To Dig a Well (in Siberia)


  • Pey-Yi Chu Pomona College in Claremont, USA


In 1947, inhabitants of Yakutsk gained access to potable groundwater from below the permafrost layer for the first time. Owing to the presence of permafrost, Yakutsk had survived on limited water resources for centuries. Frozen earth cast doubt on the availability of groundwater and made exploratory digging difficult. The absence of wells had deleterious consequences for the health of the settled population. In the twentieth century, historical circumstances arose that redoubled efforts to develop sanitation infrastructure in Yakutsk. Establishing a reliable source of clean water in Yakutsk was a process of trial and error, with implications for environmental adaptation today.

Author Biography

Pey-Yi Chu , Pomona College in Claremont, USA

Pey-Yi Chu teaches history at Pomona College in Claremont, California. A historian of Russia and the Soviet Union, she received a BA from Stanford University and a PhD from Princeton University. Her writings on the history of the earth sciences have appeared in the journal Environmental History and the edited volume The Future of Nature. Currently, she is working to complete her book, The Life of Permafrost: A History of Frozen Earth in Russian and Soviet Science. She was a Carson Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in 2016.