Water, outside, not frozen – below -40°C. How?!

Our friend, the Far North – even in winter (and up there, in northern Yakutia, even March is winter). The extended winter of the North is a kingdom of eternal snow and ice, extreme cold, and endless white expanses. All the same – and you won’t believe this – you can find H2O in liquid form out in the crazy cold!

But… how on earth is that possible? How can you have liquid water when the temperature’s below -40 or even -50°C? Well, you can – we saw it for ourselves, and we even had a bathe in it (not on this Yakutia trip, but on our previous two – in Oymyakon in both 2021 and 2022).

First – a teaser. What’s this in the following photo? I’ll tell you near the end of this post. But for now, let me tell you more about naleds, aka aufeis, aka overflow, aka icings…

There are a number of reasons why water (as opposed to ice) can be found up here…

First, there a hot springs – lots of them. Here for example, under a stream that flows into the Indigirka ->

Of course, eventually that water will freeze, but before it does – when it’s really cold – it will emit steam ->

The steam contributes to hoarfrost forming on the surrounding vegetation and you get some magical sculpture-like results – like in the following pic of the Indigirka near Oymyakon. Which reminds me: it’s thought that the name Oymyakon comes from the Even for unfrozen stretch of water ->

And when there’s plenty of hot water being emitted, the steam spreads down the valley to give some unreal, fantastical displays – especially at dusk ->

The water expelled out of the hot springs, btw, is super-pure while containing plenty of healthy minerals. So, for example at the Shaman Stream, which flows under the Kolyma Highway, drivers stop and fill containers full of it! ->

The springs are the main source of drinking water here – and that went for us too; here we are filling our containers for the following day:

The springs feed into the Indigirka river a little lower than the Indigirka Tube. What’s interesting is that generally this river has a meter-thick layer of ice on top of it, yet here – the river water doesn’t even freeze! ->

Second, liquid H2O pours out from cracks in the ice in places. The process goes like this: water in rivers and streams freezes completely in places – as in from the water’s surface right down to the riverbed! However, upstream the water continues to flow – flowing under this massive block of ice. The water that creeps underneath the ice gradually increases in volume, the water eventually presses up against the ice from below, and sooner or later the ice breaks up, letting out the water as it does – giving us the previously-mentioned naleds:

Here’s one such emission of water on the Indigirka Tube (here) ->

These water emissions reminded me of volcanic lava flows; but I guess that’s to be expected: the physics of both phenomena is practically the same. The naleds in the following pic, btw are here. Why such detail? In case it may help someone on a naled mission one day! ->

In places, these patches of water cover large areas around their sources, producing some insane beauty. That’s why I’m showing these places on the map: the tourism potential is huge (if a little dangerous perhaps)!

Sometimes naleds stretch from river bank to river bank, for example on the Uyandina river, which carries the ice road up to Deputatsky village. We were lucky: the water had already frozen. If the naleds had still been being formed, we’d probably not have been able to continue; we’d have had to wait a few to several days until it froze over. Phew!

The ice here was soooo smooth – and super slippery; walking around on it was real tricky:

Still, even given the wind, our bottle wouldn’t budge. This ain’t Lake Baikal – which is even slicker

Another cool thing about naleds: since the water steams, there’s a thick coating of hoarfrost on everything nearby, producing some fantastic displays:

When the water does eventually freeze, it often does so while forming these here cumbersome blocks of ice:

And now for an explanation of what those mysterious objects were in the first pic of this post…

In the following photo, taken from a drone, you can see water being secreted out of some kind of ice-blister ->

Let’s place a vehicle next to it to better understand the dimensions. Yes – it’s big. Can you imagine the force it took to make solid ice heave up like that?! (Btw, in the background are the snow-covered mountains of the Moma Range).

You could drive up and over the mound, but we decided against it. What if it erupted? We drove past it – through the water:

These mounds are quite common round these parts:

The pressure of the water builds up, eventually breaking up the surface ice; water pours out, ices over, and later gets a sprinkling of snow. (This one reminded me of a sandworm in Dune.) ->

And what about this one? Simple: the process was the same as for the above one, only the water didn’t dribble out, it spewed out in an eruption – very much like a volcano erupts – leaving the middle all collapsed and just half of the crater’s wall left intact. To its right a few hundred meters and down a bit – you can see two other smaller mounds that haven’t erupted (you can also see our pick-ups toward the bottom of the pic) ->

Here’s this strange construction from a distance of a few hundred meters. It’s on the ice road on the Indigirka river (around 19 kilometers from Ust’-Nera) ->

We were able to get up close. Oh what a construction (or should that be “oh what a destruction”?!). The old mound had burst open and jettisoned large blocks of ice all around it. In the meantime a new mound is slowly building up beneath the ice-debris. I wonder if it will erupt this year?…

It must have been one mighty explosion too – just look how far some of the blocks of ice had been flung! ->

I’d say each block here weighs three to five tons given that they’re taller than an adult Homo sapiens and have a girth of around three or four meters! ->

The remains of the “crater” ->

We even climbed up onto the new mound, but it would occasionally emit loud cracking sounds – so we didn’t stay up there long ).

And what are those ridges on that hill over there? I’ll let you fathom that one out for yourselves ->

(Btw, these ice-wonders are to be found here.)

All very beautiful; but naleds have a dark side: look at the mischief they cause! ->

No – that’s not my video. I just hope the driver was ok. It was taken on the Indigirka Tube. And due to all that water we had to take a detour round it – on the “Arctic” winter road, requiring an extra night’s stopover in the village of Sasyr.

Here’s fresh-frozen naled-water – as smooth as silk. We wished we’d brought our ice skates! ->

Now you see the unfrozen water ->

Now you don’t ->

So there you have it folks: the unique naled phenomenon – at its most acute in the Indigirka Tube: the Beauty and the Beast and Blade Runner rolled into one…

The rest of the photos from our Yakutsk-Tiksi-Yakutsk expedition are here.

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