|Shergin shaft’s superstructure.
|Shergin shaft schematic and geological profile.
Mean monthly and annual ground temperatures
in 1937 measured by G. and N. Zatsepins.
Thickness of ice clogging the well shaft was to be
determined before initiating a reconstruction plan.
The Shergin shaft in Yakutsk is a unique monument of the Russian history and world science. For the first time in the world, subzero temperatures in the ground were measured to a significant depth (116.4 m). The digging of the shaft began in 1827 and continued 10 years. The shaft excavated for a purely practical purpose of obtaining fresh groundwater was a tremendous contribution to the establishment of geocryology as an independent branch of science, dispelling, back in the early nineteenth century,any doubts about the presence of deeply frozen ground in Siberia.
Observations during the 19th Century
In 1829 when the well had only been dug to 15 m depth, it was visited by the well-known German physicist and explorer of northern Asia, Prof. A. Erman. He made a detailed survey of the exposed soils and took temperature measurements; later he reported his results in scientific journals.
Admiral F.P. Wrangel, a famous traveler and statesman, played a crucial role in the shaft’s history. It was him who during his stay in Yakutsk in 1829 induced Fedor Shergin to continue the digging for scientific purposes. He facilitated financial and methodological support from the Russian Academy of Sciences for geothermal observations in the shaft.
The Shergin shaft sustained the vivid interest of the eminent naturalist Karl von Baer. In 1837 he presented the results of observations at a meeting of the Russian Academy of Sciences and called for a special committee to guide further investigations. In his fundamental work, “Materialen zur Kenntniss des unvergänglichen Boden-Eises in Sibirien” (Materials for the Study of the Eternal Ground-Ice in Siberia, 1842), Baer wrote: “If asked why the new well at Yakutsk has aroused great astonishment, it is foremost striking that nobody had ever wondered how deep the soil freezes… These observations [of temperature in the shaft] provide the most important data for the study of soil temperature in general and we will for long encounter no similar occasions in North America or northern Asia.”
In 1844-1845, investigations in the Shergin shaft were conducted by professor and member-to-be of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander von Middendorff. His main goal was to determine a geothermal degree to estimate the depth of perennial ground freezing at Yakutsk. The results of Middendorff’s investigations published in 1847-1874 greatly impressed the minds of many, for his estimate of the permafrost thickness exceeded 200 m. These results dispelled all doubts of western scholars concerning deep freezing under the earth and established Russia’s priority in the discovery of a unique natural phenomenon of permafrost.
In the following years, the Shergin shaft continued to attract increased interest from researchers. Up to 1846, observations were conducted by the inspector of real schools D.P. Davydov. Later, investigations were made by the distinguished naturalist R.K. Maack in 1854 and by the director of the Irkutsk Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory A.V. Voznesensky in 1894.
Observations in the 20th Century
In 1933-1934, Vodkhoz Co. installed new descending equipment and drilled a vertical borehole from the shaft bottom down to a depth of 140 m. Meter-long adits were drilled every 10 m into the shaft walls. Regular temperature measurements were taken in the shaft and borehole by the Yakutsk Hydro-Meteorological Institute, and later by the Yakutsk permafrost station of the Northern Sea Route Office. This station was reorganized in 1939 into the Yakutsk research station of the USSR Academy of Sciences’ Obruchev Permafrost Institute, now the Melnikov Permafrost Institute of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences. Air and ground temperature observations in the shaft were resumed by this Institute in 2003.
The Storm of Shergin Shaft
November 4, 2009 saw a great moment in science history, when a three-person team led by the Iskateli (Seekers) TV educational series writer and presenter Andrey E. descended into the Shergin shaft. This event, reported by the media as The Storm of Shergin Shaft, required thorough planning and preparation. The team descended as deep as 104 m. Although they failed to reach the shaft bottom (116 m) because of ice and building waste blocking the way down, they were the first in 70 years to set foot on the floor of this deepest well dug through permafrost.