Wrangel Island, Arctic Russia

Elizabeth Miller

        Structures on Wrangel Island are believed to represent the western continuation of the Brooks Range fold and thrust belt of northern Alaska. With renewed explorationof Alaska’s Chukchi Shelf, Wrangel Island represents a unique exposure to test the continuity of structures, lithologies and facies from Alaska to Russia across offshore regions. No significant new data have been published for Wrangel Island since the thorough study by Kos’ko et al. (1993, GSC. Bull. 461). The study of the deformational history of Wrangel Island (Miller et al., 2017) provides evidence that the main structural fabrics are likely related to crustal extension rather than shortening and concludes that the rocks on the island do not represent the western continuation of the Brooks Range fold and thrust belt of northern Alaska. 

We visited the island in 2006 with the logistic support of the director and scientific staff of Wrangel Wildlife Preserve.  The trip involved four weeks of waiting for weather clearance for helicopter flights and three weeks of fieldwork, compromised at times by logistics and weather. We carried out geologic mapping, structural measurements and sampled extensively for paleontology, geochronology and thermochronology.  Supported by American Chemical Society, PRF # 45432-AC8.


· Deformational history and thermochronology of Wrangel Island, East Siberian Shelf and coastal Chukotka, Arctic Russia Miller, E.L., Akinin, V. V., Dumitru, T.A., Gottlieb, E.S., Grove, M., Meisling, K and Seward, G., 2017, in, Pease, V. & Coakley, B. (eds) Circum-Arctic Lithosphere Evolution. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 460, https://doi.org/10.1144/SP460.7

·Geochronology of basement rocks on Wrangel Island and Chukotka, Russian Arctic Gottlieb, E. S., Akinin, V. V., Miller, E. L. and Pease, V.,2017, in, Pease, V. & Coakley, B. (eds) Circum-Arctic Lithosphere Evolution. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 460, doi:10.1144/SP460.11

·Paleozoic and Mesozoic stratigraphy and U-Pb detrital zircon geochronology of Wrangel Island, Russia: Constraints on paleogeography and paleocontinental reconstructions of the Arctic Miller, E.L., Gehrels, G.E., Pease, V. and Sokolov, S., 2010, AAPG Bulletin, v. 94, p. 665-692.

This image, courtesy of NASA shows Arctic Ice at its maximum measured retreat in September of 2007.  Wrangel Island is the small island near Alaska labelled "W". To get to Wrangel, I flew from California to Moscow, then all the way across Russia to an Arctic coastal town of Pevek, where we waited for 17 days for weather and logistic clearance for a helicopter trip to Wrangel.  Wrangel Island is a Russian Wildlife Preserve known for its large concentration of polar bear dens, walrus in the fall, muskox and caribou herds, in addition to snow owls, snow geese and a variety of other wildlife.  


The image below (also courtesy of NASA http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov) shows Wrangel Island on a sunny day August 18, 2008. Wrangel lies about 140 miles N of the Arctic coast of NE Russia and is about 150 km across and 125 km N-S, with an area of about 7600 km2. The dark rocks on the south side of the Island are Triassic turbidites, the whitish  stripes are Paleozoic carbonates.  The structure of the island is basically an anticline, with Precambrian basement rocks exposed in the middle of the island.  To the east of Wrangel, along the edge of a bank of clouds, lies a much smaller landmass: Herald Island. The swirls are cloud eddies caused by the island's obstruction of air flow according to NASA.


Above and below:  Views up the Kishchnikov River drainage, Wrangel Island

Above:  Thin section photomicrographs of deformed Devonian-Mississippian sandstones from Wrangel Island, showing mylonitic textures developed in quartz and new growth of chlorite, white mica and biotite during deformation. Based on new data in Miller et al. (2017), the mylonitic fabrics on Wrangel Island developed in the Cretaceous (~ 105 to 100 Ma) and are related to regional crustal stretching and extension in an N-S direction and not to folding and thrusting.


 Elizabeth Miller and Vicky Pease at scientist's headquarters, Wrangel Island.


Below:  Triassic turbidites on Wrangel with polar bear for scale

 Collection of muskox skulls outside scientists cabin, Somitelnaya, Wrangel Island, 2006



  • 2009   Miller, E.L., and Verzhbitsky, V., Structural studies near Pevek Russia: Implications for formation of the East Siberian Shelf and Makarov Basin of the Arctic Ocean, in, D.B. Stone and others, eds., Geology, Geophysics and Tectonics of Northeastern Russia: A Tribute to L. Parfenov, Stephan Mueller Special Publication Series 8, European Geophysical Union, p. 223-241.
  • 2006   Miller, E.L, Toro, J., Gehrels, G., Tuchkova, M., Katkov, S., Detrital zircon ages from Late Jurassic-Early Cretaceous Myrgovaam Basin sandstones (Rauchua Trough), western Chukotka, NE Russia, in Stone, D.B., Orign of Northeastern Russia: Paleomagnetism, Geology and Tectonics: Geophysical Institute Report UAG-R-330, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK (available as CD).
  • 2002   Moore, T.E. T.A. Dumitru, K.E. Adams, S.N. Witebsky, and A.G. Harris, Origin of the Lisburne Hills-Herald Arch structural belt: Stratigraphic, structural, and fission-track evidence from the Cape Lisburne area, northwestern Alaska, in Tectonic Evolution of the Bering Shelf–Chukchi Sea–Arctic Margin and Adjacent Landmasses, Geological Society of America Special Paper 360, edited by E.L. Miller, A. Grantz, and S.L. Klemperer, p. 77-109.
  • 1995   Dumitru, T.A., E.L. Miller, P.B. O'Sullivan, J.M. Amato, K.A. Hannula, A.C. Calvert, and P.B. Gans, Cretaceous to Recent extension in the Bering Strait region, Alaska, Tectonics, v. 14, p. 549-563.