Information network for development of lake environment understanding

(Environmental Research Institute Inc.)


Daily and industrial activities by people living in the catchment area of a lake have direct and indirect effects on the water quality and the lake's ecosystem. However, local people do not always feel close to lakes in their region. This also applies to Lake Biwa. Although as many as 1.3 million people live in Lake Biwa's catchment area, only a handful of them enjoy seeing it every day. Therefore, most of them do not even roughly understand the environment of Lake Biwa. This is where we think an information network can play an active role in conveying the hard-to-catch image of Lake Biwa's environment. Around the lake, several efforts have already been made to provide information on its natural and social environment. In the context of those efforts, this paper introduces the information networks devised for research on fireflies and weather conditions.

For the firefly survey, we have exchanged observations and ideas by computer since 1989. The observational data was mapped and published on our computer network. This real time exchange of information has provided good incentive for interested people to further their research, resulting in a better database.

The information network on weather conditions began in 1989 with the reporting and measurement of snowfalls in winter around Lake Biwa. It gradually grew to include data on wind conditions. Ten voluntary observatories are currently in operation, and there are plans to display their information in almost real time in a permanent facility of the Lake Biwa Museum.

The reasons for paying special attention to wind include the insufficiency of reports on lake wind conditions from the public meteorological observatory, the strong interest and sensitivity to wind conditions of local fisherman and people who enjoy activities like sailing, and the expectation that observatory data will allow us to interpret oral traditions related to the wind.

1. Introduction

Aside from a few exceptions, the lands comprising Shiga prefecture are one and the same with the catchment area of Lake Biwa. There are over a thousand communities (according to current census data, approximately 2,000) in the catchment area of Lake Biwa.

Counting only major bodies, there are over a hundred rivers feeding Lake Biwa. The inclusion of smaller rivers brings the number to several hundred. Because it is the common pattern of rivers to flow from upstream to downstream, it is a commonly accepted fact that water usage in upstream areas will affect the water quality in downstream areas. From this perspective, it is fair to say that Lake Biwa's water quality is a mirror reflecting the water usage patterns of the people and industry of Shiga prefecture.

However, closer questioning of the nature of this mirror comprises a different and more difficult matter. Each community's regional conditions are different. Although there are some communities which always possessed abundant springs and other natural water supplies, there are others which suffered constantly from water shortages until the installation of modern water distribution systems. What appears, reflected in the waters of the lake, is only the overall image of the affects from the various communities with their many and varied characteristics.

The firefly and weather pattern surveys in this report represent an effort to clarify the natural and social environmental conditions of Lake Biwa, through the survey and conveying of data on the natural environment near populated areas by their residents. These surveys began in 1989.

2. Hotaru-DAS-Firefly Survey

These surveys were designed with three special points. The first of these was that the survey not use special measuring equipment, that anyone could participate, and that it concern the participants' immediate environment. The second of these objectives was the collection of large amounts of data, the use of an analysis method that remains conscious of that data's overall picture, and who's results can then be given as comprehensible feedback to participants. The third point was the employment of absolutely minimal staff for the survey's administrative body, and the use of voluntary participants as the survey's motivating force.

Summer fireflies and winter snow were chosen as subjects for the surveys. Although these surveys were carried out as aspects of the Shiga Prefecture Lake Biwa Research Institute's investigations, the actual survey work was performed by volunteer participants. The volunteer research body which carried out the firefly surveys was centered around a citizen's research organization, the Water and Culture Research Group. Likewise, the observation of snow was carried out primarily by the Society of Environment Education around the Lake Biwa Region, a group under the direction of primary and secondary school teachers from around Shiga prefecture.

The following is the rationale for the observation of fireflies: There is the general perception among many people that fireflies were abundant in the past but their numbers have decreased due to environmental destruction. The recovery of the clean water habitat of the fireflies has become a symbol for environmental restoration, in Japan. In fact there are many cases where local government agencies run programs for the recovery of fireflies along this rationale. However, it is still not certain this is really a solution.

Fireflies, and particularly the Genji firefly, live in rivers with a relatively high quantity of organic materials, the habitat of their food the black snail. In this sense, firefly may indicate a slightly dirty aquatic environment, rather than the clean water they are supposed to represent. Hence, this survey sets out to perform observation on this dilemma.

In addition, the choice of fireflies rests on their ease of observation. As opposed to most other insects, which are difficult to observe in a nocturnal environment, fireflies conveniently give away their presence by glowing. This fact makes fireflies an ideal subject for easy observation by anyone.

There may be those who feel a survey of firefly distribution best left to specialists, and little stands to be gained by amateur observation. However, there are simply not enough specialists to observe fireflies throughout all of Shiga prefecture at one time. A sufficiently large number of non-specialists can perform observation on a wide scale untenable to specialists alone. In addition, this survey does not exclude itself to the narrowed study of firefly habitat.

Since long ago, it is a childhood game to watch, chase, and catch fireflies. Fireflies have a deep connection to the culture and lifestyle of Japan. It is also the intention of this survey to bring to light some of the folk cultural connections between people and fireflies. Obviously, this aspect of study is not possible with specialists alone, and becomes possible only with the participation of the people of each region.

The first step of this survey was the creation of pamphlets concerning the identification of Genji and Heike fireflies and forms for recording observational results. Next, these materials were distributed through primary and secondary schools and groups like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. In addition, requests for aid in materials distribution went to various cooperatives and private organizations.

In Shiga prefecture fireflies begin to appear in mid to late May, reach their peak in June, and are observed as late as August. The system for the survey involves observing the number and type of fireflies, in the same location, throughout that period. Participants communicate their observation locations through maps.

If 1,000 people each prepared observations over 14 days, this would come to 14,000 entries of data. Thus, it was necessary to use a computer database in order to continuously monitor survey progress and provide intermediate feedback to participants through newsletters. Because, survey management was primarily handled by private individuals with their own various employments, gathering all of the participants was very difficult, and the survey employed a database on a telephone-accessible personal computer network. Hence, participants who handled management accessed the database from their homes in their spare time to collate and analyze data.

On the computer network, in addition to the daily input of observation results into the database, there was also a free-style message board for opinion exchange concerning fireflies. Reports of the survey data and breakdowns of exchanges from the message board were gathered into a newsletter mailed to participants.

The survey, nicknamed the "Hotaru-DAS," began in 1989 and reached its peak numbers in 1990 with 1300 people sending observation results to the office. The nickname was developed from the word "hotaru" (Japanese for firefly) and DAS (Data Acquisition System), from the Japan Meteorological Agency's AMEDAS (Automated Meteorological Data Acquisition System). However, the AME of AMEDAS stands for an automated data collection system where the Hotaru-DAS is a collection of data gathered by the eyes of the people.

In 1988, at the point of inception for this plan, personal computer networks had just begun usage in business. Prior to this time database systems of the type which supported this survey required large computers and specialized terminals. A system small enough to work on the level of private systems was yet unimaginable. But, by this time high-powered personal computers were available inexpensively, and the office created the software for data collection and constructed the system.

The system is outlined in figure 1. The main server was also created by personal computer. Users interface the system from home or work place telephone lines and input data through inexpensive consumer network software (or freeware). The data input software, also developed by the office, was created to save on phone bills and keep phone lines open by having users input data prior to network interface and then send it in one action to the computer.

These are trends, as seen from the daily observation results graph (figure 2), the habitat location map (figure 3). The set form data and free-style data surveys revealed the following facts. First, fireflies were observed in the majority of surveyed locations, without concern to actual population levels. Fireflies were located in far more locations than expected by either the office staff or the survey participants. Also, the fireflies were located in larger numbers not in places with clean water, such as deep in mountainous terrain, but in locations relatively close to human habitation and in water that was not clean by the subjective standards of the participants.

In addition, many other things were observed such as the fact that firefly habitat was in flowing rivers and other aquarian environments and that nearby grass patches and other low foliage were necessary for their habitation. The fact that fireflies required darkness for breeding meant it was also necessary for their observation. Of course, most of these facts were hypothesized, to some degree by specialists, but it has become confirmed scientific fact through the work of the many survey participants.

In the past, fireflies could be found almost anywhere. However, it is a fact that their numbers have dwindled in recent times. The use of agricultural chemicals may have been one large cause, although there is still no concrete proof surrounding the causes. Furthermore, alterations in type and amount of agricultural chemical usage may also have caused the current, albeit minimal, recovery.

However, in recent years there are less occasions for people to walk along the rivers at night, and in that sense, there are less occasions for people to come in contact with fireflies. Hence, there is also certainly an aspect to the effect that people's current lifestyle is a contributing factor to their not having the chance to meet with fireflies. In fact, the many evaluations written by participants include passages along these lines, "We are glad that we participated in the survey because it gave us a chance to talk, as child and parent, about things like the differences between life now and in the past, while observing the fireflies."

Fireflies are not a direct reflection of clean water. They do not require the simple presence of clean water. However, fireflies do require various conditions for their habitat, including running water, foliage in their immediate surroundings, and darkness at night.

If participants gained a sense of the diversity of the environment nearby their own dwellings through the observation of fireflies that can be described as the real success of this survey.

3. From Snow to Wind

One stereotypical weather situation for Japan would see snow falling on the Japan Sea side, and clear, sunny weather on the Pacific side. Textbooks even speak of seasonal weather patterns coming down from Siberia, bringing wet, cold northern winds which then run into the rain shadow mountains and bring snowfall, there.

This may be an acceptable explanation for Japan as a whole, but it is not a sufficient explanation for the conditions in Shiga prefecture. Shiga prefecture is an inland prefecture, neither on the Japan Sea side nor the Pacific side of Japan. The snowfall patterns of Shiga prefecture are not as simple as the explanations in textbooks.

On the other hand, crucial transportation roots, like the JR bullet train and the Meishin Expressway run through Shiga prefecture. Despite frequent coverage in the mass media of the bullet train being slowed or the Meishin Expressway being closed because of blizzard conditions in Shiga prefecture, there are still many factors of its weather which remain unknown.

Despite the fact modern computer-controlled systems exist for the prediction of overall weather patterns for the whole of Japan, such as the AMEDAS and radar measurement systems, there is still very little accuracy in terms of weather prediction on a smaller scale, such as around Lake Biwa. Conditions are still such that it is not possible to make predictions like how much snow will fall, where on the Bullet Train line.

Despite being a lake, Lake Biwa is a very large lake where the fetch of the wind is very long. As such, to fishing peoples who used to do their work in small boats lacking independent mobility systems, the lake weather conditions were a subject of mortal interest. Because of this tradition, there have always (to this day) been folk beliefs among the fishing peoples of Lake Biwa concerning the weather conditions that will follow a wind bearing certain particular characteristics.

Although they lack the depth of experience of the fishing peoples of the same region, to have the residents of Lake Biwa measure the precipitation and buildup of snow with their own eyes, and using this data bring to light the characteristics of the weather around Lake Biwa, is the purpose of this survey. Being the opposing survey to the Hotaru-DAS, this survey is called the Yuki-DAS (Yuki=snow, DAS is the same as before).

The survey method was simple, involving distribution to the participants of a plastic panel, a meter stick, a measuring tape, and a highest and lowest temperature thermometer (Figure 4). The measuring tape was set up in the yard or garden of participants' residences to measure the volume of accumulated snow. The plastic panel was placed on top of the snow left from the last day, and checked with the meter stick the next morning to determine the rate of snowfall (volume of snowfall from the last day). Participants would then use the thermometer to check the highest and lowest temperatures for the day, and write all the data into a set with a short memo about the weather conditions on a survey sheet, and mail these sheets, weekly, to the office.

As with the Hotaru-DAS, the office would input the data from these survey sheets onto a net-accessed database. Voluntary participants organized the data into graphs, made totals, edited the newsletters, and provided feedback to the other participants. Figure 5 shows the distribution of periodic private participant locales within Shiga prefecture.

As a result of the survey, three patterns were discovered, the North Snows, Central Snows, and the Southern Snows. The existence of these three patterns was not a new discovery, but a previously known fact. However, through the reports of the participants, understanding of these patterns became more concrete and accurate. It was also interesting to note that against common expectation the Southern Snows were the most voluminous.

In addition, participants introduced folk beliefs concerning winter weather patterns, using the message board on the personal computer network. There were many participants expressing a deep interest in the wind-related folk beliefs of Lake Biwa's fishing peoples. In particular, one of the writers, by the name of Matsui, became very interested in the folk belief that, "Winter weather will worsen if there is a hiarashi," and went as far as to conduct a direct investigation among the fisher people, concerning this belief.

The fishing peoples of Lake Biwa discern and have special names for the various winds that blow across the lake. There are some popular names which, despite probably starting with the fishers, are in common use with other peoples. For instance, one well-known example is the hira-oroshi (perhaps meaning a wind blowing down from Mt. Hira). However, there is no guarantee that the meaning of these popular names is the same among fishers and other peoples.

At first, on the network message board, it was thought by many participants that, because they sound similar hiarashi was actually derived from hira-oroshi and they meant the same thing. However, the statement, "Winter weather will worsen if there is a hira-oroshi," denied acceptable explanation. It became unsure as to just what kind of winds are represented by, hiarashi and hira-oroshi. However, in the process of his investigation, Matsui came upon the answer that hiarashi was a completely different type of wind from the hira-oroshi. Hiarashi meant a south wind blowing across Lake Biwa.

It is a well known fact that among winter seasonal weather patterns, northern or northwestern winds blow from Siberia and their force causes weather to worsen. However, this being the case, it seems to defy logic that a south wind, called the hiarashi, can bring worsened winter weather.

Upon further investigation some interesting new facts come to light. Japan's basic weather patterns ride a westerly inclined wind from west to east Japan. When high pressure from Siberia projects out to the Japan Sea it creates typical winter air pressure distribution patterns and causes weather to worsen. Just prior to this time, when the Siberian air pressure has not yet met with the Japan Sea, it juts out slightly more west. It is thought this pattern then moves eastward.

When the high pressure system is in the west, the weather will still be good in Shiga prefecture, but in western Japan, particularly Kyushyu and the western part of the Inland Sea, the weather will begin to worsen. It is well known that in the winter weather patterns of the Inland Sea, a west wind is far more dangerous to boats than a northwest wind. Thus, it can be hypothesized that when west winds stir the Inland Sea, a portion of their force heads up to Lake Biwa following the Yodo River, blowing from south to north. This hypothesis opens the possibility that a wind blowing up from the south could be a foreshadow to the coming of rough, seasonal northwest winds, then a wet wind coming from the south on Lake Biwa would indicate that Siberian high pressure has already reached western Japan.

In terms of weather prediction, it is meaningless to predict that weather will worsen once the north or northwest winds are already blowing. Aspects like reporting the possibility of worsening weather conditions at the arrival of the south winds, that precede the north winds, can give real meaning to weather predictions.

Hiarashi are very subtle winds, and are difficult to perceive, except along the shores and in upper Lake Biwa. This is probably the reason why this word failed to gain cognizance or popularity among most people. The fact is, most people are not aware of the many types of winds or the fact they have already been named by fishing professionals. Modern meteorological facilities have not yet reached down to small scale weather phenomena like the hiarashi. But, such knowledge already exists in the surrounding area of Lake Biwa, and is, in fact, an important part of understanding local natural phenomena. This sort of knowledge is not textual or scientific, but is knowledge buried in the region itself. Unearthing this sort of knowledge has great meaning both in terms of folk studies and natural sciences (sciences of the Earth).

The discovery of the hiarashi gave birth to an interest in locating and rediscovering its ilk of buried regional knowledge, and measuring, analyzing, and dealing with them using modern scientific methods. It is from this interest that arose the project to create a Lake Biwa voluntary meteorological observation system, or Biwako-DAS.

4. Progress Toward the Biwako-DAS System

There are three special traits demanded of the plan for the Biwako-DAS, Lake Biwa regional meteorological observation system. Having an interest in Lake Biwa's local meteorological patterns, the first of these objectives is the necessity to create a system with which comparative investigation can be carried out on the differences and similarities between areas within this region. The next of these traits is for observational data to be in real-time, as much as possible, for simplicity of comparison between weather as measured by instruments and as felt by people's senses.

Finally, in order to find more participants and deepen understanding of this project, it would be ideal to display the summary of the observational results in some public space where it can come to the notice of a large number of people. For the sake of this last point, it is necessary to plan this project such that it will be run under the financial support of the Shiga Prefecture Lake Biwa Museum, under the pretext of eventual exhibition.

Data already exists from the Japan Meteorological Agency's AMEDAS system, but this data is meant for regular weather reporting and is too rough for the study of weather phenomena of smaller areas such as the Lake Biwa region (too few points of reference). In addition, for such a large agency there are technical and bureaucratic hazards against the sort of real-time data gathering necessary for purposes other than weather reporting. Aside from the facilities of the Japan Meteorological Agency, there are also those of the prefecture's Environmental Agency, but these also lack the concentration of sites and the real-time data gathering capabilities sought by this study.

This being the case, the study was set to start off with a single site with a wind speed meter for wind observation placed on the roof of a volunteer's house. First, a computer system was created for wind observation. This system also worked from a normal, every day personal computer with a telephone answering system. This telephone answering system was employed as a type of computer message board. In other words, participants would access this system using their phone lines from their own computers and not only be able to obtain measurement data at any time but also be able to exchange data for the operation of observation sites, conduct discussions of observation results, and carry out other functions.

After two years of testing with the first site, the program began to expand, and by 1996 (last year) had ten sites for wind observation (Figure 6). Of these, five sites were at the private residences of participants, two at universities related to participants, and three at supportive private companies.

Despite being at ten sites as of last year, the program is still perfecting its system, including maintenance of all observation points. Fortunately, however, despite minor disruptions and the need for other small corrections, the program shows smooth progress without major problems.

The program has isolated a number of typical weather conditions in the observations of about one year. One of the typical conditions observed was the hiarashi, mentioned previously, whose observational data is in Figure 7.

The work of the project for the future will be to continue building up data on the patterns of these typical weather conditions and to carry out comparative examination of these with folk traditions like those mentioned before.

5. In Closing

The areas around large ancient lakes like Lake Biwa have been the site of livelihood for people who have lived off of their grace since long ago. The natural environment of these areas is certainly not a wild, primitive one, not to be touched by the hands of humankind, but one historically shaped on the pretext of human habitation. It is difficult to gauge this sort of coexistence between nature and human society through simple textbook knowledge and scientific methods. Through various hard to publicize groupings of experience and knowledge buried in outlying areas the environment is captured, maintained, and managed.

As society's flow of information and goods reaches a larger scale, it becomes more difficult to preserve systems such as the regional knowledge of Lake Biwa which are closed and succeeded by specific forms of experience and knowledge. In fact, it is difficult to imagine that the meteorological knowledge of Lake Biwa's fishing peoples is a system closed and succeeded by these factors, alone. However, textbook knowledge does not possess a complete picture of local natural conditions and phenomena. It is important to process new systems of knowledge by creating bridges between localized knowledge and the natural sciences. This holds true not only for the region around Lake Biwa, but also for areas around other ancient lakes throughout the world.

Data in the form of abstract, compact numbers obtained through preset methods is simply not sufficient for the work of bridging the gap between the wider body of scientific knowledge and area-specific knowledge. Exchange and management of concrete text is necessary, and depending on the situation should involve data compilation including sound, photographs, and movies. In addition, a new problem arises from the question of method for data exchange or data management in comparing concrete information and numerical data, which will require a sort of data management which is both incredibly tangible and highly diffuse. This project introduces the fireflies, snow, and wind observations from the region around Lake Biwa as first steps toward experimentation in finding this sort of methodology. It is the firm hope of this project's participants that experiments like this one will be carried out in the future under the auspices of the Lake Biwa Museum, and that similar efforts will be conducted throughout the world to become a new scientific methodology.