off the north coast of European Russia
, with the Barents Sea
on the west and the Kara Sea
on the east. It consists essentially of two large islands, a single continuation of the Urals
, divided from one another by the narrow Matochkin Shar
Strait, and separated from the mainland by the Karskiye Vorota
Strait. The island pair points northward and curves to the east, culminating at Cape Zhelaniye
, at about 77°N 79°E.
The Russian name Nóvaya Zemlyá means simply 'new land'. It was explored by the republic of Novgorod in the Middle Ages, and in 1596 was the object of a famous western European expedition by Barents: for a detailed account of it see Nova Zembla, the older anglicized form of the name.
In modern times it is best known as a nuclear testing region. The very small civilian population (104 families of Nenets reindeer herders) was largely evacuated in 1957. Between 1955 and 1990 there were 132 nuclear explosions, of which 42 were underground and three were small underwater ones. The largest atomic explosion ever, a yield of 58 megatons*, took place 3.5 km in the air over Novaya Zemlya on 23 October 1961**. See under Tsar Bomba, 'King of Bombs', for a fuller account.
The military personnel and families living there are reported to have the highest incidence of throat cancer in the world, and a rate of liver cancer ten times higher than in Russia proper.
A report that Russia might have conducted an unauthorized nuclear test on 16 August 1997 proved to be unfounded: the event detected was seismic and out at sea. Russia does still use the site for non-nuclear testing of its arsenal.
The Novaya Zemlya Effect is a mirage in which unusual atmospheric conditions channel the sun's light while it is still below the horizon, making it appear before it should, and in a distorted, flattened form. For pictures see
The Russian word zemlyá 'land' is related to the English words humus, chthonic, and chameleon, and possibly human and bridegroom. Humus is a Latin word for soil; one Greek word for earth is khthôn; and khamai-leôn is 'ground-lion'. They all go back to an anomalous proto-Indo-European word for 'earth', whose exact form cannot be reconstructed because of the unusual reflexes it has in various descendant languages: but something like *dhghom- or *ghdhom-. The descendant stems zem-, hum-, kham- all represent simplifications of the awkward cluster. If Latin homo comes from the earth, then that includes the Middle English gome 'man' who gained an R to become a bridegroom.
* or 50 Mt, or 190 Mt (8 x 1017 J) ... sigh
** or 30 October ... sigh