Tuesday 29 March 2016

More on New Zealand's disappearing glaciers

From Kevin Hester:

How is this for a positive feed back loop? "
I guess you could say global warming is having a positive effect for Glacier Explorers,” Mr. Ward said the number of his annual customers had soared in the last six years, to 25,000 from 7,000, primarily because tourists want to see icebergs break off the glacier and fall into the lake."

How macabre!

People wanting to watch the demise of the glaciers brings more tourists who now can't walk to the glacier so must use a chopper burning high octane jet fuel and depositing exhaust soot on the glacier thus reducing the albido effect.

Mea Culpa. I have choppered to both of these glaciers and it would appear I am the last generation to have walked to them as well.

Pity this had to be covered by the NYT and not NZ media!

New Zealand Glaciers Ebb and Tour Guides Play Catch-Up

2 January, 2015

FOX GLACIER, New Zealand — This town of about 300 residents trades on its namesake: a giant slab of ice and snow a short drive from the main street. Guided glacier hiking began here in 1928 and is a main reason for the area’s popularity as a destination for international travelers.

But a local tour operator, Fox Glacier Guiding, has been unable to take tourists onto the ice on foot since April, when glacial retreat caused a river to change course, blocking access to a popular hiking trail. And at another glacier about 14 miles down the road, the operator Franz Josef Glacier Guides lost hiking access in 2012, also because of retreating ice.

Now, air landings by helicopter are the only way to set foot on the glaciers, which lie at the confluence of the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. As a result, both companies have made helicopter tours their primary product, increasing business for local helicopter operator.

Around the world, climate change is having uneven economic effects on tourism operators whose businesses depend on ice and snow.

It has, for example, hurt some ski areas while potentially benefiting competitors whose higher elevations make them less vulnerable to snowmelt, said Daniel Scott, a geographer at the University of Waterloo in Canada who studies links between climate change and tourism.

In Peru, if the rapidly shrinking Pastoruri Glacier disappears, tourists may take their business — typically about $15 per person for a glacier walk — to places where glacial ice is still accessible, said Carlos Ames of Aventura Quechua, a guide company in the mountain city of Huaraz. But in the short term, he added, Pastoruri’s retreat has created new jobs for horse- and mule-mounted guides, because some tourists think they cannot complete the lengthening, high-altitude glacier hike unassisted.

And in Greenland, glacier-oriented tourism is growing because visitors are eager to see the effects of climate change, said Malik Milfeldt, a senior tourism consultant for Visit Greenland, a government-financed promotional company. 

Revenue from tourist-friendly activities like dog sledding, ice carving and Nordic skiing have dropped as winter weather has grown more unpredictable.
What benefits one hurts the other,” Mr. Milfeldt said.

In New Zealand, most of whose 4.4 million people live on two main islands, tourism directly accounted for 3.7 percent of gross domestic product in the year ending March 31, 2013, or $5.7 billion at today’s exchange rates, according to government data. A 2007 study prepared for Development West Coast, a nonprofit organization in the coastal town of Greymouth, estimated that glacier-related tourism on the South Island’s scenic west coast directly contributed at least $77 million a year to local economies.

Two of the glaciers there, Fox and Franz Josef, have advanced several times since they were first measured more than a century ago, scientific figures show. 

But both have retreated farther in the last five years than they advanced in the preceding 25 years, and scientists predict the retreat will continue over the long term.

A tour guide in New Zealand. Tourism directly accounted for 3.7 percent of gross domestic product in the year ending March 31, 2013.
Credit Guy Frederick for The New York Times

There is no doubt that the retreat has been caused by climate change,” Brian Anderson, a glaciologist at Victoria University in the capital of Wellington who studies both glaciers, said in an email.

Since April, a hiking trail to Fox Glacier’s icy terminal face has stopped a few hundred feet short of its target, blocked by a small river and some rocks and boulders that the retreating ice left behind.

In a 2014 academic survey of tourism in New Zealand’s glacier region, about two-thirds of respondents said they would still travel to the Fox and Franz Josef area, even if the glaciers were accessible only by air. About one-fifth, however, said they would not be willing to pay for a helicopter flight to walk on them.

From a business perspective, that does not bother Bede Ward, the general manager of Glacier Explorers, which offers boat tours on a lake near the Tasman Glacier on the South Island. He said the number of his annual customers had soared in the last six years, to 25,000 from 7,000, primarily because tourists want to see icebergs break off the glacier and fall into the lake.

I guess you could say global warming is having a positive effect for Glacier Explorers,” Mr. Ward said by email.

But at Franz Josef Glacier Guides, the number of staff members has dwindled to 35 from 60 since 2012, the year that walking access was cut off, according to Craig Buckland, the company’s operations manager. Rob Jewell, the chief executive of Fox Glacier Guiding, said the loss of hiking access since April had taken a “significant” toll on business.

Rob Jewell, the chief executive of Fox Glacier Guiding, said the loss of hiking access since April had taken a “significant” toll on business. Credit - Guy Frederick for The New York Times

Both companies have embraced helicopter tourism in hopes of making up revenue that guided hikes once provided.

Noise from glacier-bound helicopters could annoy some tourists, said Wayne Costello, an official with the Conservation Department in the town of Franz Josef. 

But he said tour guides could also use glacial retreat as a “touchstone” for teaching tourists about climate change.

It’s a really important chance for us to connect with people and say, ‘Actually, if you value your environment, this is what’s happening in the world, and these are the impacts of humans living on the planet,’” Mr. Costello said at his home.

On a recent morning, tourists from several countries gathered at a helipad in Fox Glacier before a half-day trek on the glacier.

Smitha Murthy and Keerthy Prasad, software engineers from Bangalore, India, were exploring Fox Glacier as part of their 11-day New Zealand honeymoon.

After a short ride in a bright red helicopter, they were walking, wide-eyed, through a canyon with 25-foot ice walls, the newlyweds recalled after their tour.

Mr. Prasad, 29, said he had planned the tour with help from a Bangalore travel agent. At over $300 per person, it was more than double what the couple had paid to bungee-jump elsewhere in New Zealand.

But Mr. Prasad and Ms. Murthy, 24, had no regrets about the price.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Mr. Prasad said. “It’s probably not worth the money to do it again. But the first time, it’s really worth it.”

New Zealand’s Southern Alps have lost a third of their ice

A third of the permanent snow and ice of New Zealand’s Southern Alps has now disappeared, according to our new research based on National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research aerial surveys.

A NASA satellite photo of the Southern Alps, stretching along New Zealand’s South Island, shown here capped with snow in 2002. Jacques Descloitres/NASA/Wikimedia Commons

29 Juloy, 2014

Since 1977, the Southern Alps' ice volume has shrunk by 18.4 km3 or 34%, and those ice losses have been accelerating rapidly in the past 15 years.
The story of the Southern Alps’s disappearing ice has been very dramatic – and when lined up with rapid glacier retreats in many parts of the world, raises serious questions about future sea level rise and coastal climate impacts.
The Southern Alps’ total ice volume (solid line) and annual gains or losses (bars) from 1976 to 2014 in km of water equivalent, as calculated from the end-of-summer-snowline monitoring programme. “ zoomable= Authors, CC BY

Glaciers are large-scale, highly sensitive climate instruments, which in an ideal world we would pick up and weigh once a year, because their fluctuations provide one of the clearest signals of climate change.
A glacier is simply the surplus ice that collects above the permanent snowline where the losses to summer melting are less than the gains from winter accumulation. A glacier flows downhill and crosses the permanent snowline from the area of snow gain to the zone of ice loss. The altitude of this permanent snowline is the equilibrium line: it marks the altitude at which snow gain (accumulation) is exactly balanced by melt (ablation) and is represented by the end-of-summer snowline.
width: 100%;"Tasman Lake, photographed in March 2011.Trevor Chinn, CC BY-NC-SA

In 1977, one of us (Trevor Chinn) commenced aerial photography to measure the annual end-of-summer snowline for 50 index glaciers throughout the Southern Alps.
These annual end-of-summer surveys have been continued by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). We then use the NIWA results to calculate the annual glacier mass balance and hence volume changes of small to medium sized glaciers in the Southern Alps. Small to medium glaciers respond quickly to annual variability of weather and climate, and are in balance with the current climate.
Not so the twelve largest glaciers: the Tasman, Godley, Murchison, Classen, Mueller, Hooker, Ramsay, Volta/Therma, La Perouse, Balfour, Grey, and Maud glaciers. These have a thick layer of insulating rocks on top of the ice lower down the glaciers trunk. Their response to new snow at the top is subdued, and take many decades to respond.
Up until the 1970s, their surfaces lowered like sinking lids maintaining their original areas. Thereafter, glacial lakes have formed and they have undergone rapid retreat and ice loss.
The Rolleston index glacier in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, showing the accumulation area where fresh clean snow gain occurs above the end-of-summer snowline, and the area of melting ice below. Here, a negative balance year in 2009 shows a higher end-of-summer snowline revealing underlying old snow. Trevor Chinn, CC BY

To come up with our calculations, we have used the snowline survey data plus earlier topographic maps and a GPS survey of the ice levels of the largest glaciers to calculate total ice-volume changes for the Southern Alps up until 2014.
Over that time, ice volume had decreased 34%, from 54.5 km3 to 36.1 km3in water equivalents. Of that reduction, 40% was from the 12 largest glaciers, and 60% from the small- to medium-sized glaciers.

These New Zealand results mirror trends from mountain glaciers globally. From 1961 to 2005, the thickness of “small” glaciers worldwide decreased approximately 12 metres, the equivalent of more than 9,000 km3 of water.

Global Glacier Thickness Change: This shows average annual and cumulative glacier thickness change of mountain glaciers of the world, measured in vertical metres, for the period 1961 to 2005. Mark Dyurgerov, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CC BY

Martin Hoelzle and associates at the World Glacier Monitoring Service have estimated estimate the 1890s extent of ice volume in New Zealand’s Southern Alps was 170 km3, compared to 36.1 km3 now. That disappearance of 75-80% of Southern Alps ice is graphic evidence of the local effects of global warming.

Further large losses of ice in the Southern Alps have been projected by glaciologists Valentina Radic and Regine Hock, suggesting that only 7-12 km3 will remain by the end of the 21st century. This is based on regional warming projections of 1.5°C to 2.5°C. This represents a likely devastation of ice cover of the Southern Alps over two centuries because of global warming.

And where does all this melted glacier ice go? Into the oceans, thus making an important contribution to sea level rise, which poses a serious risk to low-lying islands in the Pacific, and low-lying coastal cities from Miami in the US to Christchurch in NZ.
In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimatedmountain glacier melt has contributed about 6 to 7 centimetres of sea level rise since 1900, and project a further 10 to 20 cm from this source by 2100.
The disappearing ice story calls for robust effective climate policy to moderate effects on our landscape and coasts, otherwise future generations will have little of New Zealand/Aotearoa’s “long white cloud” alpine ice left to enjoy.

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