By Tanja Litmanen, University of Turku (Finland)
The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is part of the Russian Federation with own president, legislative, executive and judicial institutions. It is one of the largest nation states in Russia, therefore it covers 1:4 of the Russian State. Yakutia locates in the Asian side of Russia, in east side of the Ural mountains. From north to south the length of the region is about 2000 km and from west to east about 2500 km. Novosibirskiye Islands in the Arctic Ocean are also part of Yakutia. The coastline is 4500 km long and it is together with the Laptev Sea and Eastern Siberian Sea.
Yakutias local time is six hours ahead of Moscow time and seven hours ahead of Finnish time. Republics capital city is Yakutsk. This work is a small overview to the physical and cultural geography of the region. Information has been gathered during fieldtrip from literature and interviews.
- Physical geography
- 1.1 height relations – from the river valleys to the mountains
- 1.2 Watersystems
- 1.3 Climate
- 1.4 Vegetation
- 1.5 Animals
- 2. Cultural geography
- 2.1 Region of 80 different nationalities
- 2.2 Administrative and population
- 2.3 Natural resources and transport
- 2.4 Economic Reform
- 2.5 Culture and media
- List of References
1.1 Height relations – from the river valleys to the mountains
Over 40 % of the Yakutia locates on the north side of The Arctic Circle. Mountains and plateau highlands cover 70 % of the area. Verkhoyansk mountains (highest point 2959 m), Chersky Range (3147 m), Yana-Oimyakon Plateau, Aldan Uplands, Stanovoy Range and a branch of the Central Siberian Plateau Putorana are creating the complex physical system together with many plains and river valleys.
Lena river is cutting Yakutia to the west part and east part. Big rivers and tundra region in coastal area are locating about 0-100 meters above the sea level, but the largest part of the west side is located in 200-400 m.a.s.l. Almost all plateau and mountain areas are in east and in the south side of the Lena river. The southern Yakutia is the area of Aldan Uplands and Stanovoy mountains. Stanovoys are drawing a border between Yakutia and Amurskaya Oblast. Very high top (2007 m) can be found less than 100 km from the city of Nerungri (CCCP Atlas).
Many rivers are cutting the Yakutia from south to north. Yakutia has over 7000 rivers and one on the ten biggest rivers in the world is the Lena river (4400 km). Lena has big branches in it called Vilyui-, Aldan- and Amga rivers. Vilyui river has an big lake in its drainage area called Vuljujskoe.
Other big rivers like Yana, Indigirka and Olenok are also heading from south to north to the Arctic Ocean. In the NE corner of Yakutia is big area full of lakes. Area is about 500 km kertaa 700 km and it is between Chersky mountains and Arctic sea. Lakes in here and in other parts of Yakutia are shallow and many of them are thermokarst lakes. One reason for the NE lakes are river meandering in the history and the useful ground with many basins for water to gather. Water stays in the lake basin because ground is frozen and the water don’t soak into the soil.
Lena river has an huge delta which fall away to the Arctic Ocean. It is in approximately 250 km by 150 kilometers area, which consist on many river channels and lakes. Sediments from over 4000 kilometers distance are carried through this delta.
Climate is continental and there is a big difference in temperatures during year. City of Yakutsk locates in the river valley of Lena and its summer temperature can be +38 degrees and winter temperature –64 degrees. To the south from Yakutsk is the city of Aldan which have the temperature range of +34 and –51 degrees. In east part of Yakutia the range can be as much as +33 and –71 like in the Oimyakon.
Because of the permafrost ground only the top layer of the soil can melt during summer time (0,4-3,5 m). In the Yakutsk the upper layer of the ground is 4 meters sand, then there is 2.5 meter clay material under sand and then 1.2 meter of peat under clay. Peat are working like insulator and the ground stays permafrost during summer months. Permafrost layer reaches usually as deep as 300-400 meters and in Vilyui river it reaches to the 1500 meter. Theres also ice that can be seen in the top of the ground, therefore Yakutia has 485 glaciers.
Yakutia has many thermokarst formations in the ground. One of them are pingos, which are developing after cutting the forest from the permafrost area. After cutting the trees the sun affects more to the ground and the permafrost formations of ice wedges starts to melting. Depression developes and this basin can full up with water. The lake can dry later on and the wet ground starts to push its water up again. The frozen hill developes. Hill can collapse later and the forest can grow again.
Permafrost ground has also polygonal formations, and they can be seen easily from the aeroplain. Hezagonal formations developes when the top of the ground is freezing and melting time after time. The cracks are developing ice-wedges and when the ice-wedge is big enough, it pushes up and forms a polygonal ridge.
Precipitation is low in the Yakutia and the vegetation is semi-desert. In a mountain areas the typical precipitation rate is 400-600 mm/year and in other areas it is only 400 mm or less. Winter is long in Yakutia and in the mountain areas there is only 60 days or less the days without snow cover or ice. Other areas has 60-90 days and Upper Lena valley 120-150 days without snow or ice. Snow cover lasts in tundra region and in mountain areas 240-280 days per year. Other areas have snow about 200-240 days during the year. In the tundra region the height of snow is 0-20 cm and in the other areas 20-40 cm.
Winds are blowing different directions during summer and winter. In summer the areas from north to Yakutsk has NE winds. In the south side of the Yakutsk, summer winds are coming from the west. Oimjakon locates in the east side of Yakutia, and it gets winds from east where locates Ohotan sea. Oimjakon is an interesting place because its climate environment. In the summertime it is the centre of the high pressure and in wintertime it is the centre of the low pressure. Oimjakon is the coldest place of Yakutia during winter. Then the wind is coming from the north.
72 % of the vegetation are the taiga forest and the rest of the area are the forest-tundra, tundra and arctic desert. Woodlands gather 47 % of the total area. Most common tree is daursky larch (lehtikuusi) which are 85 % of the total, and the other common trees are pine, siberian pine, birch, aspen and fur-tree. Many special flowers like big and orange Lilly Pennsylvania are growing wild in the nature.
Yakut horse is one of the important wild animals and people are using it for the food. It has been brought from Far East to the Russia. Reindeer is important animal also and is kept to produce meat and milk. Yakutia has many other wild animals like musk deer, elk, big horn, brown bear, snow sheep, wolf, sable, siberian weasel (näätä), ermine (kärppä), musk rat, mink, arctic fox, siberian polecat, glutton (ahma), marmot (murmeli), squirrel, and birds like black-billed capercaillie (metso), willow ptarmigar (teeri), harlequin duck, scoter and hazel-grouse.
Also walrus (mursu), ringed seal (norppa) and polar bear (jääkarhu) lives in the specific areas. Fishes like sturgeon (sampi), arctic cisco, shallow water cisco, broad whitefish (siika), burbot (made), zuka (hauki), sheat fish (monni) , siberian salmon (lohi) and harus (taimen) can be found.
Historical animals can be found from the permafrost ground. Mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, sabre tiger, bizon and an ancient horses skeletons have been buried to the ground. The northern river valleys of Kolyma and Indigirka have many mammoth cemeteries.
2. Cultural geography
2.1 Region of 80 different nationalities
Yakutia has an great diversity of many nationalities and cultures. The majorities are Russians (50 %) and Sakha-Yakuts (33,4 %). Others nationalities are for example Ukrainians, Tatars, Evenks, Belorussians, Evens, Buryats and Yakaghirs.
People have been living in Yakutia at least 300 000 years. Mammoth hunters are known from a period of 40–35 000 years ago. Stoneage started 5000-4000 B.C and it took many thousand years more when first reindeer hunters culture of Yakagirs formed in 2000 B.C.
In 12th century Genghis Khans people came to the Central Asian steppes and major migration of people started in Yakutia. Some of the nomadic-pastoral tribes penetrate to the north and indigenous Tungus and Yakagir people had to find another place. Lifestyle of agriculture came together with Russian migrants in 17th century but it developed intensively in 19th century.
Yakuts are also indigenous people and their language are related to Turkic people. Sakha language has 25 % of Mongolian words and 4 % of Tungus and Manchurian words.
2.2 Administrative and population
In 17th century Russians came to the Yakutian region and it became a part of the Russian state. Yakutias settlements has a quite young history. Nomadic lifestyle changed to permanent settlements after Russians affection. Capital city Yakutsk has been established by Russian Cossacks in 1632. Cossacks came to the Yakutsk through northern Siberia and they advanced to the border of Mongolia and China. They were moving along the rivers and riding with the horse.
Cities and towns are build for service the mining industry. The Goldrush affected the development of the settlements in a decades of 1920–1930. Town of Tommot has been established in 1923 and town of Aldan is established in 1939. A road M65 from Nerungri to the Yakutsk were build during the Goldrush.
In the year 1922 Yakutia became The Autonomous Republic with the Russian State president. In 1990 the Declaration of the State Sovereignty of the Republic of Sakha was signed and Mikhail Nikolaev was chosen as a first president. Sakha has its own government and parliament, and it is part of the Russian Federation. Since 2002 the leader has been the second president Vyacheslav Shtyrov.
Administrative and territorial units are 35 ulusses. Cities of Yakutsk and Neryungri are municipalities with their own City Duma Territory. Number of population in ulusses are varying. Gorny ulus has only 10 600 people in 45 600 km2 region and Yakutsk have 229 900 people inside the 3 600 km2 region. Yakutsk is relatively big city because 18 % of the population lives there. Average population density are 35 person in 100 km2. The total population is about 1 070 100 (1994). 2/3 of the population lives in the eleven cities and in 69 worker townships. 1/3 lives in rural settlements. Population are young, because average age is 27 year (1989). Birthrate is positive and population is growing.
Most of the population was working in industry and agriculture (68,5 %), and in non-material sphere like in services were 31,5 % of working people (1993). Industry is sectored in mining 78.1 %, fuel 10.2 %, food 2.1 %, wood and timber 0.9 %, building materials 0.6 % and electric power industry 0.1 % (2000).
Land use numbers were in 1993 that 73 % of the land were under forestry management. Agriculture had 0,9 %, which consist cattle breeding, hunting, fur-farming and fishing. Towns and settlements took 0,03 % of the land use. State were owning 11 % of the land area.
2.3 Natural resources and transport
Yakutia is very rich in natural resources and there is more than 100 various minerals. There is a number of mineral and ore deposits: 750 gold deposits, 60 tin, 40 diamond, 40 coal, 30 oil and gas, 25 mica, as well as mercury, antimony, wolfram, complex ore, iron, phosphate, zeolite and phlogopite deposits. Yakutia has an huge amount of the total natural resources of Russia. It has 47 % of the Russian coal and 22 % of the Russian water resources. In the eastern Siberia and the Far east region it has 35 % of the gas and oil resources.
In the 50s the diamond mining started in west of Yakutia. Reserves are bigger than nowadays used deposits. 18 kimberlite fields are known and 800 pipes has been discovered, but only 150 of them has been used in industrial way. Reserves of the oil are also rich and it can be exploit the next 120–150 years.
In a late 19th century the transport and industry started to develop to the needs of gold-, coal-, lead mica-, salt- and iron ore mining but people started to use natural resources more intensively during Soviet Union time. Goldfields are located in east and south part of Yakutia. The river basins of Yana, Indigirka and Aldan rivers are rich. 200 field deposits are in industrial using (1994). City of Aldans goldfields started to work in 1920s.
People have used the northern sea route to transporting from 19th and 20th centuries, when Russian people established their settlements on the coast of the White sea (Vienanmeri). Sailors camps have been found in the Taimyr peninsula from the start of 17th century. Camps are near the river mouth of the Pyasina river. City of Yakutsk became a part of the Northern sea Route after it established in 17th century.
Yakutia has many big rivers and water transport is popular because its high carriage capacity and low costs. In a 30s the Arctic Sea Route opened and seaport of Tiksi was build. The distance from Novaja Zemlya to the Berings Straits is 2880 miles, which is shorter than other routes from west to the Far East. After Soviet Union broke up, the Russia didn’t have good access to the Baltic Sea anymore and this route became more important. Water transport happens along Yana, Indigirka and Kolyma rivers and there is six river and sea ports.
Air transport is also important in the area of long distances.Yakutia has 37 airports and its own flying company (1994). Road transport are happening along bad roads whose welfare is depend on difficult permafrost environment. 20 % of a trucking is happening through gravel roads, 10 % through dirt roads (päällystämätön) and 50 % through the winter motorways which cannot be used during other seasons. Pipe transport is also important in the permafrost environment. Oil and gas are transporting in a huge pipelines now and in the future.
2.4 Economic Reform
During USSR Yakutia produced many goods to the other areas of the country. After Soviet Union the industry and agriculture fell to the crise because republics own consumer markets and industry were not developed. There was high depency of imports.
Since the year 1994 Yakutias government have had the national program on Structural Economic Reform. The strategy is to develop industries, infrastructure and training. Construction of the infra is difficult in extreme conditions with permafrost and long distances. Climate changes from very cold to very hot and buildings and structures needs extra caring. New Economic strategy is also to build new processing industries to domestic needs. Republic need foreign capital and it have to increase export.
Construct of the railroad is an important project to get better transport network to the area of long distances. Nowadays there is no railroad to the city of Yakutsk but building process from Trans-Siberian railway station Neryungri to the north is nowadays in the north-side of the town of Tommot (July 2009).
Yakutias development is going more to denationalization, privatization and decentralization of the production and consumption management. It is also going more to the competition and economically free enterprices. Government wants to do this for improving the living standards of the population.
Yakutia have policies to free education, health services with protection of maternity and children, services to war veterans and policies to employment garanties. Social security helps in financial needs and in a case of invalidity and natural disasters. Yakutia has pension services and social centres for elderly people. Republic have also high skilled public health services and people have medical insurance. There is many rehabilitation centres and hospitals.
The collapsing of the Soviet Union left rural areas to a difficult transition. Sovkhozes produced food all over the Russia and now they stopped working in 1993–1995. There was no arranged work anymore in a rural area. In the years 1995–1999 collective farms production decreased but private farms production did not. After 1999 many program started to help rural people, like The program for Development of Family Economy in Rural Areas which aim has been to diverse sources of the earnings.
2.5 Culture and media
Although the cities are very young when comparing to Europes settlements, the culture and art sector is developing fast. Yakutia has 525 institutions of culture, 538 libraries, 43 museums and seven professional theatres. People have open access to the information and there is freedom of press. In a year 2000 there was 252 registered mass media targets. The network of states own television and radio broadcasting started 1999 and in a year 2000 there was already 32 broadcasting stations. Television broadcasting covers 80 % of the population and radio coverage is 90 %. Paper media have 52 newspapers and 20 magazines registered in the city of Yakutsk.
List of References
- Bolsaja Rossijskaja Entsiklopedija. Moscow. 2004.
- CCCP Atlas. Glavnoe upravlenie geodesii I kartografii iri sovete ministrov CCCP. Moscow. 1983.
- Southern Yakutia. Ecological poetic imagery. Kokovin, Yuri. 2005.
- The Republic of Sakha. Towards third millenium. Jakutsk. 2000.
- The Arctic: Despair and Hope of Russia. Articles and reports. Nikolayev, Mikhail. 1994.
- Yakutian business guide. Republic of Sakha. The Ministry of Foreign Relations of the Republic of Sakha. 1994.
- Added to this there was discussions with professor of Northern Studies Michael Urjevitch, and information from Museums we visited during the field trip.
All rights reserved © By Tanja Litmanen