Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The four great rivers of Arctic Siberia - the Ob, the Yenisei, the Lena and the Kolyma

Arctic Siberia may be barren and gloomy, still the tundra is crisscrossed by four of the great rivers of the world. Their basins carry a vast amount of freshwater rich in nutrients, flowing northwards to the cold iced seas - the Kara, the Laptev, the East Siberian, the Chukchi; so powerful that their warmer waters melt the ice floes and the Gulf area around their mouths is almost permanently navigable. They are the Ob, the eastern neighbouring Yenisei, both flowing into the Kara Sea; the Lena and the far-east Kolyma, which both empty into the Laptev Sea.

Ob Gulf:  66°32′ N, 71°23′ E.

Yenisei Gulf: 72°30′ N, 81°15′ E

Lena Delta: 73°11′ N, 125°19′ E
                   the most northernly

Kolyma Gulf: 69°30′ N, 161°30′ E.

These rivers played an important role during the exploration and populating process of Siberia. River routes were the main ways of communication in Russian Siberia before the 1730s, when roads began to be built. Those rivers flow north to the Arctic Ocean, so it was quite vital to find branches that flow east-west with easy land transfers (portages) between them.

Colonization routes following rivers and portages

It took about 60 years (1580-1639) for the western russians, mostly cossacks and later tatars, to reach the Pacific coast leaving a trail of forts and colonnies by the rivers along their ways.

So, I'm starting a series of four posts, and this is the first, dedicated to the Ob River.

1. Ob River

The Ob (Обь) is the main river of Western Siberia. It rises from glaciers and streams far South in the Altai mountains and winds northwards until it empties into the Kara Sea.

Most of the course runs through terraced plains.

The Ob at Barnaul.

The Ob course acquires a larger dimension with the tribute of the Irtysh, a very long river coming from China, entering Russia at Omsk. The combined Ob-Irtysh huge basin (5410 km) consists of steppe, taiga, and finally tundra.

The confluence of the Irtysh and Ob rivers.

The Gulf of Ob

The Gulf is the outlet for the Ob River, as its delta is choked by a huge sandbar. The depth of the sea at this point is only 10–12 m, and the coastline is marshy.

Recently a large amount of giant snowballs appeared on the shores of the Gulf, probably ice floes that rolled on the sand. Rare.

The Ob flows by three important historic settlements: Novosibirsk, Surgut and Salekhard.

Novosibirsk is an ugly and very large industrial center.

At Novosibirsk the new Bugrinsky Bridge (2014) over the Ob.

Novosibirsk was founded when the rail buiders were forced to stop at the Ob river, to build this bridge.

The old Trans-siberian rail bridge.

The main trade on the course of the Ob is related to oil and gas extraction, as some of Russia's largest oil and natural gas deposits are found in the river's middle and lower sections. In 1956, a large dam was built at Novosibirsk, which created a huge reservoir on the river. 

Surgut is quite an old town from 1594; copies of its old fortress and small wooden Kremlin has been carefully built as an open air Museum.

The Ob is also linked to the Gulag era, some of the worst camps and worst human disasters ocurred under Staline around the rail track called "Dead Road" between the Ob and the Yenisei.

Salekhard port on the Ob, just above the delta.

Salekhard , at 66ºN and not far from the Ob delta, is an historic treasure; since the 17th century center, mostly built in wood, the town has been later enrichened with religious and civil architecture. See here.

The main tributary Irtysh river

The great Irtysh river near Tobolsk

Tobolsk, on Ob's tributary Irtysh river, was the main town of Sibir, founded in 1590. It was a stronghold fort, a kind of Capital of Siberia, a base for further eastward exploration.

The Tobolsk Kremlin remains one of the most wonderful in Russia:

A cruise route has been working along the Ob river, between Salekhard and Omsk, with a stop at Tobolsk.

A portage leads to the Yenisei River at Yeniseysk, about 1400 km from Tobolsk.

Next soon:
The mighty Yenisei, Siberia's largest river.

Read more: see The Vega Expedition