Kuril Islands, population and climate

Where are the Kuril Islands and who owns them

To this day, it is not clear whose Kuril Islands are today. The dispute over ownership is between Russia and Japan, as the lands have a huge military potential.

Because of recent events, many people on the planet are wondering where the Kuril Islands are and who they belong to. If there is still no concrete answer to the second question, the first question can be answered quite unambiguously. The Kuril Islands are a chain of islands about 1.2 kilometers long. It runs from the peninsula of Kamchatka to the island stretch of land called Hokkaido. A peculiar convex arc of fifty-six islands is arranged in two parallel lines and also separates the Sea of Okhotsk from the Pacific Ocean. The total territorial area is 10 500 km2 . The state border between Japan and Russia stretches from the southern side.

The lands in question are of invaluable economic as well as military-strategic importance. Most of them are considered part of the Russian Federation and belong to the Sakhalin region. However, the status of such components of the archipelago as Shikotan, Kunashir, Iturup, as well as the Habomai group, is disputed by the Japanese government, which attributes these islands to the prefecture of Hokkaido. Thus, you can find the Kuril Islands on the map of Russia, but Japan plans to legalize the possession of part of them. These territories have their own peculiarities. For example, the entire archipelago belongs to the Far North, if you look at the legal documents. And this despite the fact that Shikotan is located in the same latitude as the city of Sochi and Anapa.

Kunashir, Cape Pillar.

Climate of the Kuril Islands

A moderate maritime climate prevails in the area in question, which can rather be called cool than warm. The main influence on climatic conditions is exerted by baric systems, which are usually formed over the northern part of the Pacific Ocean, the cold Kuril Current, and the Sea of Okhotsk. The southern part of the archipelago is covered by monsoon atmospheric flows, for example, Asian winter anticyclone also dominates there.

Shikotan Island

It is worth noting that the weather in the Kuril Islands is quite changeable. Landscapes of these latitudes are characterized by less heat than the territories of the corresponding latitudes, but in the center of the continent. The average minus temperature in winter is the same for each island included in the chain, and it ranges from -5 to -7 degrees. In winter there are often prolonged heavy snowfalls, thaws, increased cloudiness and blizzards. In summer the temperature ranges from +10 to +16 degrees. The further south the island is located, the higher the air temperature will be.

The main factor influencing the summer temperature index is considered to be the nature of hydrological circulation, characteristic of coastal waters.

If we consider the components of the middle and northern group of islands, it is worth noting that the temperature of the coastal waters there does not rise above five to six degrees, so these areas are characterized by the lowest summer index for the Northern Hemisphere. During the year the archipelago receives from 1000 to 1400 mm of rainfall, which is evenly distributed over the seasons. We can also speak of widespread excess moisture. On the southern side of the chain, the humidity index exceeds ninety percent in summer, resulting in fogs of dense consistency. If you look closely at the latitudes where the Kuril Islands are on the map, you can conclude that the terrain is particularly difficult. It is under the regular influence of cyclones, which are accompanied by excessive rainfall and can also cause typhoons.

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Simushir Island

The territories are inhabited unevenly. The year-round population of the Kuril Islands lives on Shikotan, Kunashir, Paramushir and Iturup. Other parts of the archipelago do not have a permanent population. In total, there are nineteen settlements, among which sixteen villages, an urban-type settlement called Yuzhno-Kurilsk, and two major cities, Kurilsk and Severo-Kurilsk among them. In 1989, the highest recorded population was 30,000.

The high population of the territories during the time of the Soviet Union is explained by the subsidies of those regions, as well as by the large number of servicemen who populated the islands of Simushir, Shumshu and so on.

By 2010, the figure had decreased significantly. A total of 18,700 people occupied the territories, of which approximately 6,100 live within the Kuril District and 10,300 in the Yuzhno-Kurilsk District. The remaining people have occupied local villages. The population decreased significantly because of the remoteness of the archipelago, but the climate of the Kuril Islands, which not everyone can endure, also played its role.

Uninhabited Ushishir Islands

How to get to the Kuril Islands

Getting here is most convenient by air. The local airport, called Iturup, is considered one of the most important aviation facilities built from scratch in the post-Soviet era. It was built and equipped in accordance with modern technological requirements, so it was given the status of an international air point. The first flight, which later became regular, was received on September 22, 2014. It was an airplane of the company “Aurora”, which flew from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. A total of fifty passengers were on board. This event was perceived negatively by the Japanese authorities, who consider the territory to be their own. Therefore, disputes over who owns the Kuril Islands continue to this day.

It is worth noting that a trip to the Kuril Islands must be planned in advance. Compiling a route should take into account that the archipelago includes fifty-six islands in total, among which the most popular are Iturup and Kunashir. There are two ways to reach them. The most convenient way is to fly, but you should buy tickets several months before the planned date, as there are very few flights. The second way is a trip by ship from the port of Korsakov. The trip takes from 18 to 24 hours, but the ticket can be purchased only in the ticket offices of the Kuril or Sakhalin, i.e. online sales are not available.

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Urup is an uninhabited volcanic island

Despite all the difficulties, life in the Kuril Islands is developing and growing. The history of the territories began in 1643, when several parts of the archipelago were surveyed by Martin Friis and his team. The first information obtained by Russian scientists dates back to 1697, when V. Atlasov’s Kamchatka expedition took place. All subsequent expeditions under the leadership of I. Kozyrevsky, F. Luzhin, M. Shpanberg and others were aimed at the systematic exploration of the area. After it became clear who discovered the Kuril Islands, you can read about a few interesting facts related to the archipelago:

  1. To get to the Kuril Islands, the tourist will need a special permit, as the area is a border area. This document is issued exclusively by the border department of the Federal Security Service of Sakhalin. To do this, you will need to come to the institution at 9:30 – 10:30 with your passport. The permit will be ready the next day. Therefore, the traveler is sure to stay in the city for one day, which should be taken into account when planning a trip.
  2. Because of the unpredictable climate, visiting the islands, you can get stuck here for a long time, because if the weather is bad, the airport of the Kuril Islands and their ports stop working. High clouds and fog frequently become a hindrance. In this case, it is not about a couple of hours of flight delay. A traveler should always be prepared to spend an extra week or two here.
  3. All five hotels are open for guests of the Kuril Islands. The hotel called “Vostok” has eleven rooms, “Iceberg” – three rooms, “Flagman” – seven rooms, “Iturup” – 38 rooms, “Island” – eleven rooms. It is necessary to book seats in advance.
  4. Japanese land can be seen from the windows of the locals, but the best view is on Kunashir. To check this fact, the weather must be clear.
  5. Japanese past is closely connected with these territories. There are Japanese cemeteries, factories, and the coast on the Pacific side is densely lined with shards of Japanese porcelain, which existed before the war. This is why you can often find archaeologists or collectors here.
  6. It is also worth realizing that the disputed Kuril Islands are primarily volcanoes. Their territories consist of 160 volcanoes, of which about forty remain active.
  7. The local flora and fauna is amazing. Along the highways here grows bamboo, not far from the Christmas tree can grow magnolia or mulberry tree. The lands are rich in berries, there are abundant blueberries, cowberries, cloudberries, dwarf berries, redcurrant, Chinese lemongrass, blueberries, and so on. Locals say that you can meet a bear here, especially near the volcano Tyati Kunashir.
  8. Virtually every local has a car, but there are no gas stations in any of the settlements. Fuel is supplied inside special barrels from Vladivostok and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
  9. Due to the high seismicity of the region, its territory is mainly built up with two- and three-story buildings. Houses five stories high are already considered high-rise and very rare.
  10. As long as the Kuril Islands are decided, Russians living here will have 62 days of vacation a year. Residents of the southern ridge can enjoy a visa-free regime with Japan. About 400 people a year use this opportunity.
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The Great Kuril Arc is surrounded by underwater volcanoes, some of which regularly make themselves known. Any eruption triggers renewed seismic activity, which provokes a “morphic earthquake. Therefore, the local land is subject to frequent tsunamis. The strongest tsunami wave of about 30 meters height in 1952 completely destroyed the town of Severo-Kurilsk on Paramushirsk island.

The past century is also remembered for several natural disasters. Among them the most famous was the Paramushir tsunami of 1952 and the Shikotan tsunami of 1994. Therefore, it is believed that such a beautiful nature of the Kuril Islands, is also very dangerous for human life, but this does not prevent the local towns from developing and the population from growing.

Origin, climate and population of the Kuril Islands

The remote and uninhabited nature fuels the desire to see the unusual and mystery-filled Kuril Islands. These mysterious places are the object of increased attention of many travelers. The narrow arc of islands connecting Kamchatka and Japan is only a part of the Pacific volcanic ring, and how many more of them are hidden by the ocean is unknown.

Kuril Islands

A brief historical background

The problem of the discovery of these lands is still considered relevant today, and at the international level there is still a dispute about who owns the Kuril Islands. The Japanese claim that they are the pioneers of the archipelago, having appeared there before the Russian explorers. But Russian history shows that the first ships of V. D. Poyarkov’s expedition were the first to stop at the coast of unknown lands. D. Poyarkov in 1646.

 Ships of the expedition of V. D. Poyarkov in 1646.

Surviving documents confirm this fact, and historical chronicles of European explorers of the time mention the first Russian settlers on the island territory. At the end of the 18th century, the Kurils were officially annexed to the Russian lands, and their population was made aware of the Tsar’s order to collect state taxes. However, no treaty was signed between Japan and Russia for ownership of the land. In addition, the southern part was already under Japanese control at that time.

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After long negotiations, the first treaty on diplomatic and trade relations between the two states was signed in 1855, which legalized the actions of both sides in both territories. But the problem remained until 1875, when the countries signed a new treaty, under which the Japanese had the right to trade in Sakhalin’s Korsakov, and Russian sailors could enter Japanese ports. Despite the treaty, complicated relations escalated into conflict. In 1904, the Russo-Japanese War broke out.

Japan attacked Russia. Events did not develop in favor of Russia: in the battle of Tsushima, where more than 100 thousand Russian soldiers died, the Baltic Fleet squadron was defeated. Despite this, Japan, exhausted by war, agreed to peace talks. The results of the war showed the weakness of the tsarist policy.

The problem of the Kuril conflict remains unresolved to this day, which creates ambivalence among local residents and generates hostility towards the Japanese. The islands of the Kuril Ridge on the map can be seen below.

The islands of the Kuril Ridge on the map

Geography of the islands, climate and population

The Kuril Archipelago is a long chain of islands located between the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Japanese island of Hokkaido in the form of an arc that divides the sea and the ocean. The origin of the Kuril Islands is volcanic. They stretch for 12 thousand kilometers. To the south runs the Russian border. There are 56 islands in the Greater Kuril and Lesser Kuril Ridge. A few names:

Kuril archipelago.

  1. From the northern group: Shumshu, Onekotan, Harimkotan, Ekarma.
  2. From the middle group: Ketoy, Simushir, Matua, Raikoke.
  3. From the southern group: Urup, Kunashir, Iturup.

Most of them are part of the Sakhalin Oblast. Japan has a claim on a few southern ones. The climate here is particularly severe, the winters are cold and long, and the summers are cool and the air is very humid. The Kurils are in a seismic zone, surrounded by volcanoes. There are 68 of them, 36 of them are active, so there are many hot mineral springs. Most of them are not suitable for drinking, because the gases from volcanoes often contain sulfurous vapors. There are also several healing springs in the Kurils.

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Large tsunamis are the order of the day here. For example, one of them demolished an entire town in 1952. The islands often have 1,500 earthquakes a year. Some of them are due to a feature of movement in the earth’s crust, while others are caused by the eruption of lava from a volcano. In 15 centuries, this land has seen more than 200 destructive and 2,000 moderate earthquakes.

The islands are rich in minerals.

The islands are rich in minerals. The coastal areas contain much ore, gas, and oil. Silver and gold were once brought from here in Czarist Russia, but now there is little mining of precious metals.

The population of the Kuril Islands is small and unevenly distributed. Most of the islands are uninhabited. People of different nationalities live permanently only on four of them. In 2010, there were 19 settlements.

The record number of population of the Kuril Islands was recorded in 1989 – about 30 thousand people. In Soviet times, there were many more people in the Kuril Islands, as then there were many military bases, and the state provided high subsidies. In 2010, only 18.7 thousand people remained.

Flora and fauna of the Kuril Islands

The flora of the Kuril Islands is very diverse. On the islands on the northern side, because of the cold climate, mostly shrubs and dwarf trees grow:

The flora of the Kurils

In the southern parts of the islands grow representatives of coniferous species: fir, larch and spruce. There is a tropical abundance of deciduous trees. There are curly oak, maple, and calopanax semilobate with wild vines. In the southern part of the Kuril Islands, the only wild species of obovate magnolia grows in Russia.

In the middle and southern part of the islands, bamboo overgrows everything, creating impassable thickets on the mountain slopes and forest edges. Throughout the territory, because of the humid climate, tall grasses are common.

Edelweiss Kuril

There are more than forty species of endemic plants: wormwood, Kavakama astragalus, Kuril edelweiss, which is found on the island of Iturup. There is also a lot of Asiatic Hemlock, which is included in the Red Book. Among the flowering plants are very beautiful aralia of different varieties, peonies, rhododendrons, pearl bog and wolfsbane.

Among the animals on the islands live brown bears and foxes, the reservoirs are rich in various kinds of fish. Fishing teams come here to catch whales, crabs, crayfish, squid. The forests are full of various birds, including gulls, plovers, ducks, petrels and albatrosses. There are 84 species of animals protected by the state in the nature reserve that exists here.

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