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Thursday, 28th April 2016
In Weather In Japan,

Japanese monks have kept climate change records for 700 years

Records kept by Shinto monks in Japan are among the oldest continuous chronicles of climate change to be found anywhere in the world.

A group of priests living at the shrine on the edge of Lake Suwa have kept note of a large change in the environment around them every year since 1443, National Geographic reports.

This change has much wider repercussions for the world than just the small patch of it that the monks inhabited.

Lake Suwa can be found in the Japanese Alps in the central region of the country and freezes over nearly every year.

As temperatures change on a daily basis, the ice expands and cracks, forcing it up into a ridge and it is this phenomenon that the monks have kept track of, marking down the date that it appears annually.

While scientists often use indirect evidence, such as changes to tree rings, ice-core layers or pollen deposits, these records show exactly how the climate was experienced by our ancestors.

John Magnuson, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Sapna Sharma, an ecologist at Toronto’s York University, have teamed up to look at the data.

First of all, the notations, many of which were written on rice paper, needed to be translated and an understanding of the calendar used obtained.

Once this was completed, analysing the information was simpler and allowed the ecologists to establish that in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution changes to the timing of freezing and thawing on the lake have accelerated.

Magnuson and Sharma have published their findings in Nature Scientific Reports, suggesting that the yearly rhythm is closely tied to the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Another interesting revelation to come out of the study is that extreme events have become more common over the centuries.

For the first 250 years the Shinto priests kept their records, there were only three years in which the lake did not freeze, but between 1955 and 2004 this occurrence increased to 12.

During the 2005 to 2014 period there were five freeze-free years and Magnuson points out that Lake Suwa remained unfrozen in the winters of 2015 and 2016 too.