Monday, February 02, 2009

Yakutsk, coldest city on the planet

The Independent reports: [edited]

Yakutsk is a remote city in Eastern Siberia (population 200,000) famous for two things: appearing in the classic board game Risk, and the fact that it can convincingly claim to be the coldest city on earth.

Yakutia, the region of which it is the capital, covers more than a million square miles, but it is home to fewer than one million people.

At -20˚C, the moisture in your nostrils freezes, and the cold air starts making it difficult not to cough. At -35˚C, the air will quickly numb exposed skin, making frostbite a constant hazard. And at -45˚C wearing glasses gets tricky, any metal sticks to your cheeks and will tear off chunks of flesh when you decide to remove them.

Locals claim that there are enough lakes and rivers in the region for each inhabitant to have one of each. They are fond of boasting that the region contains every element in the periodic table. According to local legend, the god of creation had been flying around the world to distribute riches and natural resources, but when he got to Yakutia he got so cold that his hands went numb and he dropped everything.

Yakutsk's remoteness is also extraordinary. It is six time zones away from Moscow, and two centuries ago it would have taken more than three months to travel between the two. Now it takes six hours in a Tupolev aeroplane.

Until the Russian Revolution of 1917, Yakutsk remained an insignificant provincial outpost. In the 19th century it was used, like many Siberian towns, as an open prison for political dissidents.

The region is rich in gold and diamonds, which is what lay behind the Soviets' decision to turn Yakutsk into a major regional centre, first using the Gulag labour system, and later with the resettlement of thousands of volunteers seeking adventure, higher salaries and the chance to build socialism on ice. The corporate giant Alrosa, which owns Russia's diamond monopoly, is based in the region and accounts for 20 per cent of the world's supply of rough diamonds.

Workers continue working on building sites up to -50˚C (below this the metal becomes too brittle to work with), and children go to school unless it's below -55˚C (although the kindergarten gets the day off if it hits -50˚C).

The whole region suffers harsh winters. A few hundred miles down the 'Road of Bones' is Oimyakon, known as 'The Pole of Cold'. It was here that the lowest ever temperature in an inhabited place was recorded, -71.2˚C.

1 comment:

Antony Billington said...

It’s cold in Northolt today, too...