the site of the former German station as an advanced strategic bomber base, which lost some importance with the introduction of intercontinental missiles and incrasingly decayed latest since the 1990s. In addition to its military purposes, Nagurskoe served also as a scientific base. The airstrip of Nagurskoe is the only still operational one in all of Franz-Josef-Land. Furthermore, there is a small weather station as part of the base.
Since 2006, Nagurskoe was modernized with some new buildings for the about 2 dozen members of the Russian border units based there, plus occasional guests. Even an orthodox chapel was erected. In late April 2010, prime minister Vladimir Putin visited Nagurskoe.
A Russian project for clearing the massive environmental sins of the last 50 years in and around the station was under preparation but came to a halt by the economic crisis. It is intended to start now in 2011.
Furthermore, there have been ideas of installing a tourism hotel for the archipelago here, suitably located near the airbase both for arrival and departure and for flights within the archipelago. But so far, the relevant Russian institutions refuse an international civil utilisation of the base facilities. Some of the russian air traffic to the temporary touristic North Pole driftice base BARNEO is using Nagurskoe as a stopover and refuelling base - again not for international customers.
The base is named after the polish-russian arctic aviation pioneer Jan Nagorski (1888-1976, russified: Ivan Nagurski), who was the first to use a fixed-wing aircraft in the arctic in 1914.
Name: The island is named after Princess Alexandra, wife of Albert Eduard von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha (later King Edward VII). There are several websides, which claim that the name was given by the TEGETTHOFF expedition already and refers to grandduchess Alexandra Pavlowna of Russia, wife of the Austrian Archduke Joseph of Austria. However, on the maps of the TEGETTHOFF expedition, the western part of the archipelago is basically blank, only a part of the east coast of Prince George Land is vaguely sketched (seen over long distance from Cape Brünn on McClintock Island in spring 1874), and the assumed enormous land masses behind it are called Zichy Land: no mentioning of any Alexandra Land, this name appears first time on the map of British explorer Leigh Smith.
Tourism: Basically, Alexandra Land would be of touristic interest because of some of the northernmost tundra areas of the world, as well as the few remains of the German military weather station and those newer ones of the former strategic Russian airforce base, plus the northernmost permanently inhabitated place in all of Eurasia. Practically, also the utilisation of the airfield could be of touristic interest. However, so far all such ideas have been blocked by the secrecy around the small military base - the off limits zone includes most of Alexandra Land and to some extent also parts of neighbouring Prince George Land.