Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Reaping the ice "harvest"

Why do the polar regions stock up on ice for the winter if it's everywhere?

6 december 2022

At the beginning of winter, when the rivers of Yakutia are covered with 20–25 cm thick ice, we can observe a strange phenomenon. Men go out on the ice, clear it of snow and draw same-sized rectangles on it. Then they cut out chunks of ice, take them out, load them into vehicles and take them home. For someone who has never lived in the Arctic, the reasoning behind this process will remain a mystery: Why stock up on ice when everything around is covered with snow and ice almost all year round?

The distances in the Arctic are enormous, with polar settlements sometimes separated by hundreds or even thousands of kilometres. There is no centralised water supply system, as laying water pipes would be too expensive. Even bringing in drinking water is unprofitable, as delivery costs would make it ridiculously pricey. For this reason, people in remote villages have to make sure they always have enough water.


Meltwater is believed to have beneficial effects on the human body at the cellular level. It is also much tastier than ordinary water. Even someone who doesn't possess a refined taste can feel the difference.

The indigenous peoples of the North have long come to appreciate the taste and health benefits of meltwater, which is why they stock up on ice every autumn despite it being very hard work that can only be done by men. Not to mention that they have to work in freezing cold, with temperatures potentially dropping as low as -55°C.

Experienced "ice harvest" collectors opt for blue rather than green ice because it contains less salt and is better for the human body. They also prefer to cut the ice the old-fashioned way: with hand saws rather than gasoline-powered ones. It's harder, but the meltwater won't smell of gasoline. Hence the centuries-old traditional way of cutting ice is still alive in the 21st century.

The ice cubes carved from the rivers are stored in special sheds or under canopies outside. There is no risk that the ice stocks will melt, as winter temperatures in the Arctic are much lower than in the best freezer, and there are no thaws. As summer draws near and it gets warmer, the remaining ice is moved to special cellars cut out in the permafrost. In Yakutia, they are called "boulouusi." This way, people have enough drinking water until the next ice cube harvesting season.

A family of four or five northerners usually consumes three truckloads of ice, 3.5 m3 each, per season. Those who can't harvest ice themselves can buy it. They sell transparent ice blocks in the Arctic as they do firewood or hay for the winter in the southern regions.


This year, due to the mobilisation, the ice procurement will be performed by the local authorities. For example, employees of the Prigorodny village administration in Yakutia personally carved ice cubes from the river and delivered them free of charge to the families of the mobilised men.

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