First Glaciers in Japan Discovered in Toyama

Originally written for the Vol.6-No.2 edition (June 1, 2012) of the Toyama Hot News e-newsletter.

Three snow valleys in the Tateyama Mountain Range of Toyama that were being studied by the Tateyama Caldera Sabo Museum have been scientifically recognized to be glaciers. This recognition was the result of the dangerous work conducted from 2009 to 2011, in which researchers risked their lives working in areas with high risk of falling into crevices and icy pits.

It was previously thought that the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia had the southernmost glaciers in East Asia, but Tateyama now holds that distinction. Raicho (Rock Ptarmigan) that live in Tateyama are thought to be remnants of the Ice Age, and now seem especially interesting with the recognition of the glaciers.

Glaciers are defined as masses of snow and ice that continually flow over long periods of time, and must also be a certain thickness. Until now, it was believed that Japan did not have anything that fits the criteria.

The movement of the glaciers was measured between the end of August and October using GPS. Poles were drilled into the ice and their positions were measured over a couple months using high-precision GPS. In order to measure the thickness, electronic waves were shot into the surface, and then researchers used radars to measure the waves that bounced back off the bedrock.

In September 2009, an ice mass in the Gozenzawa ravine was measured to be about 200 meters wide and 23 meters thick on the upper side, and about 400 meters wide and 27 meters thick on the lower side. GPS measurements in 2010 and 2011 showed that the ice mass was moving at about 10 centimeters a month. The Gozenzawa ravine can be seen from the shrine at Oyama summit, at the end of a popular hiking trail.

San no Mado ravine holds a glacier of over 40 meters thick, and Komado ravine holds a glacier of over 30 meters thick, and both can move more than 30 centimeters in a month. Yearly movement is estimated to be approximately 4 meters, which would rival the smaller glaciers of Patagonia and the Himalayas.

This news has also been published in the English-language newspapers The Mainichi, The Daily Yomiuri, and The Japan Times.

Source (article and photo): Toyama Just Now