2012 Volume 121 Issue 2 Pages 306-331
On September 2010, the Japanese mass media reported that permafrost had disappeared throughout the altitudes of 3300–3600 m asl. on the south-facing slope of Mt. Fuji (3776 m asl.) within 12 years because of climatic warming. However, no evidence (data and analyses) has been published in scientific journals. In this paper, we show ground freeze-thaw patterns above the tree line of Mt. Fuji based on recent year-round records of temperatures at shallow depths at 22 sites. The shallow ground temperatures became significantly warmer from the 2008–2009 period to the 2009–2010 period because the latter period had irregular snow accumulation at several sites and extremely sunny hot summer. The snow cover on Mt. Fuji generally prevented the ground from cooling rather than from warming. In addition, records for some locations show rapid ground warming in late summer, which accompanied heavy rainfall events. The mean annual temperatures at the ground surface on the south-facing slope were 1.5 to 3°C higher than those on the north-facing slope at the same altitude. Considering these characteristics, we interpret that the presence of permafrost is probable only at 5 sites on north- to west-facing windy locations above 3500 m asl., although studies in the 1970s suggest that the lower boundary lay at around 3000 m asl. on both north- and south-facing slopes. However, it is clear that, in the 1970s, the estimation of permafrost distribution on Mt. Fuji was based not on thaw depths at the end of thawing period (late September to mid October), but on those in the middle of thawing period (late July to August). The resulting overestimation of the permafrost distribution may have led to tales of extremely rapid permafrost degradation. Permafrost research on Mt. Fuji is still at its initial stage and long-term monitoring of ground temperatures is required to evaluate the impacts of changes of climate and volcanic activity on the surrounding environment.