A new discovery completes a century-old quest for lost ice-streams
That gully on Tsurugi always did look suspiciously like a glacier. As we toiled up its crevassed and stone-raked snows, we sometimes wondered if relics of ancient ice-streams might not lurk somewhere beneath.
These ice-streams are about 27 to 30 meters deep and 400 to 1,200 metres long. This makes them comparable to many an icy remnant glacier in the European Alps. If Japan’s glaciers are confirmed as such, they would be the southernmost in all of East Asia.
Albrecht Penck, who had invented the science of “geomorphology” and proved that four great Ice Ages had once rolled over Europe.
Within a hollow brimming with alpine flowers, Yamasaki found a geomorphological smoking gun – a huge red boulder grooved with long straight scratch-marks (below). To his expert gaze, it was as if an ancient ice-stream had just stepped up, bowed deferentially, and presented its calling card. The Shirouma Great Snow Valley had once held a glacier.
Kojima Usui, and the two kept up a correspondence. They even met up in San Francisco during Kojima’s time as his bank’s representative on America’s West Coast.
Glaciers were of more than academic interest to Kojima. Signs of past glaciations bolstered his argument that the high mountains of Honshu were lofty and grand enough to be called the “Japanese Alps”. Not everybody shared his enthusiasm. Shiga Shigetaka, for one, would have preferred to call them the "Honshu Central Transversal Range".
In the end, Kojima got his way; Japan now has Northern, Central and Southern Alps. Meanwhile, Yamasaki prevailed against the naysayers who wanted to deny Japan its ancient glaciers. But nobody suspected there might still be relics of those ancient glaciers hiding out in deep snow gullies somewhere.
Today, Yamasaki’s memory is preserved in the name of a small corrie on Tateyama’s crater rim. Ironically, though, it wasn’t the pioneer glaciologist who identified this particular hollow as a glacial landform.
Perhaps the best tribute would be if the Tateyama researchers could take their ground radar to Shirouma for a scan of its Great Snow Valley (above). For what could be more fitting than to find another live glacier, this one flowing alongside Yamasaki’s original Red Rock.
Many thanks to Wes and Iain for alerting me to this story. Among the news reports are these:
Japan Times: First glaciers in Japan recognised
Nature in Japan blog/Mainichi Shinbun: Japan's first glacier discovered in Tateyama mountain range (with photo of location).
More about Japan's ancient glaciers here: The snows of yesteryear