Kolyma, Russia, 1948-1997

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Location and Scale[edit]

The Kolyma water-balance station is located in the Tenkinsky district of the Magadan region of Russia within the Upper-Kolyma highland. During the period 1948 to 1997, the KWBS accumulated a large amount of data on hydro-meteorological and special observations of a unique duration (40-50 years) that characterize the natural setting, which, on the one hand, are nearly ungauged, and on the other hand, are representative of the vast territory of North-East Russia and to some extent of other alpine cold-climate areas in Europe and North America.

The station’s territory – the Kontaktovy Creek catchment with area 21.3 km2 – is a part of the Pravy Itrikan River which flows into the Kulu River basin, which is the right tributary of the Kolyma River. Runoff observations were carried out at 10 catchments with the other scales: the creek Kontaktovy (the gauges Verkhny, Sredny, Nizhny), brooks Morozova, Yuzhny, Vstrecha, Vstrecha (the mouth), Dozhdemerny, Severny, Ugroza.

alt Observation sites and view of the Kolyma basin


1948 - 1997

At the KWBS there were 10 hydrological gauges at catchments ranging between 0.27 and 21.3 km2, two meteorological plots, 55 (in total) precipitation gauges, over 30 frost tubes (cryopedometers), several groundwater wells, evaporation, water-balance and runoff plots. In addition, regular snow surveys were conducted, as well as experimental investigations of specific hydrological and permafrost processes. The data include 12 elements:

1. daily precipitation time series at different gauges within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1948-1997;

2. daily runoff time series at different gauges within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1948-1997;

3. evaporation time series at different sites within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1950-1997;

4. meteorological observations at different sites within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1948-1997;

5. monthly precipitation time series at different gauges within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1948-1997;

6. precipitation (10 day sum) time series at different gauges within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1962-1997;

7. precipitation (5 day sum) time series at different gauges within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1966-1997;

8. snow survey line characteristics within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1959-1997;

9. snow survey time series at different sites within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1950-1997;

10. soil temperature time series at the Nizhnyaya meteorological station within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1974-1981;

11. thaw depth and snow height time series at different sites within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1954-1997;

12. evaporation time series from snow within Kolyma Water-Balance Station (KWBS), 1968-1992.


Characteristics of Kolyma Basins

Kolyma Table .jpg


The climate of the area is severely continental with harsh long winters and short but warm summers. Average annual temperature at the Nizhnyaya meteorological plot during 1949-1996 is -11.3 °C. Mean monthly temperature in January was -33.6 °С, in July +13.2 °С (Fig. 3-4). The absolute minimum daily temperature of -53.0 °С was registered in 1982 and the absolute maximum daily temperature was +22.8 °С (1988). Air temperature inversions are observed at the KWBS. In December air temperature gradient reaches +2.0, in May it accounts for -0.5°С (100 m)-1 respectively.

Precipitation in the 1949-1997 period varied from 229 (1991) to 474 (1990) mm per year with mean value of 342 mm. Maximum and minimum amount of precipitation is observed in July and March and account for 71 and 7 mm respectively. Snow cover at KWBS is formed in the first weeks of October, and melts in the third week of May. Mean, maximum and minimum observed snow water equivalent (SWE) before spring freshet accounted for 121, 213 (1985) and 59 (1964) mm respectively in the 1960-1997 period.

Rain Station #2, 1959
Snow Survey in the Kolyma Basin ~1960


The station is located in the continuous permafrost zone. Permafrost thickness varies from 120 to 210 m in valleys and can reach 300-400 m in highlands, following the relief. Seasonal soil thaw depth depends on slope exposition, altitude and landscape and changes from 0.2-0.8 m on north-facing slopes to 1.5-3.0 m on south-facing ones.


KWBS is characterized by a mountain landscape, typical for the upper reaches of the Kolyma River. The territory of the basin is severely cut up with creek valleys. These valleys are narrow, with steep slopes, and watershed lines are mostly well delineated. Absolute elevations of the basin range between 823 m a.s.l. near the Kontaktovy Creek outlet and 1700 m a.s.l. at watershed divides. The length of the creek is 8.9 km. The catchment is extended in the latitudinal direction and has an asymmetric shape. The slopes of the catchment area have mainly southern exposure (53% of the slope area), the slopes of the northern and eastern exposure have a 24% share, the western – 23%. The density of river network in the basin is 2.5 km per square km. The main river canal is meandering. The steepness of the slopes ranges from 200 to 800‰.

Vegetation / Land Use[edit]

KWBS is situated in the transitional zone between forest-tundra and coniferous taiga. Soil types vary from stony-rock debris to clayey podzol with partially decayed organic material underlain by frozen soil and bedrock. Most of the KWBS area is covered by rocky talus, practically without vegetation (34%). Dwarf cedar and alder shrubs are common at south-facing slopes and cover about 27% of the territory. Larch sparse woodland with moss-lichen cover is typical for steep north-facing slopes (12%). Open terrain larch wood (15%) and swampy sparse growth forest with minimal permafrost thaw depth, constant excessive stagnant moisturizing, tussock or knobby microrelief (12%) characterize creek valleys.


The Kolyma water balance station (KWBS) was established on October 15, 1947 and was initially known as the Itrikanskaya runoff station of the Dalstroy (Far North Construction Trust organized in 1931) Hydrometeorological Service. In 1948-1956 and 1957-1969 it was called the Kulinskaya and the Kolyma runoff station respectively. The primary goal of this station was studying runoff formation processes in small river catchments in mountain permafrost landscapes, typical for northeast USSR.

As soon as May, 1948, the first runoff observations at the Kontaktovy Сreeks and Vstrecha brook were launched, as well as regular observations at the Nizhnyaya weather station (850 m a.s.l.). A few months later, on September 1, 1948, observations at the Verkhnyaya weather station (1220 m a.s.l.) were started. In 1948, stage gauges Sredny, Nizhny and Vstrecha were equipped with automatic water level recorders, gauging footbridges and flumes.

During the period 1949-1957, at the Vstrecha brook catchment, a rain-gauge network was organized. Runoff gauges at the Severny, Dozhdemerny, Vstrecha brooks were equipped with various hydrometric facilities. Observations on soil, water and snow evaporation, soil freezing and thawing commenced, as well as experimental observations at a runoff plot. At the end of the 1940s and early 1950s, technical staff of the station were mainly former convicts. During the first few years, the workers of the station built houses for themselves, collected firewood and organized the household. The winter of 1955-56 appeared to be especially severe for the staff, since due to the deep snow cover it was difficult to move around the territory of KWBS, there was no transport connection with the Tenkinskaya highway, delivering of firewood, needed for heating houses and service buildings, was also difficult. When it was impossible to get to the highway by car, bread and mail were delivered from the Kulu village settlement utilizing horses once every 7-10 days.

Twenty to twenty-five staff members were accommodated in three small huts, hardly suitable for living. That winter they mainly had to collect and prepare firewood in the afternoon; in the morning everybody had to go (despite their rank or position) in deep snow and at -50°С to the nearest small river valley looking for firewood, then they pulled it back home, where they were firing furnaces. Only by the time it got dark, it became warm enough to stay in the work-room and they could start observation data processing.

The working day lasted till 10 or 11 p.m. Since there was no electricity, they used kerosene lamps filled with a mixture of petrol and salt. In summer 1956 there were only 13 people left at the station, some of them were taken to help with haymaking to prepare hay for their subsidiary holding that consisted of two cows and a horse (as recollected by the Chief of the station V.G. Osipov, the hydrologist-technician A.I. Ipatieva, Informational letter…, 1988).

In 1957 the station was handed over to the jurisdiction of the Kolyma Hydro-meteorological service administration, and in 1958 it was partially connected to electricity. At that time there were active steps taken toward fitting out the station with new types of devices and equipment, engaging new specialists in hydro-meteorology, and building accommodation facilities.

In 1960 runoff observations at the Yuzhny brook were begun, rationalization of the precipitation network was continued, and radio rain gauges were installed.

In 1963 two new water-balance sites (##2 and 3) were organized.

In 1968 runoff measurements were started at the unique research object, at the Morozova brook catchment, which has no vegetation cover and is composed of rocky talus.

In 1969 the Kolyma runoff station was renamed into the Kolyma Water Balance station (KWBS). In these years there was a transition to broad experimental water balance observations of all of its elements and to an enhanced technical level of research.

Since 1970, the KWBS carried out snowpack observations at avalanche sites of the Tenkinskaya road, as well as stratigraphy, temperature and physical and mechanical properties of snow at four sites. Since 1980 there were introduced additional observations on dynamics of icing formation at the Kontaktovy creek. In 1982 observations on soil moisture were started at 3 agro-hydrological sites at the fields of the «Kulu» state farm.

In 1976 the station hosted a delegation of USA scientists. They highly praised the professional and personal qualities of the station’s staff members, their commitment, on which extensive field studies and theoretical works were based, despite the equipment being rather simple and living conditions extreme. According to Slaughter and Bilello (1977), the data recorded at the KWBS, were unique and unprecedented for world practice.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the research program at the station has been gradually cutting back. After 1997, water balance observations at the KWBS were ceased. One weather station and five runoff gauges functioned at the KWBS up to mid of June, 2013, when an extreme flash flood destroyed four level gauges. Nowadays only standard observations are conducted at the Nizhnyaya meteorological site and at the Kontaktovy (Nizhny) runoff gauge.

Hydrological Knowledge Gained[edit]

The dataset from KWBS is important because it characterizes the natural settings, which, on the one hand, are nearly ungauged, and on the other hand, are representative for the vast mountainous territory of Eastern Siberia and North-East Russia. It is unique because it combines water balance, hydrological and permafrost data which allow for studying permafrost hydrology interaction processes within the range of all scientific issues, from models development to climate change impacts research. Observation results were reflected in more than 250 publications, dedicated to different aspects of runoff formation in the continuous permafrost region, active layer dynamics, underlying surface structure and its influence on hydrological processes. Based on the KWBS materials, the following research was carried out:

  • water balance formation (Boyarintsev, 1980; Boyarintsev, Gopchenko, 1992; Kuznetsov et al., 1969; Suchansky, 2002; Zhuravin, 2004; Lebedeva et al., 2017),
  • peak and spring flood runoff in small rivers in the permafrost zone (Boyarintsev, 1988),
  • base flow (Boyarintsev, Nikolaev, 1986; Glotov, 2002),
  • principles of runoff cryo-regulation (Alekseev et al., 2011),
  • ice content dynamics of rocky talus deposits (Bantsekina, 2001),
  • processes of intra-ground condensation (Reinyuk, 1959; Bantsekina et al., 2009; Boyarintsev et al., 1991),
  • floodplain taliks in continuous permafrost (Mikhaylov, 2013) and many others.

Collected data were also used for development and testing different geoscience models of:

  • runoff formation (Gusev et al., 2006; Kuchment et al., 2000; Vinogradov et al., 2015; Lebedeva et al., 2015; Semenova et al., 2013),
  • climatic aspects (Shmakin, 1998),
  • land surface and vegetation dynamics (Tikhmenev, 2008).


Reference Material[edit]

Alexeev V.P., Boyarintsev Ye.L., Gopchenko Ye.D., Serbov N.G., Zavaliy N.V. (2011) The mechanism of cryogenic runoff control at the formation of water balance of small mountain rivers in the area of permafrost rocks. Ukrainian hydrometeorological Journal, 8, 182-194 (in Russian).

Bantsekina TV. (2003) Peculiarities of hydrothermal regime of seasonal thawing layer in coarsely clastic rocks during spring summer period (with an example of Upper Kolyma highland). PhD thesis, Melnikov Permafrost Institute, Yakutsk, 137pp (in Russian).

Bantsekina T.V. (2002) Temperature regime and dynamics of icing of coarse-grained slope deposits without filling during spring-summer period (case study of the Kontaktovy creek). Kolyma, 4, 9-13. (in Russian)

Bantsekina T.V. (2001) Dynamics of coarse-grained slope deposits icing during spring thawing. Kolyma, 2, 28-31 (in Russian).

Bantsekina, TV, Mikhailov, V.M. (2009) To the assessment of the role of intra-soil condensation of water vapor in the formation of the thermal and water regimes of large sediments, Earth’s Cryosphere, XIII, 1, 40-45

Boyarintsev, E.L (1980) Estimation of the losses of spring floods in the Upper Kolyma basin, Meteorology, Climatology and Hydrology, 16, 19-24.

Boyarintsev E.L. (1988) Azonal factors of rainfall runoff formation in the territory of Kolyma WBS. Proceedings DVNIGMI, 135, 67-93, (in Russian).

Boyarintsev E.L., Gopchenko E.D., Serbs N.G., Legostaev G.P. (1991) Concerning the condensation of air vapors in the active layer of permafrost. M., Dep. in the IC VNIIGMI-WDC 16.01.91, 1046 GM 91. P. 17, (in Russian).

Boyarintsev E.L., Gopchenko E.D. et al. (1992) Summer period water balance of small mountain catchments of the permafrost and its calculation. Meteorology, climatology and hydrology, 27, 105-116.

Boyarintsev E.L., Nikolaev S.N. (1986) Groundwater runoff from small watersheds of permafrost zone // Materials of scientific. Conf. on the problems of hydrology of the rivers of the BAM zone and the Far East. L, Gidrometeoizdat, 297-307 (in Russian).

Boyarintsev E.L., Serbov N.G., Popova N.I. (2006) Formation of the water balance of the spring floods of the small mountain watersheds of Upper Kolyma (based on materials from the Kolyma Water-Balance Station) - Bulletin of the North-Eastern Scientific Center, Far-Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 4, 12-19 (in Russian).

Glotov V.E. (2002) Ground water of the Kontaktovy Creek watershed as a factor of general drainage system formation. In: Glotov V, Ukhov N (eds.) Factors affecting the formation of a general drainage system of minor mountain rivers in sub-arctic areas. SVKNII DVO RAN. Magadan, 102-141 (in Russian).

Gusev E.M., Nasonova O.N., Dzhogan L.Ya. (2006) The Simulation of Runoff from Small Catchments in the Permafrost Zone by the SWAP Model. Water Resources, 33, 2, 133-145. Informational letter #2 (1988) 40 years anniversary of the Kolyma Water Balance Station. Kolymskiy Territorial Office on Hydrometeorology, Magadan (in Russian).

Korolev, Yu. B. (1984) Mapping of the vegetation cover in connection with an assessment of its hydrological role (by the example of the Upper Kolyma). PhD thesis for candidate of biological science, Magadan University, Yakutia, 231 p. (in Russian)

Kuchment L.S., Gelfan A.N., Demidov A.I. (2000) A Model of Runoff Formation on Watersheds in the Permafrost Zone: Case Study of the Upper Kolyma River. Water Resources, 27, 4, 435-444.

Kuznetsov A.S., Nasibulin S.S., Ipatieva A.I. (1969) The first results of the study of water balance on the rivers of the Upper Kolyma basin // Collection of works of the Magadan Hydrometeorological Observatory, 2, Magadan, 98-121, (in Russian).

Laudon H, Spence C, Buttle J, Carey SK, McDonnell JJ, McNamara JP, Soulsby C, Tetzlaff D. (2017) Saving northern high-latitude catchments. Nature Geoscience, 10, 324-325. doi: 10.1038/ngeo2947.

Lebedeva L.S., Semenova O.M., Vinogradova T.A. (2015) Hydrological modeling: seasonal thaw depths in different landscapes of the Kolyma Water Balance Station (Part 2). Earth’s Cryosphere, XIX, 2, 35-44.

Lebedeva L.S., Makarieva O.M., Vinogradova T.A. (2017) Spatial variability of the water balance elements in mountain catchments in the North-East Russia (case study of the Kolyma Water Balance Station). Meteorology and Hydrology, 4, 90-101 (in Russian).

Mikhaylov V.M. (2013) Floodplain taliks of North-East of Russia. Novosibirsk, “Geo”, 244 p. (in Russian) Observation Reports. Kolyma Water Balance Station, 1948–1997. Issues 1–40, 1959–1998, Kolyma UGKS, Magadan (in Russian)

Semenova, O., Lebedeva, L., Vinogradov, Yu., (2013) Simulation of subsurface heat and water dynamics, and runoff generation in mountainous permafrost conditions, in the Upper Kolyma River basin, Russia. Hydrogeol. J. 21 (1), 107–119, doi:10.1007/s10040-012-0936-1

Shmakin, A.B. (1998) The updated version of SPONSOR land surface scheme: PILPS influenced improvements. Glob. Plan. Change, 19, 49-62.

Slaugher C.W., Billelo M.A. (1977) Kolyma Water Balance Station, Magadan oblast, Northeast U.S.S.R.: United Station - Soviet Scientific Exchange Visit, Special Report 77-155, Army Gold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. Hanover, 66.

Sushansky S.I. (1999) Peculiarities of water balance elements in the Morozova Creek catchment. Kolyma, 1, 33-40 (in Russian).

Sushansky S.I. (2002) History of creation, methods, objects and some results of studies in the Kolyma water balance station. In: Glotov V, Ukhov N (eds.) Factors affecting the formation of a general drainage system of minor mountain rivers in sub-arctic areas. SVKNII DVO RAN: Magadan, 18-35.

Tikhmenev P.Ye. (2008) Peculiarities of succession process in disturbed lands of the Kolyma river basin. Natural-resources potential, ecology and sustainable development of Russian regions: Collected works VI International scientific-practical Conf. Penza: PGAU, 273-275.

Vinogradov, Yu.B., Semenova, O.M., Vinogradova, T.A. (2015) Hydrological modeling: heat dynamics in a soil profile (Part 1). Earth’s Cryosphere (Kriosfera Zemli) XIX (1), 11–21. Zhuravin S. (2004) Features of water balance for small mountainous basins in East Siberia: Kolyma Water Balance Station case study. IAHS Publ 290, IAHS, Wallingford, UK, 28–40.


All data are available from the “PANGAEA. Data Publisher for Earth & Environmental Science” (see Makarieva et al., 2017).

Makarieva, O., Nesterova, N., Lebedeva, L., and Sushansky, S.: Water balance and hydrology research in a mountainous permafrost watershed in upland streams of the Kolyma River, Russia: a database from the Kolyma Water-Balance Station, 1948–1997, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 10, 689-710, https://doi.org/10.5194/essd-10-689-2018, 2018.