Herald Island

Herald Island is a small, isolated Russian island in the Chukchi Sea, 70 km (43 mi) to the east of Wrangel Island. It rises in sheer cliffs, making it quite inaccessible, either by ship or by plane. The only sliver of accessible shoreline is at its northwestern point, where the cliffs have crumbled into piles of loose rocks and gravel. Its area is 11.3 km2 (4.36 sq mi) and the maximum height above sea level is 364 m (1,194 ft). The island is unglaciated and uninhabited.

Herald Island belongs administratively to the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug of the Russian Federation. Along with Wrangel Island, Herald Island is part of the Wrangel Island Wildlife Preserve, a Russian National Park, since 1976. Cape Dmitrieva on Herald Island, marks the easternmost limits of the nature reserve.

Herald Island is named after survey vessel HMS Herald, from which the island was discovered in 1849.


Herald Island is composed of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks. The northeastern tip of this island consists of a 600 m (1,969 ft)-thick sequence of sandstone, phyllite, quartzose sandstone, quartz-chlorite-sericite schist mylonite, and cataclastic quartz syenite. These rocks are of either Proterozoic or Late Paleozoic age. The bulk of this island consists of a Jurassic granite pluton.


The climate is severe. For most of the year, the region is covered by masses of cold Arctic air with low moisture and dust content. In summer, warmer and moister Pacific air blows from the south-east. Dry and strongly warmed air masses periodically blow from Siberia.

The polar day lasts from the middle of May until the 20th of July. The polar night lasts from the middle of November through the end of January.

Winters are prolonged, and characterized by sustained freezing weather and strong northern winds. The mean temperature in January is −21.3 °C (−6.3 °F), and the coldest months are February and March. During this period the temperature can remain below −30 °C (−22 °F) over a period of weeks, with frequent snowstorms and wind speeds of 40 m/s (89 mph) or more. The summer is cool, with some frosts and snowfall. The mean temperature in July fluctuates from 2 to 2.5 °C (35.6 to 36.5 °F). The mean relative humidity is around 88%, and the yearly precipitation is around 120 mm (4.7 in).


Several nations have participated in the discovery and exploration of Herald Island. The island was discovered in 1849 by Sir Henry Kellett, captain of the survey vessel HMS Herald, who was searching for the vanished expedition of Sir John Franklin. Kellett landed on Herald Island and named it after his ship. He also sighted Wrangel Island in the distance.

Herald Island was next visited in 1855 by the USS Vincennes under Lt. John Rodgers. An attempt was made to reach Wrangel Island, which was inaccessible because of sea ice. The ill-fated Arctic expedition of George W. DeLong in the Jeannette entered sea ice near Herald Island in 1879, hoping to reach Wrangel Island and open water near the North Pole. No landing was made, and the ship remained trapped in ice until it was finally crushed. In 1881, the US revenue cutter Corwin under Calvin L. Hooper searched Herald Island for message cairns or other signs that might have been left by the Jeannette crew. With the aid of John Muir's mountaineering skills, they were able to reach the top of the island and conduct a thorough search, as well as make geological and biological observations and collect specimens.

No wintering has been recorded on Herald Island, but four crewmen of the ill-fated exploration ship Karluk, flagship of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, reached Herald Island in January 1914 after their ship sank crushed by ice. These four men, Sandy Anderson, Charles Barker, John Brady and Edmund L. Golightly, died there without leaving any record. Their skeletons were found in 1924 by Captain Louis Lane's expedition on the MS Herman. The cause of their death still remains a mystery because there was enough food and ammunition in the place where their remains were found.

In 1916 the Russian ambassador in London issued an official notice to the effect that the Imperial government considered Herald, along with other Arctic islands, integral parts of the Russian Empire. This territorial claim was later maintained by the Soviet Union. In 1926, the Soviet icebreaker Stavropol under G.A. Ushakov approached Herald Island, but was unable to come to shore because of thick sea ice. The icebreaker Krasin made several attempts to reach Herald Island in 1935 while en route to Wrangel Island, but was hindered by thick fog. A landing was finally made on the return trip, when the island was fully surveyed.

Some U.S. individuals, including the group State Department Watch, assert American ownership of Herald Island based on the 1855 landing. A 1988 resolution of the Alaska State Senate supported this claim. However, the United States government has never claimed Herald Island, and recognizes it as Russian territory. In 1994, the Alaska State Supreme Court ruled in D. Denardo v. State of Alaska that Herald Island, along with several other islands, is not part of Alaska.

In 2004 Herald Island and neighboring Wrangel Island, along with their surrounding waters, were added to UNESCO's World Heritage List.