In 1897, Russia leased Port Arthur, Manchuria as a Pacific port to supplement its existing holding of Vladivostok.

Port Arthur is at about 39 degrees N. latitude; Vladivostok is at 43 degrees N. latitude. For reference, Seattle, Washington is at 47 degrees N. latitude. Yet Vladivostok is much colder than Port Arthur, and also much colder than Seattle.

Why is that? I read something about a Siberian "front" from Lake Baikal that affects Vladivostok. Yet Port Arthur is almost ten degrees longitude west of Vladivostok, which is to say that it is closer to Lake Baikal. So doesn't it have similar problems? Did it just "barely" miss the front and why?

Or did Russia have other reasons for preferring Port Arthur besides climate?

  • 1
    You should ephasise what the question is. In the title you ask a question, but you answer it in the post and ask other questions. All of them are great - but it should be clarified which one you're asking.
    – Bregalad
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:00
  • @Bregalad: I said that Vladivostok had "ice" problems and asked why Port Arthur didn't have similar problems. Or maybe Port Arthur had the same problems and was preferred for other reasons.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:04
  • Yeah, this edited title really makes it better.
    – Bregalad
    Jul 27, 2016 at 19:15
  • It sounds like a geography / climate question, not a history one for me
    – Greg
    Jul 28, 2016 at 6:02
  • 1
    @Greg: This is ok because it "imvolves history in some way." The geography-climate issue affected Russo-Japanese relations around the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 28, 2016 at 10:33

2 Answers 2


The Oyashio Current and the Siberian High make Vladivostok a cold, frozen port.

The answer can be easily summarized with this map. Look at how far north Ireland, England and Norway are. Yet they are far warmer than Greenland and Newfoundland! The reason is that warm water and weather flows from the Gulf of Mexico to Norway, keeping those places, that are near the sea, relatively warm. (Palm trees can grow in Ireland. Surprised me when first visited). Greenland and Newfoundland, on the other hand, receive cold water from the Arctic; the Greenland and Labrador current brings cold water and cold weather to these places.

Note that Siberia is too far from the Atlantic to be warmed by the gulf stream.

Something similar happens in the North Pacific. The Oyashio current flows from 'the north' to Vladivostock, keeping it cold. The Kuroshio Current, on the other hand, keeps Japan, Korea, and the Yellow Sea warm. (Port Arthur was located near Dalian in the Yellow Sea, so it was kept warm too). (Edit: I just read that it the Siberian High is more important that the Oyahsio current for Vladivostock winter. That Japan blocks the Kuroshio is important too.)

I think historically, Russia had a long term habit of taking land from China during its colonial expansion. Vladivostok was aquired from the Qing Dynasty in the Amur Acquistion in 1860, likewise in the region around Irkutsk in 1727. Russia had significant claims in Northeast China, for example in Harbin. It wasn't until after meetings between Stalin and Mao that Russia fully relinquished its colonial rights to Port Arthur; and late in Gorbachev's time, just before the USSR collapse, to resolve border disputes between Russia and China.

As this is a history not geology SE, I want to emphasize the source material that I quoted above. It is transcripts of the conversations between Mao and Stalin, where they speak frankly about the withdrawal of Russia troops from China and how to stop the US from invading. A second conversation is here. These documents are part of the Wilson Center Digital Archives that cover many interesting topics from the cold war.

Another note: I am uncertain if Vladivostok is ice-blocked in these modern days of Global warming, but I think in the late 1800's that the harbor was a giant salty ice cube.

  • 1
    So Russia has its own "Labrador current" that freezes Vladivostok, and Port Arthur has its own "Gulf Stream." Makes. sense.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 28, 2016 at 1:09
  • The "gulf stream" and other cold/hot water current arguments are reminiscent of the 19th century and are incomplete at best. They fall apart in places like Patagonia, California, or along the Andes. The Westerlies and Trade Winds actually count as much if not more. Air basically picks up energy stored in water as it crosses oceans. Whether the current is cold or warm doesn't matter that much. In the map I linked to, note the hot air flowing to Manchuria, and the cold air flowing out of Siberia. Jul 28, 2016 at 6:21
  • @DenisdeBernardy So Ireland, England and Europe are actually cold like Greenland? Maybe real estate prices will drop in London soon, once this news gets out on SE! ;p Jul 28, 2016 at 6:24
  • @DenisdeBernardy I believe you are right. Maybe I'll post something over at SE Earth Science. Jul 28, 2016 at 6:43
  • Here it is. Jul 28, 2016 at 6:55

Weather at that latitude in general blows to the east - it arrives over Western Europe and travels eastward toward Asia. The air will shed its moisture and heat as it moves further away from the Atlantic, so the further east it can travel while remaining well north of the equator and above land, the colder and drier it will be. That's why Western Europe enjoys decent weather, while European Russia gets very cold and Asian Russia gets downright frigid, even when in the same general latitudes as Seattle. However, sources vary about how ice-locked Vladivostok gets. Wikipedia says it is ice free, but globalsecurity.org says it is locked for 4 months and requires ice breakers.

For Port Arthur, I think that it would have appealed to the Russians because two ports is better than one for major economic activities, and if you look at the map you get better access to the southwest Pacific from ex-Port Arthur than you do from Vladivostok. Also, Russian leaders have historically desired warm water ports because Russia has basically never had one for free like most other leading nations, and so the opportunity to operate out of Port Arthur would have appealed to the tsars on principle alone.

If you are Imperial Russia and not on friendly terms with Imperial Japan, it would not be hard to envision Japan bottling up Vladivostok since it is in their backyard. Port Arthur would be harder for Japan to deal with, but as it turned out, they did.

I think one key to the answer is what the direction of Russian expansion was during that time. I can't figure out how good land access to Russian Siberia was from Port Arthur. If there was a railroad line, then it meant Port Arthur was a terminal for outward expansion. If there wasn't, then it was a sea terminal to establish a type of colonial presence.

  • Why the down vote, except for Pieter Geerkens' response? My frame of reference for the first paragraph is Russian weather, not elsewhere in the world.
    – Smith
    Jul 27, 2016 at 22:42
  • 1
    Russian was in the process of acquiring Manchuria in the early 1900's. I think they built the railroad from Harbin to Port Arthur actually. Russia had a large presence there; even fought the Japanese there in 1905. Jul 28, 2016 at 0:47
  • I think this answer is ok actually, +1 Jul 28, 2016 at 0:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.