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This review provides an insight into some of the main themes characterizing the work of Soviet physical geographers concerning climate during the decade following the Second World War. Post-1945, pressure was placed upon geography via the state and the Academy of Sciences to ensure that its activities were of practical use to the development of the socialist economy and this was particularly evident in the case of work related to climate and climate modification. The review is divided into four main sections. First, it provides an understanding of the range of work carried out by physical geographers with respect to climate and related phenomena in the late 1940s and 1950s. Second, it focuses on the work of geographers and climatologists in relation to the heat and water balance at the earth's surface, which attracted considerable attention within geographical circles as well as more broadly within Soviet science during the 1950s. Third, it reflects upon the way in which Soviet geography utilized its understanding of climate systems in order to participate in national schemes concerned with the modification of the climate and the transformation of nature. Finally, the review highlights the maturing of climate modification debates among geographers and cognate scientists during the late 1950s and early 1960s with the emergence of competing discussions over the potential for human activity to result in both positive and negative consequences for the global climate system. WIREs Clim Change 2013, 4:513–524. doi: 10.1002/wcc.242

Conflict of interest: The author has declared no conflicts of interest for this article.

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