Permafrost, the perpetual frozen ground, archive of our planet

Eastern Sayan: Batagol Mine - Deep in permafrost- Credit: Ekaterina Smirnova
Eastern Sayan: Batagol Mine – Deep in permafrost- Credit: Ekaterina Smirnova

This is the follow-up of a chat I had about permafrost with Marina from Sakha The information presented below comes from « Siberian BAM guide« , by Athol Yates and Nicholas Zvegintzov, Traiblazer edition 2001, page 238. No need to be surprised by such a good summary, it is the best travel guide I ever read.
“The Permafrost Institute (of Yakutsk) is not actually a museum, but the Institute welcomes (visitors)… You are taken 12 metres underground to see part of the old river bed, where the temperature never varies from –5°C. The walls of the cavern, of sand and flecks of wood, are as sturdy as concrete as long as they do not thaw. Permafrost is said to affect 25 per cent of the planet and 50 per cent of Russia. This institute claims to be the only one in the world engaged in a fundamental study of permafrost (as opposed to specific applications) and it was here that the guidelines were developed on how to build on permafrost… Outside the institute is a model of baby mammoth that was found preserved in permafrost… The institute is at the end of bus line 17 at ul. Merzlotnaya (УЛ. МЕРЗЛОТНЯ, ИНСТИТУТ МЕРЗЛОТОВЕДЕНИЯ).
Shergin’s Shaft (ШЕРГИНСКАЯ ШАХТА) is a 116.6 m deep shaft dug between 1827 and 1837, and was the first serious attempt to study permafrost. The shaft started when a merchant named Shergin discovered that no matter how deep he dug a well outside his house, he never hit water. He contacted the Russian Academy of Sciences …with this curiosity and it dispatched a team of experts that come to the conclusion that the water in the soil was permanently frozen. The shaft was
still in use for measurements as late as 1942. It is near the intersection of ul. Kulakovskogo and ul. Yaroslavskogo, but all there is to see is the little cabin built over it, without a sign to indicate its existence.”

I went back to additional information I already noticed in the French book “L’exploration de la Sibérie”, by Y.Gauthier and A. Garcia, Actes Sud edition 1996, pages 337 to 347. Probably the first who mentioned that ground could remain frozen even in warmest summers was Messerschmidt in 1723. Subsequently the point was also observed by Gmelin expedition during the same century. However, the one who actually tried to rationalize merzlota (pergelisol, permafrost) process was Lomonossov in a communication of September 6, 1757. Nothing new happened until Shergin (see above). Shergin (a merchant, as already explained!) regularly sent samples to St Petersburg. They were described, in German, by G. Gelmersen, as soon as 1837. The great impulsion to permafrost study was given by Karl Behr facing high scepticism from other scientists that were referring to Kant and Laplace’s theory. This theory states the heat could just increase as deeper you go in the ground. Behr decided to organize a complete expedition in Siberia to investigate permafrost issues. Alexander Fedorovitch Middendorf was appointed as chief of expedition. The works in Shergin’s shaft and the information collected by him enabled a breakthrough in the comprehension of the phenomena. It also allowed determining the actual borders of Russian permafrost, thanks to numerous local correspondents.

Photo credit: Francis Latreille - (c) July 2009 National Geograhic - A Nenets boy tentatively examines Lyuba outside Shemanovsky Museum in Salekhard, Siberia. Some of his elders still hold to the Nenets tradition that touching a mammoth, a creature they believe roams the spirit underworld, will bring bad luck.
Photo credit: Francis Latreille – (c) July 2009 National Geograhic A Nenets boy tentatively examines Lyuba outside Shemanovsky Museum in Salekhard, Siberia. Some of his elders still hold to the Nenets tradition that touching a mammoth, a creature they believe roams the spirit underworld, will bring bad luck.

I have “very fresh” (actually frozen) news. “National Geographic”, French publication dated May 2009, presents Lyuba discovered by Yuri Khudi, in May 2007. This female baby mammoth, found next to Yribei River, North-West of Siberia, is the best complete example of this animal known as of today. It was preserved during 40 000 years, thanks again to permafrost.


We can actually say that Siberia with the 3000 meters of sediments at the bottom of Baikal Lake (source: Laurent Touchard – « Le lac Bïkal ») , aged more than 25 millions of years, and with such vast permafrost keeps the most complete archives of our planet. This is another reason to express admiration for Siberia.

© Auteur: Bernard Grua

 

Publicités

Auteur : Bernard Grua

Bernard Grua a une large expérience internationale. ll réside à Nantes et est expert en conseil, réalisation et analyse d'inventaires, préalablement manager dans un cabinet d'audit anglo-saxon , Diplômé de Sciences Po Paris, officier de Marine de réserve. Hobbies: photographie, géopolitique, patrimoine maritime, reportages dans des pays lointains