Siberia (//; Russian: Сиби́рь, tr. Sibir'; IPA: [sʲɪˈbʲirʲ] ( listen)) is an extensive geographical region constituting almost all of North Asia. Comprising the central and eastern portion of the Russian Federation, Siberia was part of the Soviet Union (USSR) from its beginning, as of its predecessor states, the Tsardom of Russia and the Russian Empire since the 16th century.
The territory of Siberia extends eastward from the Ural Mountains to the watershed between the Pacific and Arctic drainage basins. Siberia stretches southward from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan, then to the national borders of Mongolia and China. Siberia makes up about 77% of Russia's territory (13.1 million square kilometres), but is home to only 28% (40 million people) of Russia's population.
The Siberian Traps were formed by one of the largest known volcanic events of the last 500 million years of Earth's geological history. These continued for a million years and are considered the likely cause of the "Great Dying" about 250 million years ago, which is estimated to have killed 90% of species existing at the time.
Siberia was occupied by different groups of nomads such as the Yenets, the Nenets, the Huns, the Iranian Scythians and the Turkic Uyghurs. The Khan of Sibir in the vicinity of modern Tobolsk was known as a prominent figure who endorsed Kubrat as Khagan in Avaria in 630. The Mongols conquered a large part of this area early in the 13th century. With the breakup of the Golden Horde, the autonomous Siberia Khanate was established in late 14th century. The Yakuts migrated north from their original area of settlement in the vicinity of Lake Baikal under the pressure of the Mongol expansion during the 13th to 15th century.
The growing power of Russia in the West began to undermine the Siberian Khanate in the 16th century. First, groups of traders and Cossacks began to enter the area, and then the Russian army began to set up forts further and further East. Towns like Mangazeya, Tara, Yeniseysk and Tobolsk sprang up, the last being declared the capital of Siberia. At this time, Sibir was the name of a fortress at Qashlik, near Tobolsk. Gerardus Mercator in a map published in 1595 marks Sibier both as the name of a settlement and of the surrounding territory along a left tributary of the Ob. Other sources contend that the Xibe, an indigenous Tungusic people often such fierce resistance to Russian expansion beyond the Urals, that Siberia is a Russfication of their ethonym.
Siberia remained a sparsely populated area. Little documentation of those times exists. During the following few centuries, only a few exploratory missions and traders entered Siberia, one example being the expedition of the German naturalist, physician and explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller 1738-1742. The other group that was sent to Siberia consisted of prisoners exiled from Western Russia or territories held by Russia, like Poland (see katorga). In the 19th century, around 1.2 million prisoners had been sent to Siberia.
The first great modern change in Siberia was the Trans-Siberian Railway, constructed during 1891–1916. It linked Siberia more closely to the rapidly industrialising Russia of Nicholas II. From 1801 to 1914, an estimated seven million settlers moved from European Russia to Siberia, 85% during the quarter-century before World War I. From 1859 to 1917, over half a million people moved to the Russian Far East. Siberia is filled with natural resources. During the 20th century, large-scale exploitation of these was developed, and industrial towns cropped up throughout the region.
At 7:15 A.M., on June 30, 1908, millions of trees were downed near the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in central Siberia in the Tunguska Event, by what scientists believe was the sonic boom of an meteroid or a comet. Even though no crater was ever found, the landscape still bears the scars of that event.
In times when the Soviet Union still existed, the earlier katorga system of penal labour camps was replaced by a new one that was controlled by the GULAG state agency. According to official Soviet estimates, more than 14 million people passed through the Gulag from 1929 to 1953, with a further seven to eight million being deported and exiled to remote areas of the Soviet Union (including entire nationalities in several cases). 516,841 prisoners died in camps from 1941 to 1943 due to food shortages caused by World War II. At other periods, mortality was comparatively lower. The size, scope, and scale of the GULAG slave labour camp remains a subject of much research and debate. For example, Australian professor Stephen Wheatcroft argues that these penal camps were neither as large nor as deadly as is often claimed. Many Gulag camps were positioned in extremely remote areas of north-eastern Siberia. The best known clusters are Sevvostlag (The North-East Camps) along the Kolyma River and Norillag near Norilsk, where 69,000 prisoners were kept in 1952. Major industrial cities of Northern Siberia, such as Norilsk and Magadan, were originally camps built by prisoners and run by ex-prisoners.
With an area of 13.1 million km² (5.1 million square miles), Siberia takes up roughly 77% of Russia's total territory. Major geographical zones include the West Siberian Plain and the Central Siberian Plateau. Siberia covers almost 10% of Earth's land surface (148,940,000 km²).
Eastern and central Sakha comprise numerous North-South mountain ranges of various ages. These mountains extend up to almost three thousand meters in elevation, but above a few hundred meters they are almost completely devoid of vegetation. The Verkhoyansk Range was extensively glaciated in the Pleistocene, but the climate was too dry for glaciation to extend to low elevations. At these low elevations are numerous valleys, many of them deep, and covered with larch forest, except in the extreme North, where the tundra dominates. Soils are mainly turbels. The active layer tends to be less than one meter deep, except near rivers.
Lakes and rivers
The West Siberian Plain consists mostly of Cenozoic alluvial deposits and is somewhat flat. Many deposits on this plain result from ice dams. The flow of the Ob and Yenisei Rivers was reversed, so they were redirected into the Caspian Sea (perhaps the Aral as well). The area is very swampy and soils are mostly peaty Histosols and, in the treeless northern part, Histels. In the south of the plain, where permafrost is largely absent, rich grasslands that are an extension of the Kazakh Steppe formed the original vegetation - most of it is not visible anymore.
The Central Siberian Plateau is an extremely ancient craton (sometimes named Angaraland) that formed an independent continent before the Permian (see Siberia (continent)). It is exceptionally rich in minerals, containing large deposits of gold, diamonds, and ores of manganese, lead, zinc, nickel, cobalt and molybdenum. Much of the area includes the Siberian Traps which is a large igneous province. The massive eruptive period was approximately coincident with the Permian–Triassic extinction event. The volcanic event is said to be the largest known volcanic eruption in Earth's history. Only the extreme northwest was glaciated during the Quaternary, but almost all is under exceptionally deep permafrost and the only tree that can thrive, despite the warm summers, is the deciduous Siberian Larch (Larix sibirica) with its very shallow roots. Outside the extreme northwest, the taiga is dominant; in fact, taiga covers a significant fraction of the entirety of Siberia. Soils here are mainly Turbels, giving way to Spodosols where the active layer becomes thicker and the ice content lower.
polar desert tundra alpine tundra taiga montane forest
|Vegetation in Siberia is mostly taiga, with a tundra belt on the northern fringe, and a temperate forest zone in the south.|
The climate of Siberia varies dramatically. On the north coast, north of the Arctic Circle, there is a very short (about one-month-long) summer.
Almost all the population lives in the south, along the Trans-Siberian Railway. The climate in this southernmost part is Humid continental climate (Köppen Dfb) with cold winters but fairly warm summers lasting at least four months. Annual average is about 0.5 °C (32.9 °F), January averages about −15 °C (5 °F) and July about +19 °C (66 °F), while daytime temperatures in summer typically are above 20 °C. With a reliable growing season, an abundance of sunshine and exceedingly fertile chernozem soils, Southern Siberia is good enough for profitable agriculture, as was proven in the early twentieth century.
By far the most commonly occurring climate in Siberia is continental subarctic (Koppen Dfc or Dwc), with the annual average temperature about −5 °C (23 °F) and roughly −25 °C (−13 °F) average in January and +17 °C (63 °F) in July, although this varies considerably, with July average about 10 °C in the taiga–tundra ecotone.
Southwesterly winds bring warm air from Central Asia and the Middle East. The climate in West Siberia (Omsk, Novosibirsk) is several degrees warmer than in the East (Irkutsk, Chita), where in the north an extreme winter subarctic climate (Köppen Dfd or Dwd) prevails. With the lowest recorded temperature of −71.2 °C (−96.2 °F), Oymyakon (Sakha Republic) has the distinction of being the coldest city on Earth. But summer temperatures in other regions can reach +38 °C (100 °F). In general, Sakha is the coldest Siberian region, and the basin of the Yana River has the lowest temperatures of all, with permafrost reaching 1,493 metres (4,898 ft). Nevertheless, as far as Imperial Russian plans of settlement were concerned, cold was never viewed as an issue. In the winter, southern Siberia sits near the center of the semi-permanent Siberian High, so winds are usually light in the winter.
Precipitation in Siberia is generally low, exceeding 500 millimeters (20 in) only in Kamchatka where moist winds flow from the Sea of Okhotsk onto high mountains – producing the region's only major glaciers, though volcanic eruptions and low summer temperatures allow limited forests to grow. Precipitation is high also in most of Primorye in the extreme south where monsoonal influences can produce quite heavy summer rainfall.
|Climate data for Novosibirsk, Siberia's largest city|
|Average high °C (°F)||−12.2
|Daily mean °C (°F)||−16.2
|Average low °C (°F)||−20.1
|Precipitation mm (inches)||19
Researchers, including Sergei Kirpotin at Tomsk State University and Judith Marquand at Oxford University, warn that Western Siberia has begun to thaw as a result of global warming. The frozen peat bogs in this region may hold billions of tons of methane gas, which may be released into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas 22 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. In 2008, a research expedition for the American Geophysical Union detected levels of methane up to 100 times above normal in the Siberian Arctic, likely being released by methane clathrates being released by holes in a frozen 'lid' of seabed permafrost, around the outfall of the Lena River and the area between the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea.
Borders and administrative division
The term "Siberia" has a long history. Its meaning has gradually changed during ages. Historically, Siberia was defined as the whole part of Russia to the east of Ural Mountains, including the Russian Far East. According to this definition, Siberia extended eastward from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific coast, and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the border of Russian Central Asia and the national borders of both Mongolia and China.
Soviet-era sources (Great Soviet Encyclopedia and others) and modern Russian ones usually define Siberia as a region extending eastward from the Ural Mountains to the watershed between Pacific and Arctic drainage basins, and southward from the Arctic Ocean to the hills of north-central Kazakhstan and the national borders of both Mongolia and China. By this definition, Siberia includes the federal subjects of the Siberian Federal District, and some of the Urals Federal District, as well as Sakha (Yakutia) Republic, which is a part of the Far Eastern Federal District. Geographically, this definition includes subdivisions of several other subjects of Urals and Far Eastern federal districts, but they are not included administratively. This definition excludes Sverdlovsk Oblast and Chelyabinsk Oblast, both of which are included in some wider definitions of Siberia.
Other sources may use either a somewhat wider definition that states the Pacific coast, not the watershed, is the eastern boundary (thus including the whole Russian Far East) or a somewhat narrower one that limits Siberia to the Siberian Federal District (thus excluding all subjects of other districts). In Russian, the word for Siberia is never used as a substitute for the name of the federal district.
The most populous city of Siberia, as well as the third most populous city of Russia, is the city of Novosibirsk. Other major cities include:
If the wider definitions of Siberia were to be used, the following would also be included:
Siberia is extraordinarily rich in minerals, containing ores of almost all economically valuable metals—largely because of the absence of Quaternary glaciation outside highland areas. It has some of the world's largest deposits of nickel, gold, lead, coal, molybdenum, gypsum, diamonds, diopside, silver and zinc, as well as extensive unexploited resources of oil and natural gas. The Khanty-Mansiysk region is home to 70% of Russia's developed oil fields. Russia contains about 40% of the world's known resources of nickel at the Norilsk deposit in Siberia. Norilsk Nickel is the world's biggest nickel and palladium producer.
Siberian agriculture is severely restricted by the short growing season of most of the region. However, in the southwest where soils are exceedingly fertile black earths and the climate is a little more moderate, there is extensive cropping of wheat, barley, rye and potatoes, along with the grazing of large numbers of sheep and cattle. Elsewhere food production, owing to the poor fertility of the podzolic soils and the extremely short growing seasons, is restricted to the herding of reindeer in the tundra — which has been practiced by natives for over 10,000 years. Siberia has the world's largest forests. Timber remains an important source of revenue, even though many forests in the east have been logged much more rapidly than they are able to recover. The Sea of Okhotsk is one of the two or three richest fisheries in the world owing to its cold currents and very large tidal ranges, and thus Siberia produces over 10% of the world's annual fish catch, although fishing has declined somewhat since the collapse of the USSR.
According to the Russian Census of 2010, Siberian and Far Eastern Federal Districts, located entirely east of the Ural mountains, together have a population of ca 25.6 million. Tyumen and Kurgan Oblasts that are geographically in Siberia but administratively part of Urals Federal District together have a population of ca 4.3 million. Thus, the whole region of Asian Russia (or Siberia in the broadest usage of the term) is home to approximately 30 million people. It has a population density of about three people per square kilometer.
Most Siberians are Russians and Russified Ukrainians. There are approximately 400,000 Russified ethnic Germans living in Siberia. Mongol and Turkic groups such as Buryats, Tuvinians, Yakuts, and Siberian Tatars lived in Siberia originally, and descendants of these peoples still live there. The Buryats number 445,175, which makes them the largest ethnic minority group in Siberia. According to the 2002 census there are 443,852 Yakuts. Other ethnic groups include Kets, Evenks, Chukchis, Koryaks, Eskimos, and Yukaghirs.
About 70% of Siberia's people live in cities. Most people living in cities live in apartments. Many people also live in rural areas, in simple, spacious, log houses. Novosibirsk is the largest city in Siberia, with a population of about 1.5 million. Tobolsk, Tomsk, Tyumen, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and Omsk are the older, historical centers.
There are a variety of beliefs throughout Siberia, including Orthodox Christianity, other denominations of Christianity, Tibetan Buddhism and Islam. An estimated 70,000 Jews live in Siberia, and there is also the Jewish Autonomous Region. The predominant group is the Russian Orthodox Church.
Siberia is regarded as the locus classicus of shamanism and polytheism is popular. These native religions date back hundreds of years. The vast terrority of Siberia has many different local traditions of gods. These include: Ak Ana, Anapel, Bugady Musun, Kara Khan, Khaltesh-Anki, Kini'je, Ku'urkil, Nga, Nu'tenut, Numi-Torem, Numi-Turum, Pon, Pugu, Todote, Toko'yoto, Tomam, Xaya Iccita, Zonget. Places with sacred areas include Olkhon, an island in Lake Baikal.
Many cities in Siberia, such as Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, cannot be reached by road, as there are virtually none connecting from other major cities in Russia or Asia. The best way to tour Siberia is through the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Trans-Siberian Railway operates from Moscow in the West to Vladivostok in the East. Cities not near the railway are best reached by air or by the separate Baikal-Amur-Railway (BAM).
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- Media related to Siberia at Wikimedia Commons
- Siberia travel guide from Wikivoyage
- Novosibirsk: the center of Siberia