Earlier this year, a pair of unprecedented avalanches occurred in the mountains of Tibet’s remote Aru Range. The first avalanche occurred on July 17, 2016 and took the lives of nine nomadic herders and hundreds of livestock who were in the path of the 10 square kilometers (4 square miles) of ice and rocks that crashed down to ground level. In a press release issued by NASA’s Earth Observatory, glaciologist Andreas Kääb at the University of Oslo claims that this first avalanche was unlike other previously observed glacial avalanches such as the deadly Kolka avalanche in 2002:
This is new territory scientifically. It is unknown why an entire glacier tongue would shear off like this. We would not have thought this was even possible before Kolka happened.
To add to the mystery, a second avalanche occurred months later on September 21 just a few kilometers from the original avalanche. This time, glaciologists were luckily already studying the nearby glacier and were able to detect the oncoming avalanche in time to warn all who were in the area.
Geologists and glaciologists still don’t know what could have caused the two avalanches. According to Kääb, these two twin avalanches could represent a new glacial phenomenon:
Even one of these gigantic glacier avalanches is very unusual. Two of them within close geographical and temporal vicinity is, to our best knowledge, unprecedented.
Researchers with both the International Association of Cryospheric Sciences and the International Permafrost Association are currently pouring over satellite and ice core data to try and find what could be behind these two mysterious avalanches. While it’s thought that the usual suspects – climate change or the meteorological effects of global warming – could be behind the avalanches, researchers suspect that some unknown geological or topological phenomenon might be at foot.
As always, it would be far more interesting if these avalanches were caused by the elusive Himalayan Yeti seeking revenge for all the anthropogenic climate change, but I’d even settle for that dragon recently spotted flying in China getting a little out of hand while cooking his yak dinner. But it’s probably climate change. It always is.