The Eastern Arctic Seas Encyclopedia

2016 Edition
| Editors: Igor S. Zonn, Andrey G. Kostianoy, Aleksandr V. Semenov

Middendorf, Alexander Fyodorovich (1815–1894)

Reference work entry

Middendorf, Alexander Fyodorovich (1815–1894) – a Russian scientist, naturalist, and explorer and academician (1860), one of the greatest explorers of the Arctic Siberia and the Far East. In 1832, Middendorf graduated from high school. In 1837, he graduated from the Medical Faculty of the University of Dorpat, (today, University of Tartu, Estonia) where he became interested in zoology and other natural sciences, with the degree of Doctor of Medicine. To improve his knowledge, he worked for 2 years at the universities of Berlin, Breslau, Vienna, and Heidelberg under the direction of the greatest experts in the field of zoology, botany, geology, and ethnography. On his return from abroad in 1839, Middendorf was appointed assistant professor at Kiev University, Department of Zoology, where he lectured on zoology and ethnography. In 1840, during the summer holidays, he took part in the expedition to Novaya Zemlya. In 1842–1845, Middendorf headed the Siberian expedition of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which first examined the Taymyr Peninsula, and then passed through Yeniseisk to Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk to Yakutsk. During the expedition, the first information of the coastal biota of the high Arctic were received. In 1843, Middendorf began to research Taymyr. From the Dudinka (the lower reaches of the Yenisei River) across the Lake Pyasino and along the northern outskirts of the Putoran, he went to the river of Boganida to the lower reaches of the Khatanga to the Lake Taymyr and went down the eponymous river to the Gulf of Taymyr, whereby he again crossed the Taymyr Peninsula after K.P. Laptev, covering 1,500 km. In 1844, on the basis of observations of permafrost in a pit dug by merchant F. Shergin to the depth of 116 m, Middendorf laid the foundations of modern conceptions about the permafrost.

In April 1844, Middendorf left Yakutsk. In early June, the expedition reached the Udskiy fortress, built a canoe, and went down on it to the Sea of Okhotsk. They collected a rich zoological collection on the coast and in the coastal mountains and then went on a canoe along the coast. Upon reaching the Island of Big Shantar, they examined it and returned to the mainland. Having sent the collection to Yakutsk, Middendorf continued to survey the southern coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. Its results were so significant that it led to the creation of the Russian Geographic Society, which follow-up activity Middendorf was actively and directly involved in, strongly contributing to the organization of a number of scientific expeditions, including the expedition of Dietmar to Kamchatka and the Amur Region. In 1870, Middendorf accompanied the Grand Duke Alexei in the voyage in the North Atlantic, as well as in the Barents Sea near Novaya Zemlya on the corvette “Varyag,” where he conducted hydrological and meteorological observations. Regular hydrothermal measurements performed under the direction of Middendorf made it possible for the first time to identify the distribution of the northern branch of the warm North Atlantic Current to the east in the direction of Novaya Zemlya. This branch of the Current, named by Middendorf as the Nordkapp Warm Current, encountering an obstacle in the east (Novaya Zemlya), is divided into two branches, one of which through the Strait of Yugorskiy penetrates into the Kara Sea, and the other flows to the north along the western coast of Novaya Zemlya, without approaching them closer than 60 miles.

In 1878, Middendorf visited the Fergana Valley, having amassed a very large collection of actual materials about its nature. In 1883–1885, Middendorf led several expeditions to the northern half of the European part of Russia and Finland. Since 1845, Middendorf was a full member of the Russian Geographical Society and in 1861 was awarded the Konstantinovskaya Gold Medal of the Society; in 1865 he was elected an Honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences; in 1846, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal London Geographical Society and was elected an Honorary member of the Society for Geosciences in Berlin; and in 1862, Middendorf was elected an Honorary member of the Dorpat Society of Naturalists and in 1883, an Honorary member of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1885, Middendorf received a knighthood. In 1888, he was awarded the Gold Medal of Karl Ernst von Baer.

The first volume of the major summarizing work of Middendorf titled Journey to the North and East of Siberia was released in German in 1848. The Russian version was published only in 1860–1878. In 1852, Middendorf was elected an academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and undertook a series of scientific expeditions.

A bay in the Kara Sea, the coast of Khariton Laptev, a glacier on Rudolph Island, the Franz Josef Land in the Barents Sea, capes on Novaya Zemlya, and Taymyr Island in the Kara Sea are named after Middendorf.

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