A Living Piece of History: An Outdoor Ice Rink in New Zealand

The remains of an outdoor ice rink near Mount Harper/Mahaanui in New Zealand offer insight into the establishment, use and decline of what may have been the largest outdoor ice rink in the Southern hemisphere. The privately built rink on South Island was a popular social amenity from the 1930s to the 1950s, playing an important role in the development of ice hockey and skating in the country, as detailed in a heritage assessment carried out by Katharine Watson for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC). A combination of interviews, secondary sources and an archaeological survey were used to inform the history of the rink present in the assessment.

Mt. Harper ice rink lies in the lee of the mountain (the side that is sheltered from the prevailing wind) that gives it its name, at the foot of the glacier-clad Southern Alps of New Zealand. It was built in the early 1930s by Wyndham Barker, the son of a minor member of the English gentry who lived in Canterbury and learned to ice skate while studying in Europe, as explained in the assessment.

The bunds that surrounded the ice rinks still remain to the true left of the Rangitata River (Source: Ian Hill / Department of Conservation)
The bunds that surrounded the ice rinks still remain to the true left of the Rangitata River (Source: Ian Hill/Department of Conservation)

The rinks no longer contain any ice and some now contain vegetation, but the bunds (earth mounds) surrounding the ice rinks can still be seen. Many of the original buildings, such as the ticket office, toilet block, skate shed, a hut built to house the Barker’s cow, Sissy, and the Barker’s house are still standing.

The rink was first built in the summer of 1931-1932 and was fed by water from a nearby stream. However, its original location was too exposed to the nor’westers (strong north-westerly winds that are characteristic of Canterbury in New Zealand), which rippled the ice. Barker subsequently moved the rink closer to Mt. Harper, building the rink by allowing controlled layers of ice to build up over many nights. The rink’s first major public season took place in the winter of 1934.

The shed that housed the hydropower scheme (Source: Katharine Watson/Christchurch Uncovered).
The shed that housed the hydropower scheme (Source: Katharine Watson/Christchurch Uncovered).

A hydropower scheme was also installed in 1938 to power lights for skating at night, while allowing water to be sluiced onto the ice if necessary. “The whole landscape is really legible today, which is one of the things that makes it such a great place,” Watson explained to GlacierHub. 

“These kinds of sites are very important records of the myriad ways in which human societies have used, interacted with, and taken advantage of seasonal ice over time,” added Rebecca Woods, a professor of the history of technology at the University of Toronto. “An archeological site like Barker’s rink would be a candidate for a cool virtual reality tour along the lines of a New York Times 360° video.”

The potential of the site to tell the story of outdoor ice skating and ice hockey in New Zealand has been identified by the DOC. “The designation of the site as an Actively Conserved Historic Place recognizes this and entails a commitment to maintain the key buildings and structures in the expectation that despite being fairly isolated, the difficulty of access may change some time in the future,” shared Lizzy Sutcliffe, a representative from the DOC.

The rink was subdivided over its first few years of use, with up to seven rinks existing in the 1940s. One reason for doing this was that the ice was not freezing well. It also allowed one of the rinks to be dedicated to ice hockey, which Barker was passionate about. In fact, he was an important figure in the history of ice hockey in New Zealand, establishing the Erewhorn Cup, an ice hockey tournament that persists to this day.

Crossing a swing bridge over the Rangitata River. Kent, Thelma Rene. Ref: 1/2-009844-F. Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
Crossing a swing bridge over the Rangitata River. Kent, Thelma Rene. Ref: 1/2-009844-F. Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

The main focus of the rink was definitely ice hockey, along with recreational skating,” Watson explained to GlacierHub. “Competitive ice hockey matches were held at the rink.” The remote location of the rink also meant that it had to be accessed using a punt until a swing bridge was built in later years.

At the time, ice rinks in South Canterbury were all located in the high country, close to the Southern Alps, which meant that most of them were associated with high country pastoral stations farmed by people perceived of as the elite. This rink was probably important in introducing people outside the pastoral stations to ice skating, as it was more accessible to the people of Geraldine, the nearest town. The rink’s development and success were part of a larger movement in New Zealand at the time, where there was increasing leisure time and people were more frequently exploring the outdoors and taking up winter sports, according to Watson.

Gender could also have had an effect on the use of the rink, according to Woods. She explained to GlacierHub that gender has influenced many realms of human interaction with ice, likely extending to the use of ice rinks. “The competitive [ice hockey] matches were all played by men,” added Watson.

Public use of the rink ceased in the mid-1950s for a few reasons, one of which could have been climate change. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that warmer winters were one of the reasons the rink was abandoned,” Watson said. “The later owners of the rink did purchase a refrigeration unit at one point. This seems to suggest that things were getting warmer.” Another reason for the closing of the rink might have been World War II and the changes it brought about including the increased cost of fuel, which made it harder to get to the rink.

A map showing the remains of the ice rink and surrounding buildings (Source: Katharine Watson/Department of Conservation).
A map showing the remains of the ice rink and surrounding buildings (Source: Katharine Watson/Department of Conservation).

The remains of the rink offer some insight into one aspect of past human interactions with ice in New Zealand. Its completeness also makes it an interesting place to visit, if one is willing to make the journey to this remote region. Amidst the remains, it would be easy to imagine the laughter and enjoyment of people skating there, just as they would have done this winter if the rink was still operational.

“Given how dramatically the planet’s temperature is rising, it’s more critical than ever to document these instances [in human history] and demonstrate them to the public,” concluded Woods.

Read more about the rink and view additional photos here.

Rediscovering Julius von Haast, Pioneer of Glaciology

In the history of glaciology, New Zealand’s German-born Julius von Haast ranks as an influential but otherwise little-known pioneer. In the 19th century, Haast’s scientific explorations led him to glacier-rich areas across New Zealand where he gave names to landforms, including the well-known Franz Josef, Hooker, and Mueller Glaciers on the West Coast’s South Island. A recent report by Sascha Nolden for the Canterbury Museum strives to recognize the overlooked life and legacy of Haast, who to this day continues to influence glacier researchers around the world.

Julius von Haast (Source: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand)
Julius von Haast (Source: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand).

“Famous? No, Julius is not famous, even today,” said Joerg Schaefer, a professor at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, to GlacierHub. “But he was indeed a great explorer and glacier geologist in New Zealand. He was not only a fellow citizen of mine, but one of my heroes.”

Haast has served as a role model for modern-day scientists like Schaefer, with his work paving the way for future scientific research. “Our team has worked in New Zealand for 15 years following in Haast’s footsteps,” said Schaefer.

By scrutinizing archival material such as manuscripts, letters, photographs and sketches held in the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Nolden carefully rediscovered Haast’s biography, documenting Haast’s notable research, exploration, institution-building and collegial cooperation that continues to influence today’s scientists.

“Haast was one of the leading New Zealand scientists of the second half of the nineteenth century,” writes Nolden, research librarian at the Alexander Turnbull Library, in his report. “He was a remarkable individual noted for his stamina and perseverance in the face of obstacles, ranging from the mountain wilderness to the tangles of provincial bureaucracy.”

Born in 1822 in Bonn, Germany, Haast first studied geology and mineralogy at the University of the Rhine, although he never graduated. He later spent time in the high mountains of New Zealand in the 1860s, visiting the region’s glaciers and making original watercolor sketches of the mountains. His sketches and maps have been useful to glaciologists as they attempt to date various landforms.

It was during Haast’s explorations in New Zealand that he began to give names to glaciers, creating what he called a “Pantheon” of landforms named for prominent individuals from leading scholars to emperors, according to chief paleontologist Charles Alexander Fleming. In addition, his studies of the effects of past glaciation became the basis for later works on glacier geology.

Painting of the Southern Alps from the Godley river bed, by John Gully, from a sketch by Johann Franz Julius von Haast (Source: the Alexander Turnbull Library)
Painting of the Southern Alps by John Gully, from a sketch by Julius von Haast (Source: The Alexander Turnbull Library).

In 1862, Haast specifically surveyed the geology of the Canterbury district and visited its glaciers. His mapping and mountaineering expeditions of Mueller Glacier, for example, became a valuable first-hand resource to Thomas Lowell et al.’s research on the Rhizocarpon calibration curve (an application tool to assess Little Ice Age glacier behavior) for the Aoraki/Mount Cook area.

In his report, Nolden references 165 of Haast’s drawings from South Island surveys from 1860 to 1868 that can be found in the Haast archives. Other panoramic watercolors of the Southern Alps and map sketches of the glacier geology of New Zealand are in private collections such as in the Hochstetter Collection Basel. In addition to these works, Haast published one book of his research, entitled “Geology of the Provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand: A Report Comprising the Results of Official Explorations” (Haast 1879). Other useful, unpublished manuscripts written by Haast have also been located and preserved.

Interestingly, despite these archives, little is known about Haast’s early life. Almost everything written about him concerns what he did after arriving to New Zealand, a fact that is often frustrating to historians. The most complete source of Haast to date is a biography written by his son, Heinrich von Haast.

“For the biographer, Haast is a difficult subject,” writes Nolden in his report. “Relatively little is known about him for the period prior to his arrival in Auckland on 21 December 1858, and this is in no small part due to the subject’s own contribution to myths and misinformation.” Knowing about Haast’s upbringing, education, work, family and friends before he came to New Zealand might be helpful in explaining what drove him to accomplish so much during his lifetime.

Julius Haast, ‘From Spur about 6500 above sea level, leading to Mt Cook, over the Great Tasman Glacier & the Murchison Glacier.’ (Source: Dr Albert Schedl Collection, Vienna).
A sketch by Julius Haast of the Mt Cook area, over the Great Tasman Glacier & the Murchison Glacier (Source: Dr Albert Schedl Collection, Vienna).

Colin Burrows, a New Zealand plant ecology educator and professor at University of Canterbury, was one scientist who studied Haast’s explorations in New Zealand, especially the Southern Alps. His book, “Julius Haast in the Southern Alps,” published in 2005, retraces Haast’s exploratory journeys in the mountains and examines his theories of glaciation. But according to Nolden, much of what has been written and repeated about the life of Haast prior to his arrival in New Zealand has been largely based on conjecture.

“Haast’s efforts to forge a new identity for himself and escape his past have become more fully apparent with the present research,” writes Nolden in his report. “Haast was prepared to change both his identity and allegiances whenever it seemed to serve his purposes – to leave behind his past and build a better future for himself.”

What is clear about Haast is that he spent his life exploring, studying and innovating. Although he is not widely known today, his contributions to glaciology became the basis of modern glacier studies. Haast’s efforts reveal how the work of one scientist can pave the way for subsequent generations of scientists. Thanks to the recent efforts of the Canterbury Museum and historian Sascha Nolden, we now have a better understanding of the historic contributions of one of glacier geology’s early pioneers.

An Earthquake, a Landslide and Two Glaciers in New Zealand

Glaciers can play an important role in landscape dynamics, interacting with other factors to shape landscape development. Two days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck North Canterbury, New Zealand, a landslide occurred between nearby Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. This landslide could offer insight into the role of glaciers in seismically active areas, particularly concerning the ways in which glaciers interact with earthquake-related instabilities in the landscape.

The landslide occurred at Omoeroa at around 2 p.m. (GMT +12 hours) on November 16th, closing off a section of State Highway 6 along the west coast of South Island for about three hours until debris were cleared.

Earthquakes and landslides are common in New Zealand due to the country’s location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the area around the Pacific Ocean that is very seismically active. It is so named because of the prevalence of volcanic activity within the ring, which is made up by the major tectonic plate boundaries.

Types of faults based on the movement of rocks (Source: USGS/Wikimedia Commons)
Types of faults based on the movement of rocks (Source: USGS/Creative Commons).

Earthquakes, which occur when Earth’s crust breaks along faults (fractures in the crust), send tremors outwards from the point of breakage. This particular earthquake was caused by oblique-reverse faulting (faulting that had both strike-slip and reverse components) near the boundary of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. Landslides, like the one that occurred between the two glaciers, are often triggered by other natural disasters, such as earthquakes or floods. In this case, the earthquake and its aftershocks triggered up to 100,000 landslides, causing local damage and blocking major roads and railway routes.

In conversation with GlacierHub, Umesh Haritashya, an associate professor in environmental geology at the University of Dayton, explained that the region in which the landslide occurred is prone to landslides even without any seismic activity. This is due to the topography of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. As such, it would not be surprising if the earthquake, landslide and glaciers are connected, he said.

While the two glaciers are found on the west coast of South Island, the earthquake occurred on the east coast of the island. The distance between the two suggests that the intensity of the tremors experienced in the area around the landslide may have been quite low. Nonetheless, a link is possible, according to Jeff Kargel, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona. “The timing of this big landslide is certainly suggestive of a direct link to the earthquake,” Kargel told GlacierHub.

The terminus of Fox glacier in 2013, showing the surrounding mountain topography (Source: Umesh Haritashya)
The terminus of Fox glacier in 2013, showing the surrounding mountain topography (Source: Umesh Haritashya).

“For both direct and circumstantial reasons, earthquakes, glaciers and landslides are closely associated,” Kargel explained. “There is the direct influence of glaciers that produce lots of unstable rock debris over thousands of years, and there are indirect influences, where glaciers erode the mountain topography and produce very steep slopes. These factors create conditions under which seismic activity can easily set off landslides.”

In addition, Kargel noted that glaciers occur where uplift rates have been high and the terrain is elevated to begin with. This means that either circumstantially or indirectly, glaciers and landslides can occur nearby.

Kargel further stated that large earthquakes tend to create instabilities in the landscape that are later exploited by natural processes, making landslides more frequent in the aftermath of earthquakes. “The spike in landslide activity can last for several years,” he said.

The terminus of Franz Josef Glacier, as seen in 2006 (Source: Sarah Toh)
The terminus of Franz Josef Glacier, as seen in 2006 (Source: Sarah Toh).

In addition to seismic activity, other causes like heavy rain after the earthquake could have contributed to the occurrence of the landslide. New Zealand’s MetService reported that the areas of the glaciers had received considerable rain, with 80-120mm falling the night after the earthquake.

“The West Coast receives an unusually high amount of rain, so slopes are already reconditioned and any seismic activity can trigger major landslides,” Haritashya explained.

The links between the earthquake, glaciers and landslides will become clearer as scientists examine similar events more fully. For now, landslides like these offer an insight into the complex interactions between glaciers, topography and seismic activity. Earthquakes can cause large amounts of disruption to people’s lives, so advancements in this field of science could prove valuable to communities as they seek to address the challenges posed by natural disasters.

As Glaciers Melt, Tourists Keep on Coming to New Zealand

While more people are visiting iconic New Zealand glaciers because of concerns that climate change might wipe out the ice masses altogether, visitors are reportedly underwhelmed by the melting, gray glaciers. 

This finding is documented in a new multidisciplinary study, “Implications of climate change for glacier tourism,” released last month in Tourism Geographies. The findings were published by Emma J. Stewart and researchers at Lincoln University, in Canterbury, New Zealand, in conjunction with others from neighboring and international universities. The study examines the impacts of climate change on the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers in New Zealand’s South Island, and how these effects have trickled down to local tourism. The tourism industry there collectively attracted over 500,000 international visitors in 2015.

Westland Tai Poutini National Park
Westland Tai Poutini National Park, with neighboring Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Geographies.)

These glaciers, located in Westland Tai Poutini National Park, are just two of New Zealand’s more than 3,100 glaciers, but they are the country’s most beloved and visited, and have received a flow of tourists dating back to the early 1900s. Their distinctive morphology creates glacier tongues that flow down from the high mountains to low, visitor-accessible elevations.

However, studies show that glacier recession has accelerated at an unprecedented rate in New Zealand. Previous studies estimate that Fox Glacier lost over 700 meters in length between 2008 and 2015, and that neighboring Franz Josef Glacier experienced a similar rate of reduction. Recent modeling estimates that Franz Josef Glacier will shed 62 percent of its current volume by 2100.

Fox Glacier
Changes in surface debris cover (black regions) on Fox Glacier from 2008 to 2014. (Photo courtesy Tourism Geographies.)

In order to explore perceptions of change with regard to glaciers and tourism, the researchers conducted 13 stakeholder interviews with employees from the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) and commercial tourism businesses at the two glaciers. They also administered questionnaires to 500 English-speaking visitors who were returning from guided walks to view Fox or Franz Josef Glacier. Researchers asked visitors about their reasons for journeying to the sites and their overall satisfaction with their glacier visit.

Stakeholders showed widespread agreement that the region’s glacier tourism industry was largely inspired by visitor perceptions of the glaciers as a “bucket list” item or as a “last chance” tourism trip. The notion of “last chance” glacial tourism encapsulates visitors’ desires to observe, photograph, or interact with threatened or rare physical features and natural landmarks. The study suggests that New Zealand’s high levels of glacier tourism are largely due to visitors’ desire to visit these iconic natural landmarks before they disappear.

The study also reveals that stakeholders and tourists alike perceive the glaciers as highly significant to the region and to New Zealand.

“The glaciers are first and foremost the reason why people stop at Franz and Fox,” a DOC employee stressed. 

A Franz Josef tourism manager echoed these sentiments, telling his interviewers, “If the glaciers were not here, these towns would not be either.”

“[The glaciers] are hugely significant to New Zealand – culturally, naturally and economically. They are icon destinations on the South Island,” one of the study’s two lead researchers, Emma Stewart of Lincoln University, told GlacierHub in an email.

Yet while stakeholders are in widespread agreement of the glaciers’ importance to the region, and the time-sensitive nature of the possibilities of visiting them, the study’s interviews reveal that visitors are also expressing less wonder at the sight of the once majestic glaciers.

In the survey, one DOC ranger said, “I would feel much better if the glaciers were coming forward, they always look better, whereas now it’s just a dirty old strip of ice up around the corner.”

The study noted that “significant segments of the visitor population” found that their expectation of the size and condition of the glaciers “exceeded the reality.”

Fox Glacier
Lower part of Fox Glacier with glacier tongue in February 2013. (Photo courtesy Matthias Basler.)

On average, 50 percent of interviewed visitors expected the glacier to be “bigger,” 45 percent expected the ice would be “cleaner” and 35 percent thought the glacier would be “more spectacular.” The surveyors noticed that visitor satisfaction often correlated with how high up on the glacier the visitors travel.  

The glaciers’ rapid retreats and the resulting increased risk of rockfall hazards have impeded visitor access, particularly higher up on the glacier, and especially on Franz Josef.

Co-author Heather Purdie of the University of Canterbury told GlacierHub via email that guided walks to Franz Josef recently were suspended.

“Guided walks that used to access the glaciers on foot from the lower valley are now no longer possible,” she wrote.

She notes that now, visitors can only participate in a guided walk tour by flying to the glaciers by helicopter. This option’s high price is prohibitive for many visitors, though.

Overall, access is becoming limited. “People cannot get as close to the glacier as they used to,” Purdie continued. 

These findings highlight concerns that glacial tourism may decrease with increased glacial melting. One accommodation provider suggested that, “If the glaciers are established enough as a tourist icon then people will come even if it is not like it used to be.” However, the provider then added, “Maybe I am naïve to think that people will still come here without the glacier.”  

Yet the study simultaneously argues that perceptions of the “last chance to see” phenomenon of glaciers might simultaneously increase glacial tourism in the region.

The study is the first of its kind to report highly adaptive capacities of glacial tourism stakeholders, such as DOC employees and glacial tourism companies. Among the stakeholders interviewed, the study reported strong evidence of the understanding of biophysical trends and a demonstrated ability to flexibly and successfully facilitate glacial access and glacier product availability and to maintain high levels of visitor satisfaction, by actions such as introducing helicopter rides to survey the glacier and modifying walking tour routes to increase safety and better showcase the glacier as it melts.  

The authors hope that Westland Tai Poutini National Park’s case-specific adaptive strategies to adapt their glacial tourism sectors to climate change can extend beyond New Zealand. 

“Given that glaciers are retreating globally,” Stewart said.  “[The study] has implications for more local, and possibly neighboring glacier experiences, such as the Tasman and Hooker Glaciers in the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.”

Roundup: Glacier Tourism, Monitoring, and Melt

Each weekly Roundup, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

 

Tourists’ take “last chance” to see New Zealand Glaciers

From The International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment:

“For more than 100 years, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers in Westland Tai Poutini National Park have attracted thousands of tourists annually and have emerged as iconic destinations in New Zealand. However, in recent years, the recession of both glaciers has been increasingly rapid and the impacts on, and implications for, visitor experiences in these settings remain relatively unexplored…Results revealed the fundamental importance of viewing the glaciers as a significant travel motive of visitors, suggesting that there is a ‘last chance’ dimension to their experience. Furthermore, the results demonstrate a high adaptive capacity of local tourism operators under rapidly changing environmental conditions.”

Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand (Wiki)
Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand (Wiki)

To read the full study, click here.

 

Glacier monitoring in the pre-internet era

From AGU Blogosphere:

“We have been monitoring the annual mass balance of Easton Glacier on Mount Baker, a stratovolcano in the North Cascade Range, Washington since 1990.  This is one of nine glaciers we are continuing to monitor, seven of which have a 32 year long record. The initial exploration done in the pre-internet days required visiting libraries to look at topographic maps and buying a guide book to trails for the area.  This was followed by actual letters, not much email then, to climbers who had explored the glacier in the past, for old photographs.  Armed with photographs and maps we then determined where to locate base camp and how to access the glacier.”

Easton Glacier retreat, taken in 2003 (wiki)
Easton Glacier retreat, taken in 2003 (wiki)

For more, go to the AGU Blog post here, and check out “Easton Glacier Monitoring” by Mauri Pelto on Vimeo

 

Water scarcity in central Asia

From The World Bank:

“Communities in Central Asia talk about how water is vital but scarce resource across the region. The Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program (CAEWDP) works to ensure effective energy and water management, including at the regional level. This work should accelerate investment, promote economic growth and stable livelihoods.”

For more, click here. 

For New Zealand Visitors, Helicopters Offer Only Way Onto Two Glaciers

SONY DSC
The Franz Joseph Glacier. (Photo: G Morel via Flickr)

The only way for visitors to walk on two iconic glaciers in New Zealand, the Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers, is by taking a helicopter ride— a situation that probably won’t change in the foreseeable future, a spokesperson for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation has told GlacierHub.

The Associated Press reported in March, under the headline “Hiking on New Zealand glaciers banned because of rapid melting,” that it had become impossible for visitors to hike up onto these glaciers because of the dangers posed by their quick recession. It also noted that the number of people who could walk on the glaciers had been cut in half now that helicopters have become the only way to venture onto them, compared to before when people could hike up onto them.

Helicopter carrying tourists landing on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand (source: Ingolfson/Wikimedia)
Helicopter carrying tourists landing on Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand (source: Ingolfson/Wikimedia)

Jose Watson, a communications adviser for the Department of Conservation in New Zealand, explained the situation in an email to GlacierHub:

There are rivers that come out of the terminal face (front) of the glacier and these rivers often change course meaning that tracks, bridges and viewing points are regularly moved. The glacier is receding, and has reached a point where it is no longer possible to access on foot, so if people want to walk on the glacier they can do so by booking a helihike with one of the guiding companies. A helihike takes people up onto a safe spot on the glacier and walk goes from there. Walking access has not been “banned” as such, but it’s not possible, or safe at the moment, and this situation is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

While helicopters might be a quick and exciting way for tourists to see the glaciers, they are not without their risks— last year, a Squirrel helicopter crashed on the Fox Glacier, claiming the lives of seven people. That deadly event was one of seven accidents involving aircraft and glaciers in New Zealand since 2008.

Almost one million people traveled to see New Zealand’s glaciers in 2015, the Associated Press reported. The beautiful glaciers and striking scenery are part of what lures people to the country.

“It’s the uniqueness, the rawness of the environment,” Rob Jewell, chairman of the Glacier Country Tourism Group, told the AP.  

And for now, unfortunately, helicopters are the only way to experience that raw environment on these two shrinking glaciers.

Roundup: Fewer Hikers, Less Pollen, More Algae on Glaciers

Each week, we highlight three stories from the forefront of glacier news.

New Zealand Glaciers Banned Hiking

fox glacier new zealand gareth eyres Source: allcountries.org

From Mashable.com:

New Zealand is renowned for its wondrous scenery, and among the country’s top tourist attractions are two glaciers that are both stunning and unusual because they snake down from the mountains to a temperate rain forest, making them easy for people to walk up to and view.

The hot weather has even created a new type of tourist attraction over the other side of the mountains. Purdie said the glaciers there are also rapidly retreating, resulting in tourists taking boat rides on the lakes to see some of the massive icebergs that have begun to shear away.”

Read more about this policy here.

Microalgal Community Structures in Cryoconite Holes upon High-Arctic Glaciers of Svalbard

From Biogeosciences:

Biplot for the partial RDA with glacier and place as covariables, after interactive forward-selection covariates analysis. Source: photo of article.
Biplot for the partial RDA with glacier and place as
covariables, after interactive forward-selection covariates analysis. Source: Biogeosciences.

“Glaciers are known to harbor surprisingly complex ecosystems. On their surface, distinct cylindrical holes filled with meltwater and sediments are considered hot spots for microbial life. The present paper addresses possible biological interactions within the community of prokaryotic cyanobacteria and eukaryotic microalgae (microalgae) and relations to their potential grazers, such as tardigrades and rotifers, additional to their environmental controls. Svalbard glaciers with substantial allochthonous input of material from local sources reveal high microalgal densities.

Selective wind transport of Oscillatoriales via soil and dust particles is proposed to explain their dominance in cryoconites further away from the glacier margins. We propose that, for the studied glaciers, nutrient levels related to recycling of limiting nutrients are the main factor driving variation in the community structure of microalgae and grazers.”

Read more about microalgal community structures here.

Pollen Limitation in Nival Plants of European Central Alps

From American Journal of Botany:

Taxonomic composition of the pollen load of relevant insect pollinators ( N = 10 investigated individuals per insect group). Source: photo of article.
Taxonomic composition of the pollen load of relevant insect
pollinators ( N = 10 investigated individuals per insect group). Source: Am J Botany.

” A plant is considered to be pollen-limited when—due to an insufficient supply with pollen of adequate quality—the seed output remains below the potential value. Pollen limitation is thought to be a general phenomenon under the harsh climatic conditions at high latitudes and elevations.

Our study in the alpine–nival ecotone revealed that insect activity is not a limiting factor for pollination success in the studied plant species, which can be explained by the fact that anthesis functions and pollinator activity are largely coupled. ”

Learn more about pollen limitation here.

Helicopter Crashes in New Zealand Glacier

A helicopter flying over the Fox Glacier in New Zealand crashed during bad weather last weekend, killing all seven passengers. Four of the victims were British tourists and two were Australian. The pilot, who had 3,000 hours of flying experience, was from New Zealand.

The main body of the helicopter was found crushed between blocks of ice the size of houses and debris from the crash was spread across 100 meters. Rugged conditions made it difficult for rescuers to retrieve the bodies.

The region has experienced bad weather since the beginning of the tourist season, with low hanging clouds and rains. A local official, Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, told the Telegraph, a British newspaper.

Glaciers on New Zealand’s Southern Island have retreated in recent years, forcing tourism companies to fly tourists to glaciers by helicopter, Kokshoorn added. Tourists typically take a ten-minute flight to the Fox Glacier and walk around for half an hour before returning.

Since 2008, there have been seven plane and helicopter accidents on glaciers in New Zealand. Earlier this year a helicopter crashed on the Poerua Glacier in Westland National Park. The three people on board survived. Four tourists survived when their helicopter rolled on the Richardson Glacier in 2014 and in 2013 11 people were rescued when two helicopters collided on the Tyndall Glacier.

“We’re hurting. It’s a real tragedy today,” Rob Jewell, chairman of the Glacier Country Tourism Group, said in a statement. “We’ll just do what we can to make this as easy as we can for everybody, and obviously our thoughts are with those who lost their lives today and their families and friends.”

Questions have been raised about whether the helicopter should have been allowed to fly under bad conditions. Officials have been sent to the scene to investigate the incident.

Roundup: Glacier Paddleboarding and Ice Loss in the Southern Hemisphere

Paddleboarders soak up splendors of Glacier Bay for 4 days

Paddleboarding Glacier Bay
Michelle Eshpeter views ice up close as she paddleboards near McBride Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park.
Courtesy of Alaska Dispatch News / Sean Neilson.

“A typical summer day in 3.3-million-acre Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve might see cruise boats, kayakers and anglers on the water, hikers on shore, flightseers in the air. And increasingly, paddleboarders paddling among ice floes.”

Read more about this new trend here.

 

Studying glaciers before they vanish

Thwaites Glacier“[A] just-released report by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences…. concluded that the National Science Foundation — which runs U.S. Antarctic programs — should make research on Antarctica’s sea level implications its top priority, with a particular emphasis on West Antarctica. That’s because much of its ice is below sea level and thus ‘vulnerable to a runaway collapse process known as marine ice sheet instability.’

‘There is an urgent need to understand this process in order to better assess how future sea level rise from ice sheets might proceed,’ the report stated.”

Click here to read more.

New Zealand’s glaciers have shrunk by a third – report

“The government report released on Wednesday says the volume of glacier ice has dropped by 36 percent since 1978 because of rising temperatures. Andrew Mackintosh of Victoria University’s Antarctic Research Centre said globally there was no doubt that human influences had caused glaciers to retreat. He said it has yet to be scientifically demonstrated in New Zealand, but it was very likely humans have played a part.

‘There’s no doubt that New Zealand glaciers have lost a lot of ice during that period, especially since 2008 we’ve seen a rapid loss of ice in the Southern Alps and iconic glaciers like Franz Josef and Fox have retreated dramatically.'”

To read more, click here.

 

Photo Friday: Timelapse of New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier

The National Snow and Ice Data Center’s Glacier Photograph Collection is an online, ever-expanding, searchable collection of photographs of glaciers. Photos in the collection date back as far as the mid-1800s until the present, making it as an important historical record dating that allows those interested to examine the effect of climate change on glaciers. The collection contained over 15,000 glacial photographs as of June 2010!

This week, we take a closer look at New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier, a 12km-long glacier on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Check out the photo timelapse from 1951 to 2015 below!

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Rockslide on Glacier Exacerbates Flooding in New Zealand

New Zealands Southern Alps Courtesy of Geee Kay, Flickr)
New Zealand’s Southern Alps Courtesy of Geee Kay, Flickr)

On 2 January 2013, large piles of rock tumbled down Mt. Evans in New Zealand. The avalanches, set off by the collapse of the mountain’s west ridge, sent rocks onto the Evans and County Glaciers and eroded snow and ice. As the rocks tumbled down, they triggered flooding in the Wanganui River.

The event was not the first time rock avalanches caused severe damage in the region; glaciers, landslides and rivers are the main cause of erosion in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  Historically, rockslides such as these occurred once every hundred years, according to a new report by authors J.M. Carey, G.T. Hancox and M.J. McSaveney, but have increased in recent decades. There were 4 per decade between 1976 and 1999 and more than 20 per decade since 1999.

Some, the report found, are caused by the region’s frequent earthquakes, but many of these rock avalanches cannot be attributed to one factor alone. Instead, factors including heavy rainfall, high slopes and fractured rock each contribute to avalanche-prone rock conditions.

Understanding the underlying causes and effects of rock avalanches can help researchers assess the likelihood of future rock avalanches and the potential damage they will cause. Already, researchers expect boulders above the Evans Glacier to collapse at any time onto the ice.

“The increase may relate to accumulating geodetic strain in the region as the change in occurrence rate correlates closely with change in accumulating seismic moment release in the New Zealand region,” wrote the authors. “It also has been linked to global climate change which is likely an additional rather than an alternative influence.”

The consequences of frequent rockslides can be severe. In the case of the most recent event on Mt. Evans, rocks travelling at 35 meters per second, or 78 miles per hour, set in motion cascading events which inundated farmland, cut off a road and severed a fibre optic cable. The floods were initially attributed to heavy rainfall, but a reconnaissance mission five and a half months later revealed that the landslide onto the Evans Glacier was the main trigger. Heavy rains exacerbated the flooding in the Wanganui River.

“The rock avalanche onto Evans Glacier ran out at high speed onto a broad flooded river flat over a kilometre long,” the authors wrote. “The rock avalanche significantly bulked up with snow and flood water and also may have bulked up with alluvium [deposit left by flood water] and possibly old glacial deposits.”

Roundup: NZ photos, vanishing ice art, murder mystery

Glacier melting recorded by photos

source: the New Zealand Herald
source: the New Zealand Herald

“A series of photographs taken over 10 years has revealed the dramatic changes to one of New Zealand’s most famous glacier.The Massey University scientists who took the pictures – at the same time each year during surveys – say the changes to Fox Glacier on the South Island’s West Coast are also having a major impact on the surrounding landscape, with the valley rising by more than a metre in the last two years.”

Read more about these photos here.

Vanishing Ice Exhibition across Canada

Jean de Pomereu (French, b. 1969), Fissure 2 (Antarctica) from Sans Nom, 2008, archival inkjet print, 107 x 129 cm, Whatcom Museum, Gift of the artist
Jean de Pomereu (French, b. 1969), Fissure 2 (Antarctica) from Sans Nom, 2008, archival inkjet print, 107 x 129 cm, Whatcom Museum, Gift of the artist

“The exhibit shows climate change in a new way, says Barbara Matilsky, the curator behindVanishing Ice. “Many people are aware of the critical importance of ice for the planet,” she says, adding that she wanted to focus on how the artistic legacy of ice has helped shape Western views of the natural world. The exhibition — which contains over seventy works by fifty artists from twelve countries — begins a three-month run on Saturday at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario (before this, it visited Calgary’s Glenbow Museum.) Because it covers a span of over two centuries, the exhibition provides some unique opportunities to see changes, both in the icy landscapes themselves and society’s view of them.”

Read more about this exhibition here.

New murder mystery

 "Fortitude," an Arctic murder mystery series on the Pivot channel
“Fortitude,” an Arctic murder mystery series on the Pivot channel

““Fortitude,” an ambitious 12-episode murder mystery beginning on last Thursday night, takes place in two unusual locales. One is its slightly fantastical far-far-north setting, a fictional Arctic island — based on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard — where a small international community is outnumbered by polar bears; crime is thought to be nonexistent; and anyone near death is exiled to the mainland, because bodies can’t be buried in the permafrost.”

Read more about this here.