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    Alexander Feodorovich Middendorf

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0519                                                                                                                  


            Middendorf, Alexander Feodorovich (1815-1894), famous

    Russian naturalist, traveler, and the first investigator of

    permafrost, was born in St. Petersburg. He was educated at the

    Pedagogical Institution in St. Petersburg and at the University

    of Yuriev. He received his M.A. for his dissertation, Queadam

    de bronchorum polypis, morbi casu observata illustrata,

    subsequently went abroad where he studied at universities in

    Berlin, Erlanger, Vienna, and Breslau. In 1839 he became the

    assistant in Zoology at Kiev University, and in 1840 he partici–

    pated in lapland expedition lead by Academician K.M. Baer,

    anthropologist and zoologist, who devoted a considerable amount

    of time to the study of Lapland, Novaya Zemlya, and the Caspian

    Sea. There Middendorf studied birds, mollusks, and geology,

    travelling to the Kola peninsula. He started from the town of

    Kola, crossed the peninsula on foot to reach Kandalaksha. Upon

    his return from this expedition he was made a full professor at

    the University of Kiev in 1841.

            In 1842-1845, at the request of the Academy of Sciences,

    initiated by K. M. Berg, he was sent on a trip to Siberia. The

    results of this trip became one of the most important achievements

    of the 19th century because of the magnitude and value of Midden–

    dorf's observations.

    002      |      Vol_XV-0520                                                                                                                  

            This trip took him to the north of the Taimyr peninsula,

    then further east to the Yakutsk area, and then across the Aldan

    plateau and the Stanovoi mountains to the Amur river.

            The purpose of the expedition was twofold: 1) The study

    of organic life of the inland of the Far North far from the sea

    shore. In this connection Baer suggested an investigation of

    the area between the Pi a â sina and Khatanga rivers on the Taimyr pen–

    insula, where the Siberian mainland juts far to the north and is

    removed from the influence of the warm Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

    2) Verification of the report concerning the existence of

    "eternally frozen soil", (permafrost) which had been encountered

    in the city of Yakutsk and assumed elsewhere. Baer had prepared

    detailed instructions containing all the known facts about perma–

    frost and "fossil ice" in Siberia, to serve as a guide for

    Middendorf, and suggested detailed temperature observations of

    the soil at various depths.

            Middendorf left St. Petersburg in November 1842, went first

    to Kransnoyarsk, and from there down the Yenisei to Turukhansk,

    where he began his geothermic observations by drilling three test

    pits 8.17, 13.65 and 9.9 meters deep. He did not find permafrozen

    soil there and encountered only seasonal freezing. Proceeding

    further north down the Yenisei he reached the settlement of Dudinka

    and then turned east going into the tundra toward the Taimyr pen–

    insula. On his way he made another test pit 3.96 meters deep and

    there he found a true permafrost layer with a temperature of minus

    4.5 degrees C.

    003      |      Vol_XV-0521                                                                                                                  

            Traveling in the winter, Middendorf reached the Taimyr

    river and in the spring, as soon as the river was free from ice,

    he sailed on a crudely made boat across lake Taimyr and down the

    narrow part of the Taimyr river between the Byranga mountains to

    the river's mouth at the shores of the Arctic.

            On his way back he followed the course of the river up to

    the lake in the boat, but then winter set in and further progress

    by water was impossible. He sent his companions to find help and

    spent twenty days ill and half starved, all alone on the shore of

    the lake until a group of Samoyeds which his companions found brought

    the expedition back to the settlement.

            Early in 1844, after his return to Krasnoyarsk, Middendorf

    went to Yakutsk to study the permafrost in the Shergin well.

    This well had been made in 1827, when a local merchant, Shergin,

    in need of a water supply, had begun to dig for water. He began

    digging in permanently frozen ground, but when he reached a

    depth of 22.4 meters and failed to find water, he was ready to stop.

    However, some scientists suggested that he continue his work in

    the hopes of determining the thickness of the permanently frozen

    layer in Yakutsk. Ten years later, in 1837, the work was stopped,

    after a depth of 116.4 meters had been reached, still in the perma–

    frozen layer. The bottom of t his now famous Shergin well is located

    below the level of the Lena River in the Yakut region, and also

    several meters below sea level, since the altitude of Yakutsk is

    only 109 meters. However, the lower limits of the permafrozen

    mass had not been reached, and Shergin's work demonstrated that in

    the Yakutsk area there is permanently frozen ground which reaches

    004      |      Vol_XV-0522                                                                                                                  

    a depth below sea level.

            Middendorf took advantage of the existence of this deep

    well and organized the first detailed temperature observations

    of the layer of permafrozen ground. Test bores, seven feet deep ,✓

    were drilled perpendicularly into one of the pit walls at var–

    ious distances from the surface. Two thermometers attached to

    wooden [ ?] sticks were placed in each bore hole. The first

    thermometer was placed one foot from the wall surface, and served

    as the control thermometer; the second, the basic one, was placed

    seven feet into the wall. An enclosure containing a windlass was

    constructed at the surface and from there an observer lowered

    himself in a bucket, and at periodic intervals would stop at

    each bore hole, remove the stick, and record the temperature by

    the light of a lantern.

            These observations were conducted from two to five times

    a month for twenty-six months, with three interruptions of six

    months, two months , and a month. From the results of these obser-

    vations, Middendorf concluded that the temperature of the perma–

    frozen ground rises with depth. He also prepared a table of

    [ ?] geothermic gradients, and estimated the geothermic step at

    a depth of 100 feet. From this he estimated the probable thick–

    ness of the permafrost layer in Yakutsk to be 615 feet , excluding

    the active layer. He also made a series of temperature observa–

    tions in a number of shafts sunk into the ground in and around

    the city of Yakutsk.

            These observations and the series of important deductions

    made from them were published by Middendorf in 1848 in German.

    005      |      Vol_XV-0523                                                                                                                  

            His findings were widely publicized and generally accepted,

    but some scientists doubted the validity of his data, because

    the observations had not been continuous. However, Soviet

    scientists later confirmed Middendorf's conclusions on the basis

    of their subsequent work in and near Yakutsk. Thus, the science

    of permafrostology owes a great debt to the work of Middendorf.

            From Yakutsk Middendorf went south-east through Amginsk on

    the Amga river to the basin of the Uchura river, then across the

    Stanovoi mountain watershed, and then down the Uda river to the

    shores of the Okhotsk Sea , which he reached in June 1844. There

    he investigated the southern shore of the Okhotsk Sea and portions

    of the Shantar Islands.

            Turning almost directly south along the Tugur river he reached

    the basin of the Bureya river. Then, following the southern

    slopes of the Stanovoi mountains, he proceeded to the basin of

    the Zeia river, to the Amur, and through Nerchinsk and Kiakhta

    to K I rkutsk and returned to St. Petersburg in April 1845, after

    having covered a distance of about 30,000 kilometers.

            The full report of his expedition was published in German

    in four volumes (1848-1875) and parts of it in Russian (1860-1869).

    It contains valuable information on geology, geography, hydrography,

    botany, zoology, ethnography, meteorology, and climatology. One

    can find such diverse items as geology and geography of the

    Khatanga tundra, magnetic observations of the Far North, survey of

    old cartography and geography of Siberia, resum e é of the known

    facts on the finds of frozen mammoth, and numerous observations on

    006      |      Vol_XV-0524                                                                                                                  

    the life of the Samoyeds, Yakuts, Tungus, Goldi, and Orochons.

            In 1850 the Academy of Sciences conferred membership on

    him, and in 1855 he became its permanent secretary. He was a

    prominent member of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society

    and at one time held the position of Vice-President of that


            In 1870 he accompanied Prince Alexei Alexandrius to the

    White Sea where he studied the temperature of its waters, and to

    Novaya Zemlya, where he made important observations on the

    Gulf s S tream east of Nordcape North Cape and made trips to Southern Siberia,

    the Crimea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Caucasus, etc. Two capes,

    (in Karsk Sea on the Island of Novaya Zemlya, and on the peninsula

    Taimyr) as well as a mountain chain separating the northern

    plain of the left bank of the Kett river from the high plain near

    Lake Yesey, were named after him.

            In 1870 he published his observations on the Barabinsk

    region, the character of the steppe, soil, and dunes surrounding

    it, and the peculiar parallel character of the river valley, which

    led him to conclude that the Barabinsk steppe had only recently

    been the bottom of a sea.

            In his volume on Fergana, the result of a three month trip,

    Middendorf devoted a great deal of attention to problems of the

    origin of the loess, and gives facts and arguments in favor of its

    aeolian origin.

            He was the author of valuable contributions on present and

    extinct Russian fauna, physical geography, and agriculture.

    007      |      Vol_XV-0525                                                                                                                  

    His works include:

    1. Der Golfstrom Ostwarts vom Nord Kap in Peterman's Geogra–

    pische Mittheilingen (1871, No. 1 Bulletin, Vol. XV, and

    Zapiski Vol. XIX of the Academy of Sciences, 1871).

            Inadequate —

    not used

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