Monday, February 11, 2013

Oymyakon: The Coldest place on Earth.

If you thought it was cold where you are at the moment then a visit to the Russian village of Oymyakon might just change your mind. Known as the 'Pole of Cold', the coldest ever temperature recorded in Oymyakon was -71.2C.

Welcome to the village of Oymyakon, in Russia.

It is named after the Oymyakon River, whose name comes from the Even word kheium 'unfrozen patch of water; place where fish spend the winter.Though, by contraries, the dictionary of Tungusic languages says Even word heyum (hэjум) (kheium seems misspelling) is 'frozen lake'.

 It is located in eastern Yakutia at an elevation of approximately 750 meters above sea level. At the village's northernly position, day length varies from 3 hours in December to 21 hours in June.

Although winters in Oymyakon are long and excessively cold, summers are mild, sometimes with hot, and very hot days. The climate is quite dry, but as average monthly temperatures are below freezing for 7 months of the year, substantial evaporation occurs only in summer months. Summers are much wetter than winters.

The average temperature for January? About -50 degrees Celsius (that’s -58 degrees Fahrenheit) , it is no wonder the village is the coldest permanently inhabited settlement in the world.

Warmth? That comes from coal and wood, of course. Water? There’s a thermal spring nearby, thankfully. Agriculture? None to speak of, unless you count reindeer and horses. (Residents eat their meat and drink their milk.) An economy? Hunting, fishing and — for the one shop in town — retail. Education? The schoolhouse stays open until the temps drop to -52 degrees Celsius. Transportation? It’s a two-day drive to Yakutsk, the region’s capital city . Just don’t turn your engine off, or it might not return.

For the most part, the landscape is white year-round. Just about everything is covered with snow and ice. The principle industry is still very traditional, with fur trading and ice fishing stalwarts of the local economy.  If one can manage to not focus too much on the endless snow, the views are fantastic. The arctic location of Oymyakon yields some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world – very popular with photographers.

This is the lowest recorded temperature for any permanently inhabited location on Earth and the lowest temperature recorded in the Northern Hemisphere. The village, which is home to around 500 people, was, in the 1920s and 1930s, a stopover for reindeer herders who would water their flocks from the thermal spring. But the Soviet government, in its efforts to settle nomadic populations, believing them to be difficult to control and technologically and culturally backward, made the site a permanent settlement. Ironically, Oymyakon actually means 'non-freezing water' due to a nearby hot spring.

Most homes in Oymyakon still burn coal and wood for heat and enjoy few modern conveniences. Nothing grows there so people eat reindeer meat and horsemeat. A single shop provides the town's bare necessities and the locals work as reindeer-breeders, hunters and ice-fisherman.

Doctors say the reason the locals don't suffer from malnutrition is that their animals' milk contains a lot of micronutrients. Unsurprisingly, locals are hardened to the weather and unlike in other countries - where a flurry of snow brings things grinding to a halt, Oymyakon's solitary school only shuts if temperatures fall below -52C.

The village is located around 750 metres above sea level and the length of a day varies from 3 hours in December to 21 hours in the summer. And despite its terrible winters, in June, July and August temperatures over 30c are not uncommon. There are few modern conveniences in the village - with many buildings still having outdoor toilets - and most people still burn coal and wood for heat. When coal deliveries are irregular the power station starts burning wood. If the power ceases, the town shuts down in about five hours, and the pipes freeze and crack.

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