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Yakutsk Icicles

The Coldest Inhabited City on Earth

Kulakovsky Street in YakutskBuilt on a continuous layer of permafrost in eastern Russia, Yakutsk is the coldest inhabited city on earth. Average monthly temperatures range from minus forty degrees in January to sixty-six degrees in July, though the mercury has been known to fall as low as minus ninety-six degrees in the winter and to peak at ninety degrees during the city's brief summers. When the temperature drops to minus sixty-seven degrees (55 degrees centigrade) children are allowed to say home from school. In the winter, people don't wear eyeglasses outdoors because metal frames will freeze to their skin and tear off flesh when removed.

The Lena River near YakutskYakutsk is the capitol of Yakutia, an autonomous ethnic region roughly the size of India but with a population smaller than Rhode Island's. What the region lacks in population, it makes up for in natural resources. Yakutians boast that their region contains every element listed in the periodic table. Legend has it that the god of creation flew over the earth distributing riches and natural resources but when he flew over Yakutia, "he got so cold his hands went numb and he dropped everything." (SOURCE: Yakutsk: Journey to the Coldest Place on Earth).

Permafrost Permafrost is soil or rock which remains at or below thirty-two degrees year round. Building on permafrost is tricky because the heat of the building will cause the permafrost to melt and the building will subsequently sink into the ground. For this reason most homes in Yakuts are built on concrete pillars which descend many meters in the ground.

Tower of Ostrog - 17th Century Russian Fort in Yakutsk Originally the site of a Russian fortress strategically located on the Lena River, Yakutsk grew into a city following the discovery of gold there in the late 1800's. The influx of gold diggers to this frigid region was not voluntary. Forced labor camps under Joseph Stalin played a major role in the city's development.

Ice RoadThe Lena Highway, allegedly one of the most dangerous roads in the world connects Yakutsk to Russia's larger cities to the south. Classified as a federal highway, it's actually a dirt road which turns to mud during the rainy summer months. The mud has been known to swallow vehicles whole, earning the road the nickname 'The Highway from Hell.' During the coldest months of winter, the Lena River freezes solid and people actually use it to drive in and out of Yakutsk. During the more temperate months, when the ice is too thin to support the weight of vehicles and ice flows make the river too dangerous for boats, it becomes impassible. Fortunately for residents, the Yakutsk Airport provides an alternate means for traveling in and out of the area.

Yakutian Horse The rare Yakutian horse, commemorated in the stamp pictured here, is is known for its uncanny ability to locate and forage for vegetation beneath thick snows. Averaging 14.2 hands, it is larger than but otherwise looks similar to the Shetland Pony. These horses have been known to save their owners' lives by carrying them safely through blinding blizzards or thick fog. Russian scientist Sergey Zimov is reintroducing Yakutian horses into the forty-thousand acre park in which he is hoping to recreate an ice age environment.

Cool Links

Yakutsk - Wikipedia

Yakutsk Photo Collection - Flikr

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