Archipelago, c.35,000 mi2 (90,650 km2), in the Arctic Ocean between the Barents and Kara seas, NW Russia.
It consists of two main islands (separated by Matochkin Strait) and many smaller ones. The mountains, rising to c.3,500 ft (1,070 m), are a continuation of the Urals. In the north the archipelago is glaciated and covered by arctic desert; the southern part is tundra.
Copper, lead, zinc, and asphaltite are found there. Fishing, sealing, and trapping are the chief occupations of the small population, which lives mainly along the western coast. The islands were used for thermonuclear testing by the Russians, who still maintain a non-nuclear weapons test site there.
Explored by Novgorodians in the XI2 or XII2 cent., the islands were sighted by explorers searching for the Northeast Passage in the 1500s. Dutch navigator Willem Barents reached Novaya Zemlya on the first two expeditions. Since the mid-1800s Russians have built settlements and scientific stations there.