National Geographic : 1967 Mar
"Also, in summer, when our river, the Lena, is free of ice, we can float our timber north to the Arctic Ocean. And, during the brief time that the river is open, our sup plies are brought in by barge." The mayor went on to talk about new construction one of the most conspicuous activities in Yakutsk and, for that matter, everywhere in Siberia. Once a discussion turns to building, of course, it immediately returns to the subject of the permanently frozen ground, or permafrost. "When we put up a new building now," the mayor said, "we put it on piles. At the moment we are building a seven-story hotel and many apartment buildings. Yes, we build even in winter. If we worried about the weather, we could work only four months of the year. But why don't you have a look at our construction methods yourselves?" Habitation Fog Ends at City Limits Vladimir Dynin, construction director of the Yakutsk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, took us in his jeep to an apartment house being erected, where bundled-up men and women were laying bricks in spite of the 50 below-zero temperature. "The mortar is heated," he told us, "but if the weather gets much colder, the crane that lifts the mortar won't operate properly. That stops us." I began to take pictures of the people at work. To my chagrin, I soon had to give up. This time the film held up, but my fingers did not. (The skin peeled off them ten days later.) I was forced to put my heavy mittens back on, while smiling women, who sensibly had kept their mit tens on, continued to lay bricks. As we left the city, bound for a building site beyond its limits, the fog suddenly ended and we emerged into a bright, crisp day, full of sunshine. We had escaped at last from the frozen exhalations of Yakutsk. On the level land along the river, Dynin showed us a dozen huge spikes sticking out of the ground (right). "These are reinforced concrete piles. We use steam jets to thaw the permafrost and then, when the soil is mushy, we sink a pile down 23 feet. When the soil refreezes, the pile becomes part of the frozen ground. The buildings to be supported by the piles will be set six to eight feet above the ground, as if they were on stilts. The cold air will circulate under them and prevent their heat from melting the permafrost." Curious about this phenomenon of the literally frozen north, we went to Yakutsk's Permafrost Institute. Its director, Pavel Melnikov, peered over the top of his glasses and talked about the problems frost causes. "Even in summer permafrost affects us," he said. "Water from the thawed surface can't drain down, so in the warm season there are bogs over much of Siberia. Mosquitoes breed in them by the billions. "But there are great natural resources-oil, natural gas, gold, tin, coal, black mica, and diamonds-in the per mafrost, wealth for the taking, but in difficult situations that stimulate ingenious minds. "For instance, we hope to pipe natural gas to Yakutsk and other communities-without pipes! We will attempt 310 Planting piles in permafrost, construction workers at Yakutsk first drape the concrete pillars with steam hoses. Jets of vapor melt the frozen soil around the shafts, al lowing them to sink 23 feet into a temporary mush that soon re freezes. Apartments built on these piles will sit several feet above ground so their heat cannot thaw the granite-hard earth. Foot-long cucumbers grow at the Yakutsk Botanical Gardens Experiment Station. This variety fruits without pollination. Siberi ans plan to overcome the short growing season with gas-heated hothouse gardens.