Frozen ground and burning veins


What's permafrost?

Yakutia is the coldest region in the northern hemisphere and the coldest in the world if the altitude is brought down to sea level. Winter lasts more than half the year, with temperatures that we dare not imagine. Permafrost, which covers one-fifth of the Earth's surface, refers to ground that is permanently frozen to a depth of several hundred metres. The active zone, or mollisol, is the thin crust that thaws for a few months in summer, barely 3 months in Yakutia.

The capital, Yakutsk, is built on a zone of permafrost. Because of the fragility of the ground created by the thawing of the ice, all the buildings in the city are built on solid concrete posts, sealed several meters deep.
As soon as we hit the road, I see flames on the shoulders of the road. No material seems to be burning. Here, they have to heat the ground before they can do any roadwork or pipe work!

Coal-fired power station

Our first day's drive takes us to Khandyga, a small town 8 hours drive from the capital. We are all surprised, not to say disconcerted, by the ugliness of a black and deserted city, contrasting with a snowy landscape. This dark atmosphere is quickly explained by the number of coal-fired heating plants, whose chimneys cyclically spit anthracite fumes.
The water, heated in these plants, is conveyed to the various dwellings via above-ground pipes, wrapped in a glass wool sleeve or surrounded by wooden boards. At street crossings, the water pipes are raised and evoke, with a little imagination, the porticoes of Shinto temples in Japan.
The heating installations are thus inseparable from the urban landscape. In addition to the many radiators abandoned in the streets (they sometimes serve as floor mats for doorsteps), it is impossible not to see the city's bowels, like so many veins in a human body.

Oimiakon, or the Cold Pole, -71.2 degrees.

After getting lost in the middle of the night, we arrive, after 17 hours of driving on an icy track, at the cold pole. The frost begins to attack the inside of the bus windows. Arrival in Oïmiakon, a small village of 500 inhabitants.

The lowest temperature was estimated at -71.2 degrees in 1926 by a Russian scientist. This record was almost broken on February 18 of that year with -71 degrees. I have many questions about the means of life of these inhabitants. How do they do it when the temperatures are at their lowest. Daily chores are reduced to a minimum. The most unusual life scene I have seen are the Iakut cows, which are given a "bra" to drink from the Indigirka River once a day (the Russian cows stay inside). This prevents the milk from freezing in the udder. On the other hand, in the summer, the temperature in this region is over 35 degrees Celsius, with clouds of mosquitoes!

Siberia, March 2013

Autres Reportages