Science Tours – Las Diomedes: the island of yesterday and the island of tomorrow

The Diomedes Islands are among the strangest places on earth. Although they are only a few kilometers apart, there is a daily difference between them

The Diomedes is one of the few places on the planet where time travel is possible. Big Diomede is on the Russian side, Little Diomede is on the American side. The ice bridge that forms between the two islands in winter, although illegal, makes it possible to travel the short distance that separates them and travel to tomorrow or yesterday. That is why they are also called “Island of tomorrow” or “Island of yesterday”.

The Diomede Islands are only four kilometers apart, in the Bering Strait, between Siberia (Russia) and Alaska (USA). Little Diomede (Little Diomede) has an area of ​​​​about 18.9 square kilometers. It belongs to the United States and is mostly inhabited by indigenous Inuit people. The Great Diomede (Big Diomede) is larger than its neighbor and has an area of ​​​​about 30 square kilometers. It belongs to Russia. Before the Cold War it was inhabited, today it is mainly used for Russian military purposes.

But the strangest thing is that the Great Diomede is almost a day ahead of its smaller neighbor (21 hours) because it sits on either side of the International Date Line, which crosses the Pacific Ocean and marks the boundary between a natural day and a day of the next.

Diomedes Islands

That small distance becomes a vast temporal abyss. Although they are very close geographically, they are almost a full day apart in time. When it’s a Saturday afternoon in Little Diomede, it’s already a Sunday afternoon in Big Diomede.

History of the Diomedes Islands

The history of the Diomedes Islands is a mix of indigenous occupation, exploration and international politics. Before the arrival of European and Russian explorers, the Diomedes Islands were inhabited by indigenous Yupik peoples and later by the Inupiat. These communities lived mainly from hunting seals, walruses and whales, and from fishing. The islands served as a trading and contact point between the indigenous communities of present-day Alaska and Siberia.

In 1648, the Russian Cossack Semyon Dezhnev became the first recorded European to cross the Bering Strait, although there is no concrete evidence that he saw or visited the Diomedes Islands. The islands were named after Diomedes, a figure from Greek mythology, by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering, after whom the strait takes its name, who was in the service of Russia during his 1728 expedition.

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In 1867, the United States bought Alaska from Russia. As a result, Little Diomede became the property of the United States, while Big Diomede remained under Russian jurisdiction. During the Cold War, the Bering Strait, and in particular the distance between the Diomede Islands, became a geopolitical flashpoint. Big Diomede was used by the Soviet Union for military purposes and Little Diomede, although inhabited by civilians, was in a strategic position between the two superpowers. Travel between the islands was virtually impossible during this period due to political tensions.

The separation between the Diomedes Islands during the Cold War is referred to as the “Ice Curtain”, similar to the “Iron Curtain” in Europe. Despite their geographical proximity, these islands were worlds apart due to political tensions and the International Date Line.

Little Diomede

Settlement on Little Diomede Island. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In 1987, a group of swimmers known as the “Peace Swimmers” swam from Little Diomede to Big Diomede as a symbolic gesture promoting peace and cooperation.

How to get to the Diomedes

Although the idea of ​​moving from one island to another to change dates is very tempting, you are unlikely to succeed. Visiting the Diomedes Islands is possible but comes with a number of challenges and limitations. Because there’s no airport to reach Little Diomede, access is typically by helicopter from the Alaskan city of Nome, though flight is irregular and weather-dependent.

During the winter months, when the Bering Strait is frozen, a runway for light aircraft may occasionally be established on the ice. No special permit is required to visit Little Diomede as a US citizen. However, it is advisable to inform the local community of any intention to visit as it is a small and remote community. For non-citizens, the entry requirements of the USA must be observed.

Access to the Russian island of Gran Diomede is more complicated. The island was used for Russian military purposes, so access was restricted. There are no regular tourist services to the island and you need a Russian visa and special permit to visit the island as it is used for military purposes. It is often difficult to obtain these permits.

Quo Science Trips section sponsored by Hyundai

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