Descending into the World’s Deepest Shaft in the Permafrost Zone
The deepest shaft built on permafrost in Yakutsk, Siberia, more than 150 years ago, was drilled down and reopened for researchers and tourists, who wish to go down through never-melting, frozen soil layers as deep as 116 meter.
On Nov. 4, 2009, in Yakutsk, the capital of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), a group of three people descended into the world’s deepest ice vertical tunnel, Shergin’s Shaft, that had been buried and forgotten for more than half a century. It was the important historical, scientific, cultural event called “The Storm of Shergin’s Shaft” designed to get a few rare samples for permafrost researchers and show a new way to observe never-melting, frozen soil layers.
A cameraman Marina Kalinina, the Republic’s airborne rescue detachment chief Eugene Zolkin and a popular Russian TV producer, founder and presenter of TV Shows “Seekers” (Искатели) and “Seekers of Yakutia” Andrey E (Khoroshev) descended into the shaft with the depth of 116 and a half meters.
The event had been planned thoroughly and in details. Security was provided by the Republic’s airborne rescue team. On the day of the descent, outdoor temperature was minus 19 degrees Centigrade, but inside the shaft it was minus 4 degrees Centigrade only.
While descending, the participants were recording the action by a portative videocam. Spectators could watch and follow the operation live on a big monitor set on an ordinary passenger bus outside of the shaft. Going down through frozen ground layers, the trio commented their feelings and amazing views via radio-walkers.
The only lady in the team, Marina Kalinina, managed to reach 30 meters deep. However, the descent made a deep impression on her, she was charmed by ice-crystal soil. She said she felt as if she had been cleaned from negative information.
At a depth of 104 meters, Andrey E and Eugene Zolkin found out that the further way down was narrowed and blocked by ice and building wastes. Going further below appeared to be dangerous. Despite of that sudden stop, there were no doubts the event resulted in scientific success. At the shaft mouth, a rescue officer dug samples for permafrost researchers of the famous Yakutsk-based P. Melnikov’s Permafrost Institute and other scientific research institutions.
It is necessary to mention that Shergin’s Shaft was buried for more than half a century. There were several unsuccessful attempts of reconstructing the ice vertical tunnel. All of them were crashed into officials’ indifference.
Only this year enthusiasts, people of different occupations, get united and eventually overcame bureaucracy. All required papers, permissions, and signatures were received in the course of almost one year to begin the restoration work.
The shaft was finally drilled down and reconstructed, and the wooden shed around the drew-well acquired its personal signboard, and the first group of people used its long-awaited opportunity to descend the world’s deepest vertical tunnel in permafrost.
The shaft restoration was initiated, arranged and successfully completed with the help of the Yakutsk Affiliate of Baikal Economics & Law State University, P. Melnikov’s Permafrost Institute at the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Science, and the Airborne Rescue Detachment of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).
History of Shergin’s Shaft
In 1827, a descendant of Veliky Ustyug, employee of the Russian-American joint-trade company, merchant Fyodor Shergin started digging up a well in the yard of his house to obtain drinking water. Two years later, having dug a reservoir of 15 meters deep and not reached water-level, he stopped the work. In 1829 scientists persuaded him to continue digging for scientific purposes. Shergin began measuring temperature inside the shaft till 1837. As a result, the Russian merchant’s work became famous in Europe and America.
Shergin’s shaft has an important cultural, historical value. It is unique since it is the deepest shaft in the world dug in the permafrost zone. Measuring of temperature almost two centuries ago founded a new world science – geocriology (science about permafrost), without which the North development would have been impossible. As readers might know, Yakutsk is considered to be the cradle of this science.
Information acquired inside the ice vertical tunnel helped to determine that the depth of permafrost in Yakutsk is 210 meters. It was a real discovery. Before those scientific researches, many outside scientists were doubtful about the existence of the permafrost of such immense power. Yakutsk experimental results proved the fact of deep ground freezing.
Taking into consideration the experience of the shaft research, international scientists started measuring permafrost temperature in Canada and Alaska. European scientists, who used to deny the existence of such nature phenomenon as permafrost in forest zones, accepted it as a scientific fact.