Middendorf, Aleksandr Fedorovich

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[b. St. Petersburg, Russia, 6 August 1815; d. Khellenurme [now Estonian S.S.R.], 16 January 1894)


Middendorf graduated from the Third Petersburg Gymnasium, of which his father was director, and, in 1837, from Dorpat University with an M.D. For two years he studied zoology, botany, and geognosy at universities in Germany and Austria. In 1839 and 1840 he taught zoology at Kiev University. During the summer of 1839, he traveled to the Kola Peninsula with Karl Ernst von Baer.

In 1844 Middendorf completed a two-year journey to northern and eastern Siberia commissioned by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. In 1845 he was elected to membership in the Academy, and in 1852 he became its permanent secretary. A sharp decline in his health obliged Middendorf in 1865 to relinquish his post as academician, but he was retained as an honorary academician. Middendorf subsequently resided at his estate, Khellenurme, where he completed a multivolume account of his Siberian journey and also journeyed to the Baraba Steppe in Western Siberia, and to the Fergana Valley in Central Asia.

Middendorf gave a brilliant geographical description and an ecological and geographical analysis of the fauna of Siberia, in which he examined in detail the concept of species, the causes of changes of species, the adaptation of animals to their environment, and laws of the geographical distribution of animals, including the distribution of boreal species in a zone surrounding the pole. No less valuable is his description of the geographical distribution and ecological peculiarities of Siberia’s vegetation.

Two tasks had been assigned to the expedition to Siberia: to study the quality and quantity of organic life and to verify the presence and distribution of the permafrost discovered in many Siberian locations, especially in Yakutsk.

Middendorf twice crossed the Taymyr Peninsula and in Yakutsk revealed the mysterious phenomenon of permafrost and laid the scientific bases of the study of frozen soil. He calculated the geothermal gradient in the Fedor Shergin well and, on the basis of this calculation, determined the depth of the frozen layer under Yakutsk to be 204 meters (10 meters less than the current value). In the third stage of the expedition Middendorf crossed the Dzhugdzhur Range and investigated the flora and fauna of the Okhotsk Sea coastal areas and of the Shantar Islands.

Middendorfs Siberian journey led to the establishment of the Russian Geographical Society.


I. Original Works. Middendorf’s main work, published originally in German, was Reise in den aussersten Norden und Osten Sibiriens während der Jahre 1843 und 1844, 4 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1848–1875), dealing with the climatology, geognosy, botany, zoology, ethnography, and the flora and fauna of the region; the Russian ed, was Puteshestvie na sever i vostok Sibiri, 2 pts. (St. Petersburg, 1860–1878).

His other writings include “Medved bury” (“The Brown Bear”), in Y. Simashko, Russkaya fauna ili opisanie i izobrazhenie zhivotnykh, vodyashchikhsya v Imperii Rossyskoy (“Russian Fauna or a Description and Depiction of the Animals Found in the Russian Empire”), 2 pts. (St. Petersburg, 1850–1851), 187–295; “O sibirskikh mamontakh” (“On Siberian Mammoths”), in Vestnik estestvennykh nauk, nos. 26–27 (1860), 843–868, with additions by N. Lyaskovsky; “Golfstrim na vostoke ot Nordkapa” (“The Gulfstream East of North Cape”), in Zapiski Imperatorskoi akademii nauk, 19 , no. 1 (1871), 73–101; “Baraba,” ibid., 19 , supp. (1871); and Ocherki Ferganskoy doliny (“Essays on the Fergana Valley”; St. Petersburg, 1882), with app. by F. Schmidt.

II. Secondary Literature. There are biographies of Middendorf by K. Kirt (Tartu, 1963); N. I. Leonov (Moscow, 1967); and S. P. Naumov (Moscow, 1959), 323–331.

G. Naumov

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