Avalanche expert plans survey of Himalayas in fall

Deadly avalanches occurred in roughly 150 areas throughout the Himalaya mountains, threatening residents and mountain climbers.


Isao Kamiishi, director of the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention (NIED), is planning a geological survey of heavily damaged areas in autumn at the earliest.

“Large earthquakes are occurring in the region, over and over again,” said Kamiishi, 55.

“We’re hoping to provide information on avalanche-prone locations so reconstruction efforts in the future can avoid those sites.”

At NIED’s Snow and Ice Research Center in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, he developed a warning system with the ability to predict the likelihood of avalanches as well as their size. Computers calculate projections by analyzing temperature, snowfall levels and other meteorological records alongside geographical data.

The system has played a key role in town management for Niigata and other prefectures, for example by allowing them to plan road patrols.

Kamiishi was inspired to create the system by his almost 20 years of survey experience at a construction consulting firm. “I surveyed a couple hundred avalanche sites myself to determine the types of avalanches that occurred there,” he said.

After moving on to work at NIED, he started gathering a wide range of data using an array of devices including one that artificially triggers avalanches.

Born in Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture, Kamiishi was no stranger to snow – but his view of the icy precipitation was never the same after the heavy snowfalls that blanketed the nation in the winter of 1981. Known as 56-Gosetsu, or the heavy snowfalls of Showa 56, roughly two meters of snowfall claimed 133 lives across Japan.

A University of Toyama student at the time, Kamiishi had returned home to help clear the snow.

“There was snow piled up almost to the roof of the first floor.”