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Siberia’s Cold Storage Ice Tunnels


The Yamal Peninsula in northwest Siberia stays covered in permafrost all throughout the year, and while the winters are chilly, summers are comparatively warm, at least by Siberian standards. So when a fish processing plant was built here in the mid 20th century, what was urgently needed was a cold storage facility where fish caught in the Arctic waters could be stored before they are processed, packed and exported to western Europe.


The processing plant was located in the village of Novy Port on the mouth of the Ob River. The village was founded in the 1920s as an interim coal bunkering port where vessels traversing the Northern Sea Route would stop and refuel. Once the fish processing plant was established, fishery became Novy Port’s main industry.


In the 1940s and 50s, a vast labyrinth of subterranean tunnels were dug into the frozen permafrost. Naturally cooled by the frozen soil all around, these tunnels were to be Novy Port’s cold storage. Known as Merzlotnik, Novy Port’s permafrost storage has been called the world’s largest natural refrigerator.


The tunnels run for more than a kilometer and has some 200 small side tunnels and caves where fish are stored. The average temperature inside is about –12 degree Centigrade, all year round. The total floor area is 7,000 square meters. The total capacity—some 2,000 tons of fish.


The tunnels were hewn out of the solid frozen ground by slave laborers forcibly exiled to Siberia during the reign of Stalin. It took ten years of pecking through the permafrost by pickaxes and other hand-held tools to build this natural freezer.


Fishery is no longer Novy Port’s main industry. Once oil and gas was discovered in the Yamal Peninsula, Novy Port quickly adapted itself to exporting oil instead. However, the cold storage is still functional and in use today. In 2008 this remarkable complex was awarded the status of a memorial of regional significance on the Yamal peninsula.






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