Sunday, 7 February 2016

Golomyanniy Station in Severnaya Zemlya
- south of nowhere in Siberia's High Arctic, plus a... museum !

Let's go remote far and away.

This tiny meteorological station in the high Russian Arctic is the most isolated place you can imagine, on a small stripe of land covered by an ice cap, surrounded by frozen waters and hard to find among other small and bigger islands that make up the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago, one of the most inospitable places on the planet.

The polar night sets for months, then summer for just three weeks. The only life to be seen throughout the year is an occasional fox or bear - and this is a feared visit - and a few wee arctic flowers in spring. If you wish someone  to be deported to some icy nightmare desert, this is the place.

Severnaya Zemlya ( = Land of the North) consists of four main islands and a few smaller ones located off the coast of northeastern Siberia, between the Kara Sea and the Laptev Sea, on the Arctic Ocean. The territory is mostly uninhabited but is visited by some Samoyed (Nenets) communities from the Taymyr peninsula, who fish and hunt in the southern coastal areas in summer.

A small group of island on the west side make up the Sedov Archipelago. Two of these smaller islands happen to be 'inhabited' in a special manner: Sredniy Island has an air strip for a military base under improvement, plus... a museum ! -  and the minuscule Golomyanniy Island is home to a small meteorological station at work since 1954.

Zoom-in map:
Stripes of ice-covered flatland.

Golomyanniy Station
Sedov archipelago, Severnaya Zemlya

Coordinates: 79° 30′ N, 97° 45′ E,
                   like northernmost Svalbard.
Permanent crew: usually 6

An ice-covered bare flatland.

This is how Georgy Ushakov, a Russian explorer, described the island in 1930:

" The gloomy and lifeless Golomyanniy Island, (...) a narrow strip, looked to me like the back of a whale leaning out of the water. The first time we landed on its icy, slippery surface, we unwittingly walked cautiously, and had to lay on the way, ready at any moment to plunge into the cold abyss. "

The station sits on the north-western tip of the island, on a 300 m wide strip of land.

And yet a family, at least, has to be living there to do all the work - measures, data gathering, forecasts, statistical studies, communications, maintenance, and still keep their own lives bearable.

Drinking water is available at a small dam built on a stream that feeds on melting snow. Fishing is possible too.

For everything else, the small crew (three to seven) depends on supply delivering, by air or by sea.

Winter supply arriving at Golomyanniy station.

Usually one or two families live here, and stay for several years - 20 years was a recent case. The area is well kept, the buildings are in good condition, and the technological yard is duly working.

Marine Hydrometeorological Polar Station Island Golomyanniyas it was recently renamed, opened in the spring of 1954 for climate observations.

The main building.

Полярная станция Голомянный, Golomyanniy Polyarka Station

Plaque at the entrance.

Under the 80th parallel, the family on duty manages to survive -50ºC, fight off polar bears and raise their children.

Inside it looks like a decent town house - several rooms, heating, kitchen, dining room with a few tables, hot coffee. On the wall posters, photos and souvenirs from expeditions passing by the station, which happens more and more frequently.

An caterpillar crawler track is a recent improvement:

The crew, usually of six, transmits every three hours data from meteorological observations.

The gun is mandatory - a sudden polar bear could be a major threat.

The technological yard.

A light in the icy remoteness

As the polar night lasts for  months, and summer just three weeks, this is probably the worst place on the planet for solar energy !

But these live (briefly) on it :

- a crashed Antonov and a Museum

In the icebreaker 'G. Sedov', Georgy Ushakov sailed to Severnaya Zemlya in 1930.

The expedition led by Georgy Ushakov in 1930 stayed on the archipelago two years; the Russian researchers were in the darkness of the polar night, and in the summer thaw in penetrating damp fog and snowstorm, making way among icebergs and pack ice, drowned in water and slush. Somehow, Ushakov managed successfully to map all the islands in Severnaya Zemlya.

Sredniy Island

Close to Golomyanniy, Sredniy Island is somewhat larger and has a plane landing strip. On the eastern end of the island stands the "Ushakov House", built on the tiny Domashniy Island in the early 1930s by Ushakov's team. The wooden cabin was later moved to the nearby Sredniy and now serves as a memorial museum.

The first house ever on Severnaya Zemlya.

The Museum of History and Development of the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago exhibits articles, photos, drawings, books and postcards, and also parts of Ushakov's icebreaker 'G. Sedov'.

The house was home to Ushakov during his 1930-32 stay.

Pictures and some household items.

Ushakov's drawings for the cabin are also part of the small legacy.

The loneliest Museum keeper on the planet.


For arctic travelers with a tourist flare, the crashed Antonov is probably the main 'attraction' on the island.

On April 11, 2003 this Antonov An-12 was in a supply and rescue mission in Severnaya Zemlya.

Upon landing on Sredniy Island under zero visibility blizzard, the plane missed the runway for 650 meters; all nine crew members and five passengers were not injured, but the damaged Antonov was left to rust.

Leaving with a 2003 postcard from Ostrov Golomyanniy :