New Zealand’s glaciers are melting Tourists relax at the end of the track at the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand. The Fox and Franz Josef glaciers have been melting at such a rapid rate that it has become too dangerous for tourists to hike onto them from the valley floor, ending a tradition that dates back a century. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)
New Zealand’s glaciers are melting
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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. They snake down from the mountains to a temperate rain forest, making them easy for people to walk up to and view.
 
But the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers have been melting at such a rapid rate that it has become too dangerous for tourists to hike onto them from the valley floor. It has ended a tradition that dates back a century. With continuing warm weather this year, there are no signs of a turnaround. Scientists say it is another example of how global warming is impacting the environment.
 
Tourism in New Zealand is booming. Nearly 1 million people last year flocked to get a glimpse of the glaciers and the spectacular valleys they've carved. But the only way to set foot on them now is to get flown onto them by helicopter.
 
Tour operators offer flights and guided glacier walks. But logistics limit this to 80,000 tourists per year. It's half the number that once hiked up from the valley floor. Up to another 150,000 each year take scenic flights that land briefly at the top of the glaciers.
 
Flying in the UNESCO World Heritage area comes with its own risks. In November, a sightseeing helicopter crashed onto the Fox Glacier, killing all seven aboard.
 
Sitting near the base of the Franz Josef Glacier, Wayne Costello, a district operations manager for the Department of Conservation, said that when he arrived eight years ago, the rock he was perched on would have been buried under tons of ice. Instead, the glacier now comes to an end a half-mile further up the valley.
 
"Like a loaf of bread shrinking in its tin, it's gone down a lot as well," Costello said. "So it's wasted away in terms of its thickness. And that's led to quite a rapid melt."
 
Because of that melt, the valley walls that were once braced by the glaciers have been left exposed. They have become vulnerable to rock falls. Hiking up has become too dangerous. Tour operators stopped taking guided hikes onto the Franz Josef in 2012 and the nearby Fox in 2014.
 
A 2014 paper published in the journal Global and Planetary Change concluded the two glaciers have each melted by 1.9 miles in length. It has occurred since the 1800s. Today, the glaciers are about 20 percent shorter. They have recently been melting at a faster pace than ever previously recorded, the authors said.
 
Heather Purdie is a scientist at the University of Canterbury. She is the lead author of the paper. She said climate change is the driving factor.
 
"We know that glaciers around the world, including the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, are responding to that warmer temperature and they're retreating," she said. Small changes in temperature and snowfall tend to be magnified in the two glaciers. That means their retreat has been interrupted by advances that can last years, she said.
 
Costello and tour operators are hoping to see another advance soon. But there's no sign of that. February was the second-hottest month ever recorded in New Zealand.
 
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.
 
A helicopter trip onto the Fox Glacier reveals deep crevasses in the translucent blue ice and stunning ice caves through which guides take crampon-wearing tourists.
 
At the base of the Franz Josef, Dutch tourist Dieuwke Derkse said she was overwhelmed by the beauty of the glacier and the purity of the environment.
 
She said she felt a little guilty even visiting New Zealand because of the fossil fuels burned by the plane ride there. But she said the glacier also helped inspire her to live in a more environmentally conscious way.
 
"It makes me a little bit sad because you see how fast everything is going," she said.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What impact do the glaciers have on New Zealand’s economy?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (9)
  • reidi-4-bar
    3/24/2016 - 06:05 p.m.

    New Zealand is known for its wonderful views and beautiful glaciers, those glaciers are starting to melt. Many people would hike to them on the valley floor but now the glaciers are melting at such a rapid rate that it is to dangerous for people to hike on the valley floor. There is a limit to 80,000 tourists a year. I think that it is sad that the glaciers are melting so fast.

  • jacks-6-bar
    3/24/2016 - 06:58 p.m.

    The impact glaciers have on New Zealand's economy is negative but also positive. The article states: "Hiking up has become too dangerous. Tour operators stopped taking guided hikes onto the Franz Josef in 2012 and the nearby Fox in 2014." According to the article as well, hiking is the primary attraction that draws tourists to New Zealand, spending loads of money. Since tourists cannot spend money on this attraction, being forbidden, the country's economy will have a negative affect, as a significant amount of money is gained when people pay to hike the Franz Josef and the Fox. Not gaining this money will hurt its economy (however slightly); it will lose the money gained with people hiking, as no one is able to pay to do it anymore.
    The glaciers also have a positive affect on new Zealand's economy. The article states: "...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." Though the economy is hurt, there being a loss in money, there is also a gain in some. New tourist attractions are formed by the melting glaciers, one being a boat ride. People, enjoying the attraction, will probably pay to experience it, like they did with hiking. This payment increases money for New Zealand, there for expanding and benefiting the country's economy--a very positive affect on it.
    I found this article quite startling: it was baffling how fast the glaciers were melting. The Franz Josef and the Fox limited many of its former attractions by doing so. It was also interesting, yet disgraceful, to see the magnitude of global warming, and how much it's evolved/grown.

  • Steve0620-yyca
    3/24/2016 - 10:01 p.m.

    In New Zealand, there are two glaciers named Fox and Franz Josef that provide a stunning and an amazing view. However, this year the glaciers are beginning to melt because of global warming. The stunning views will no long be there after a while. Tourists used to travel on a trail to go see the wonderful glaciers but now, they won't be able to because the trails are dangerous.
    The glaciers provide a stunning view for people to watch and can inspire many people.

  • lucasl-3-bar
    3/24/2016 - 11:51 p.m.

    The article states that New Zealand's tourist industry relies mostly on the glaciers. As the glaciers continue to melt, efforts to slow it down include the need to reduce tourism of the glaciers. As a result, there are fewer people visiting the glaciers, shrinking the tourism industry and causing economy to recess. The article was intriguing because it showed yet another conflict between economical human interest and the environment. New Zealand is facing a critical struggle, and as society and technology develop, problems such as these are receiving more attention as to containing and solving such predicaments.

  • sheridanm-6-bar
    3/25/2016 - 12:48 a.m.

    The impact that the glaciers have on the economy is shrinking size, which means, less tourism, which equeals less money. The shrinking size of the glacirers is also dangerous for hikers.The country's tourist income is a big part of maintaning the economy. "But logistics limit this to 80,000 tourists per year. It's half the number that once hiked up from the valley floor." I enjoyed this article because there are many effects from global warming that the World needs to learn about.

  • theaw-4-bar
    3/28/2016 - 08:04 p.m.

    The glaciers have a huge impact on New Zealand's economy because they create such a huge tourist attraction. However, now that they are melting more rapidly than ever they New Zealand's economy may decrease. As of now it looks as if these beautiful glaciers will be gone sometime in the near future. "Nearly 1 million people last year flocked to get a glimpse of the glaciers and the spectacular valleys they've carved." If New Zealand wants it to stay that way, they, and the rest of the world need to do something about climate change, a growing issue in the world. I found this article very interesting because it showed that climate change is an increasing issue in this world, and it is inescapable. Sadly, I believe nothing will be done until it is too late.

  • joey0111-byo
    3/28/2016 - 09:31 p.m.

    It lets them make more money. They can make more money, because of the ice melting. They make money by the boat rides. The fossil fuels on the plane ride help the ice melt into water.

  • hasana-gra
    5/05/2016 - 11:23 a.m.

    The impact is that now that the glaciers are melting, there are fewer people that can go and visit them.

  • samuelc-gra
    5/05/2016 - 11:23 a.m.

    The glaciers have a huge impact on New Zealand's economy because they create such a huge tourist attraction. However, now that they are melting more rapidly than ever they New Zealand's economy may decrease. I believe more people need to pay attention to what there doing, This right hear, is proof of global warming and New Zealand's Glaciers are clearly showing it. The economy there will be bad and floods might be well known there if they have big glaciers there that will melt faster and faster each year.

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