Jan Lieser had just started going through the dozens of satellite images he looks at every day when he realised something was missing. As a glaciologist at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, he knew the shape of every ice shelf sticking out from the coast of East Antarctica. And on 17 March 2022, there was a gap where most of the Conger glacier’s ice shelf had broken off into an iceberg the size of Vienna and drifted away.
Lieser was stunned. He had been keeping an eye on Conger since the last few pieces of the neighbouring Glenzer ice shelf had broken up 10 days before, but he had not expected to see it disintegrate so quickly. “All of a sudden the rest of the land-fast ice collapsed, and the ice shelf moved northward and turned 90 degrees sideways. Two features we had been monitoring for years weren’t there anymore,” he says. “In my 15 years of looking at it, I have not expected to see that in East Antarctica.”
When Ali Nusret Berker started seeing Twitter videos posted by people trapped under the rubble of the two Feb. 6 earthquakes in southern Turkey, they brought to mind the cousin he had lost when a massive earthquake hit his hometown near Istanbul in 1999. An avid cave explorer who just passed an exam to become an ambulance driver, the 33-year-old decided to go straight to the Yalova headquarters of AFAD, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, where he was a search-and-rescue volunteer.
“I couldn’t sit in my warm home when they were screaming for help,” he tells TIME.
But sit at home is exactly what AFAD told Berker to do. He had to come back the next day to badger officials to send him and other volunteers south on an overnight bus ride to Iskenderun. There, AFAD employees tried to keep Berker and his ad hoc team from going to the hard-hit city of Samandag, he says. But the team caught a lift with a local man and eventually pulled five people out alive with a jackhammer, generator, and bolt cutter, which also had to be provided by residents. At least 800 people have died in the city.
“If we had equipment and if we reached Samandag quicker, we could have easily saved more,” Berker says. “There were so many voices that we couldn’t count. But after hours and hours the voices were going mute.”
There was no warning from the snow: no thump as it broke, no roaring as it gained speed, no shaking like an earthquake as it rushed toward the bottom. Maurice Kervin, 25, just noticed a huge crack had appeared beneath his snowboard and shot like a silent lighting bolt down No Name Peak in the Colorado Rockies. As he turned to look uphill, he was hit by a cascade of white that confirmed his worst fears. He was caught in an avalanche.
“A huge slab starts breaking out below me,” Kervin said. “Right at that moment it was like, we’re in it to win it now.”
It’s a story that has been all too common in the western United States this year, with more than 700 avalanches reported in Colorado in February. Many have even been captured on film, like a billowing torrent of snow that briefly buried three snowmobilers in a valley in Utah’s Uinta Mountains.
In February, 15 people died in seven days, the deadliest week for avalanches since 1910, when a 14ft wall of snow swept two stranded trains into a gorge in Washington and killed 96.
The number of fatalities has only continued to grow. Midway through the season, 33 people have been killed in avalanches, already surpassing the annual average of 26.
By tradition, Russians always bring an odd number of flowers to a living person and an even number to a grave or memorial. But every other day, 83-year-old Raisa Lappa places three roses or gladiolas by the plaque to her son Sergei in their hometown Rubtsovsk, as if he hadn’t gone down with his submarine during an ill-fated towing operation in the Arctic Ocean in 2003.
“I have episodes where I’m not normal, I go crazy, and it seems that he’s alive, so I bring an odd number,” she says. “They should raise the boat, so we mothers could put our sons’ remains in the ground, and I could maybe have a little more peace.”
After 17 years of unfulfilled promises, she may finally get her wish, though not out of any concern for the bones of Captain Sergei Lappa and six of his crew. With a draft decree published in March, President Vladimir Putin set in motion an initiative to lift two Soviet nuclear submarines and four reactor compartments from the silty bottom, reducing the amount of radioactive material in the Arctic Ocean by 90%. First on the list is Lappa’s K-159.
The message, which comes before Russia’s turn to chair the Arctic Council next year, seems to be that the country is not only the preeminent commercial and military power in the warming Arctic, but also a steward of the environment. The K-159 lies just outside of Murmansk in the Barents Sea, the richest cod fishery in the world and also an important habitat of haddock, red king crab, walruses, whales, polar bears and many other animals.
MOSCOW – The scene was pure carnage. Dozens of reindeer carcasses were sprawled on the sandy shore of the Khatanga River or floating in the current toward the Arctic Ocean, as if the animals had drowned in mid-stream. The story of what actually befell these reindeer on the Taymyr Peninsula, in Russia’s Krasnoyarsk region, however, was far more grisly.
In a video filmed by hunters in 2017 and shared on a Russian public interest YouTube channel, two men can be seen bending over the side of an aluminum boat. Soon after, a reindeer with a knobby head frantically swims away from them. Later, one of the men, smoking a cigarette, reaches into the bow and pulls out a saw—and two fuzzy brown antlers. At the time, according to Russian state media, the antlers would have been worth several hundred dollars—the better part of an average monthly wage in Taymyr.
The crowds of reindeer swimming across rivers at the few fordable crossing points during their spring migration, heads barely above water, can do little to avoid poachers ambushing them in boats. The men grab their velvet antlers—“velvet” for the thick, downy skein of blood vessels feeding the new bone as it grows—and cut them off, leaving the animals with an open wound prone to fatal infection.
“I pity the animals that suffer this torture,” says Pavel Kochkaryov, director of the Central Siberian Nature Reserve, a protected area in Krasnoyarsk, who previously worked as a game warden in Taymyr and continues to study the reindeer herd there. He compares cutting off a reindeer’s sensitive young antlers to amputating a limb. “No one knows how quickly they will die once they swim to shore,” he says.