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Flooding on the Lena River, Russia
This page contains archived content and is no longer being updated. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science. However, more recent observations and studies may have rendered some content obsolete.
What a difference a week can make! This pair of true-color images
acquired by the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on
satellite show the spring thaw and resulting flooding of
the Lena River, a principal waterway of eastern Siberia. The first
image, acquired on May 22, 2001, shows the Lena as a mostly frozen,
white ribbon running north. An eastward flowing tributary, the Vilyuy,
also appears frozen. In the second image, taken only 8 days later, large
sections of the Lena, as well as the Vilyuy appear to be almost
completely thawed. The formerly white
ribbon of the river now appears decidedly brown, likely indicating
sediment churned up by high water.
The region is experiencing its worst flooding in one hundred years, with
hundreds of thousands of people being affected by the floodwaters that
have resulted from the melting of the snow pack accumulated over a
particularly harsh Siberian winter. Explosives are being detonated in
many places to dislodge huge blocks of ice that are backing up rivers
and exacerbating flooding.
The Lena River is one of the longest rivers in the world. It flows
northeast and then north from its source in the Baikal Mountains south
of the Central Siberian Plateau, and it empties into the Arctic Ocean
via the Laptev Sea. At the mouth of the Lena River is a delta that is
about 250 miles wide. The delta is frozen tundra for about 7 months of
the year, but spring transforms the region into a lush wetland for the
remainder of the year. Part of the area is protected as part of the Lena
Delta Wildlife Reserve.
Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team