History of permafrost exploration

The first written accounts of perennially frozen ground appeared in the 17th century when Russian traders began exploring remote areas of Siberia and established several cities in regions underlain by permafrost (map). The first attempt to dig a water well in Yakutsk was made during the years 1685 and 1686. At a depth of 30.5 m, the excavation still did not penetrate through the frozen layer.

history1

Governor Krakov examined the well and concluded that

“in Yakutsk water wells are absolutely impossible since in summer, the ground thaws only to 1.5 arshins [~1.065 m] there, never more than 2 arshins [1.42 m], and below it is all frozen solid”

In 1828, an employee of the Russian-American Company, F. Shergin, undertook another attempt to dig a water well in Yakutsk, 150 years after the first attempt.

The possibility that permafrost might extend to great depths was soon realized, however, and the work continued for scientific purposes at the request of the regional representative of the Russian-American Company, the renowned Arctic explorer F. Vrangel. Excavations were carried out in winter, when temperature inversions would enhance shaft ventilation. The Russian-American Company reneged on their promise to reimburse Shergin’s expenses of 1362 rubles, thereby terminating the project in 1837. At this point a 2.13-m2 shaft reached a depth of 116.4 m, but failed to penetrate through the permafrost. In 1844, Middendorf instrumented Shergin’s well and conducted periodic temperature measurements. He drilled 10 holes perpendicular to the shaft along the entire vertical extent of the well. Each hole contained two thermometers mounted on wooden sticks. The main thermometers were placed at 2.13 m into the wall, while the control thermometers were positioned at 0.3 m. Observations were conducted two to five times per month. The procedure involved descending into the shaft in a wooden basket, pulling out the thermometers, and taking the readings by candlelight.

temperature Temperature in the Sherginskaya mine
carlber

Karl Baer (1792-1876)

Karl Baer "Facts Contributing to Knowledge about Never-Melting Ground Ice":

 

  • Overview of available information related to permafrost.

  • Developed the hypothesis that ground ice might be an alternative form of glaciation, occurring under highly continental climatic conditions.

  • Formulated a scientific plan for the expedition, which included investigations of traces of surface glaciations in Siberia and detailed geothermal measurements at several sites..

 

Climate of the Russian Empire

 

Wild, G. O. (1833-1902) "Air Temperature in the Russian Empire" 1882.

 

 

Tgr=Ta + 0.9 + 0.22 * 2.97 = Ta + 1.6°С

Assuming that permafrost is a product of contemporary climate, Wild (1882) developed a conceptual model of permafrost distribution. Based on empirical evidence, he suggested that, on average, the annual ground temperature at 1 m depth is 0.9°C higher than the annual air temperature throughout Siberia. In his final map of permafrost distribution, however, Wild (1882) used the -2.0°C isotherm of annual air temperature to account for the depression of the ground freezing point because of pressure and capillarity effects, as known from regions of seasonal frost.


 

First permafrost researchers

tatishev

Tatishev, Vasiliy Nekitich (1686 - 1750)

 
gmelin

Gmelin, Iogan Georg (1709  - 1755)

Introduction to Historical and Geographical Description of Great Russian Empire, 1725

“North of 59 o latitude, the ground does not thaw deeper than half arshin (0.36 cm)”

 

"Siberian Flora", 1747—69

“On June 18th (1736) we decided to dig a hole in Yakutsk to find water. Soil continued for 11 inches and then turned to sand, which became solid at 2.5 feet depth. We continued for another 0.5 feet and then could not dig any more... We tried to dig at other, lower place, and thert at 2.5 feet depth the ground was frozen.”

lomonosov

Lomonosov, Mikhail Vasil’evich (1711  - 1765 )

 
middendorf  

Middendorf, Alexander Fedorovich (1815  - 1894)

"Birth of Metals as a Result of Earth’s Shaking", 1757 Attributed the existence of “ground, frozen in summer, at depth under shallow thawed layer” in areas “close to Arctic seas” and in “high mountains separating Siberia from Chinese State” to the cold climate and proximity to “cold layers of atmosphere”. Lomonosov wrote that in both cases “winter cold is overcoming summer heat”, associating the ground thermal regime with the heat balance at the Earth surface.

 

Middendorf’s “Voyage to the North and East of Siberia”, 1848. Describes:

  • Geologic / Geomorphologic Investigations;
  • Descriptions of Icings;
  • Geothermal Measurements in Boreholes;
  • Geothermal Measurements in Shergin’s Well;
  • Description of the Cryogenic Structure of the Shergin’s Well;
  • Location of the Southern Permafrost Boundary;
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