07 May 2014
Nature: Several islands off the coast of Russia are among the most avalanche-prone areas in the world and have the highest avalanche casualty rate per capita. Between 1910 and 2010, the region saw 275 avalanches, which killed 756 people and injured 238. The worst occurred on Sakhalin in 1945, when 149 people were killed. Surprisingly, the avalanches were relatively small and occurred on gentle slopes with vertical drops of just 100–200 m. However, because the islands lie so far north, they receive heavy snowfall almost half the year, and strong winds provide the trigger. Not surprisingly, the highest death tolls have occurred during the periods of largest population growth and associated industrial development and deforestation. Only recently has much of this information come to light, says Evgeny Podolskiy of the French National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture near Grenoble. He and his colleagues, whose study has been published in the Journal of Glaciology, found that because of the complex territorial dispute between Russia and Japan, the avalanche record of the islands was scattered and incomplete. They have now pulled together all the available archival records into one comprehensive avalanche history.