Japan: Beech Forests Dying; Weather Disasters More Likely

“The university’s model predicted natural beech
forests will decrease from the current level by
56 percent during 2031-50, and by 93 percent
during 2081-2100.”

(May. 31, 2008)

Shirakami forests ‘could vanish by 2100’

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Vast beech forests in the Shirakami Mountains, a
UNESCO World Heritage-listed natural site that
straddles Akita and Aomori prefectures, could
vanish by the end of this century due to global
warming, according to researchers.

Their report on the future impact of climate
change on the nation also warned that if
greenhouse gas emissions remain at the current
level, global warming will increase the damage
caused by storm surges and cause torrential rain
to fall more often.

The Environment Ministry commissioned 44
researchers from 14 institutes, including the
National Institute for Environmental Studies and
Ibaraki University, to conduct the study.

The researchers estimated the possible impacts
that higher air temperatures would have on
forests, water resources, agriculture, coastal
regions and human health.

They used climate analysis models developed by
Tokyo University’s Center for Climate System
Research and the Meteorological Agency. Based on
the center’s model, the study forecast the
temperature would rise by 2.2 C from the present
level during 2031-50 and 4.3 C during 2081-2100.

The agency’s model gave increases of 2 C and 2.6
C, respectively, for these periods.

The university’s model predicted natural beech
forests will decrease from the current level by
56 percent during 2031-50, and by 93 percent
during 2081-2100. The researchers predicted beech
forests will remain only in Hokkaido and Honshu’s
mountainous areas.

The Shirakami Mountains are home to one of the
world’s largest beech forests. However, these
forests will decrease by 97.1 percent between
2031 and 2050 and vanish entirely after 2081, the
study said, because the trees will be unable to
adapt to the increase in temperature fast enough.

The areas likely to bear the brunt of storm
surges due to global warming include Tokyo,
Osaka, the region near Ise Bay in Aichi and Mie
prefectures and all of western Japan. The
population at risk in these areas was 290,000 in
2000, but this figure is expected to increase to
520,000 in 2030 and 1.37 million in 2100,
according to the study.

In 2030, torrential rain that until now usually
hits the nation only once every 50 years will
instead occur once every 30 years, the report
said. Damage caused by flooding is forecast to
increase by 1 trillion yen every year.

“But our study has proved even a slight rise in
air temperature could have a greater impact than
believed. We have to think about long-term
measures to counteract these changes,” said
Ibaraki University Prof. Nobuo Mimura, who led
the project.
(May. 31, 2008)

© The Yomiuri Shimbun.


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