Roughly ten million square miles of polar sea ice surround the northern coastline of Volchok, which for six months of the year locks and becomes a continental ice sheet known as the Sealing Sea. In summer this mass is reduced to about 8 million square kilometers. The icy waters of the Sealing Sea extends south and eventually melts into the warmer climbs of the Western Sea on one side of Bratsk and the Chukchi on the other. Volchok’s northernmost landmass is covered by almost two million square miles of glaciers, ice and permafrost that extends beneath the surface to roughly three kilometers.
Deep snow blankets land near the Sealing Sea but barely covers the polar deserts of Volchok’s far north. Here, on patterned ground, musk ox scratch for fodder while foxes and wolves scavenge. Female white bears sleep and give birth in their snow lairs. Below the frozen soil are solid ice wedges and permafrost, deep and continuous in the northern sectors and less so further south. The ice covering the surface of deeper lakes, rivers and seas overlies water which is still above freezing while the air temperature is -50 C or below. Following a seasonal cycle, the sun rising above the horizon radiates northern Volchok, warming the air and causing the sea ice to thin and retreat. The snow and ice melt on land, rivers flood with melt water, and large volumes flow into the coastal waters lowering both the temperature and salinity. The sun’s radiation warms the surface vegetation and bare ground, raising temperatures above that of the air. The land bursts into colour almost overnight – partly because there is no night.
When the Sealing Sea disperses in spring, and the riverways and lakes are at their fullest, it is common to see salmon swimming in the rivers, where feasting bears group on the banks and fall asleep beneath the willow trees clustered there.
Like all ecosystems. Volchok’s is a single, integrated, dynamic ecosystem on a massive scale, driven by the sun. It grades into warmer southern regions of Bratsk and interacts with them. The freezing air mass brings cold air to Tal’dor and the Sakr in winter, but the winds from Tal’dor and the Sakr bring warmer air northwards in the spring and summer. And the wildlife responds. Mammals, birds and fish migrate in summer to feed and breed at the rich sea ice margins, coastal zones, estuaries and wetland, and then return South for the winter. Sea water cools as the currents bring it north and the cold fresh water from Volchok’s melting snow and ice adds to the great ocean ‘conveyer belt’ -the thermohaline circulation – which significantly affects the climate on land as well sea conditions.