Kolyma River

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Kolyma River
Debin Siberia.jpg
Debin through the morning mist over the Kolyma River, 8 September 2004
Mouth East Siberian Sea
Basin countries Russia
Length 2,129 km (1,323 mi)
Avg. discharge 3,800 m3/s (130,000 cu ft/s) (near mouth)
Basin area 644,000 km2 (249,000 sq mi)
Left tributaries Popovka, Yasachnaya, Syryanka, Ozhogina, Sededema
Right tributaries Buyunda, Balygychan, Sugoy, Korkodon, Beryozovka, Anyuy, Omolon

The Kolyma River (Russian: Колыма́; IPA: [kəlɨˈma]) is a river in northeastern Siberia, whose basin covers parts of the Sakha Republic, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, and Magadan Oblast of Russia. It begins at the confluence of the Kulu River and the Ayan Yuryakh River and empties into the Kolyma Gulf (Kolymskiy Zaliv) of the East Siberian Sea, a division of the Arctic Ocean, at 69°30′N 161°30′E / 69.500°N 161.500°E / 69.500; 161.500. The Kolyma is 2,129 kilometres (1,323 mi) long. The area of its basin is 644,000 square kilometres (249,000 sq mi).

The Kolyma is frozen to depths of several metres for about 250 days each year, becoming free of ice only in early June, until October.


In 1640 Dimitry Zyryan (also called Yarilo or Yerilo) went overland to the Indigirka. In 1641 he sailed down the Indigirka, went east and up the Alazeya. Here they heard of the Kolyma and met Chukchis for the first time. In 1643 he returned to the Indigirka, sent his yasak to Yakutsk and went back to the Alazeya. In 1645 he returned to the Lena where he met a party and learned that he had been appointed prekazshchik of the Kolyma. He returned east and died in early 1646. In the winter of 1641–42 Mikhail Stadukhin, accompanied by Semyon Dezhnyov, went overland to the upper Indigirka. He spent the next winter there, built boats and sailed down the Indigirka and east to the Alazeya where he met Zyryan. Zyryan and Dezhnyov stayed at the Alazeya, while Stadukhin went east, reaching the Kolyma in the summer of 1644. They built a zimovye, probably at Srednekolymsk and returned to Yakutsk in late 1645.[1]

In 1892–94 Baron Eduard Von Toll carried out geological surveys in the basin of the Kolyma (among other Far-eastern Siberian rivers) on behalf of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Barr, 1980). During one year and two days the expedition covered 25,000 kilometres (16,000 mi), of which 4,200 kilometres (2,600 mi) were up rivers, carrying out geodesic surveys en route.

The Kolyma is known for its Gulag labour camps and gold mining, both of which have been extensively documented since Joseph Stalin era Soviet archives opened. The river gives its title to a famous anthology about life in Gulag camps by Varlam Shalamov, The Kolyma Tales.

After the camps were closed, state subsidies, local industries and communication have dwindled to almost nothing. Many people have migrated, but those who remain in the area make a living by fishing and hunting.

In February 2012, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that scientists had grown plants from 30,000-year-old Silene stenophylla fruit, which was stored in squirrel burrows near the banks of the Kolyma river and preserved in permafrost.[2]


Settlements at the Kolyma river include (listed downstream) Sinegorye, Debin, Ust-Srednekan, Seymchan, Zyryanka, Srednekolymsk and Chersky.


The bridge at Debin

There is a hydropower plant at Sinegorye (Kolyma hydropower plant (ru)) in the upper part of the river. It provides most of the electricity to the region including Magadan. A new hydropower plant is under construction at Ust-Srednekan (Ust-Srednekan hydropower plant (ru)).

There are only a few bridges over the river, including at Ust-Srednekan, at Sinegorye and at Debin (which carries the Kolyma Highway).


In the last 75-kilometre (47 mi) stretch, the Kolyma divides into two large branches. There are many islands at the mouth of the Kolyma before it meets the East Siberian sea. The main ones are:

See also[edit]

The Kolyma article which provides additional information about the Gulag.


  1. ^ Lantzeff, George V., and Richard A. Pierce (1973). Eastward to Empire: Exploration and Conquest on the Russian Open Frontier, to 1750. Montreal: McGill-Queen's U.P. 
  2. ^ Black, Richard (February 20, 2012). "Ancient plants back to life after 30,000 frozen years". BBC News. 

General references[edit]

External links[edit]