The Coldest Inhabited Places on Earth

April 15, 2018

The Nord Kamal Mosque in Norilsk, Russia, is the northernmost mosque in the world.

Around forty percent of the world’s population lives within one hundred kilometers of the coast. The world’s largest population clusters, after all, are within the coastal zones of Eastern China, eastern Brazil, as well as nearly all of coastal India and Bangladesh.

One reason why so much of the population is clustered near the coast is that temperatures tend to be more extreme the further from inland a place is located. That is why the interiors of large, high latitude countries like Canada and Russia boast some of the coldest temperatures recorded every year. Not very many people live in those extremely cold climates, but there are few notable settlements and cities where January temperatures may drop to minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius).

Oymyakon, Russia

Oymyakon is so far in eastern Siberia that is actually closer to the United States than it is to Moscow. Its 500 inhabitants have the distinction of living in the coldest inhabited place on Earth, where the average high temperature in January is -43 °F (-42 °C) and the average low is -58 °F (-50 °C). Oymyakon also is the site of the lowest temperature ever recorded outside of Antarctica; -85 F (-65 °C). Valleys surrounding the settlement trap wind, making the temperature even colder than its arctic surroundings in Siberia.

Yakutsk, Russia

Yakutsk is also in eastern Siberia, but unlike Oymyakon it has a population of over a quarter million people. The average yearly temperature is -16 F (-9 C) but the average January low is -41 °F (-41 °C). Summers can actually be warm, even hot, but for seven months a year the city experiences temperatures far below freezing. Despite its extreme temperatures, the city grew throughout the 20th century because of its proximity to tremendous mineral wealth, including gold and diamonds.

Norilsk, Russia

With an average yearly temperature of 14 °F (-10 °C), Norilsk edges out Yakutsk as the coldest large city in the world. Unlike Yakutsk, however, summer temperatures in Norilsk tend to stay between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and rarely climb to above 70. Its population of 175,000 makes it the world’s northernmost city with a population of over 100,000, and one of the largest completely within the Arctic Circle. Despite its remote location, the city grew around its substantial nickel, copper, and platinum reserves during the 20th century.

Harbin, China

Harbin is the largest city in northeastern China, with an estimated population of ten million residents. Although not as extreme as Russian Siberia, it is widely referred to as the Ice City due to its bitterly cold winters and related winter tourism industry. Summers can be pleasant, but the average low temperature in December and January is -11 °F (-24 °C), and the average daily mean for the year is only 40 °F (4 °C) Even though the city is part of China today, it has strong historical links to Russia, and remains an important geographic hub of Sino-Russian trade.

Winnipeg, Canada

In North America, temperatures do not regularly reach the extreme lows that they do in Siberia, but that does not mean it is not bitterly cold in some inhabited places. Winnipeg, Canada regularly records some of the lowest winter temperatures for any city in North America. Its inland location makes it colder than other Canadian cities, which are already well-known for their long and harsh winters. The average low in January is -6 °F (-21 °C), but the average July temperature of 79 °F (26 °C) is a nice respite from the freezing winter months.