Friday, May 09, 2014

Climate change threatening New Zealand's glacier tourism industry

Global climate change might put an end to tourist trails over New Zealand's iconic South Island glaciers, a geography researcher warned Friday.

The multimillion-dollar glacier tourism industry was under threat with the two main glaciers, Fox and Franz Josef, in rapid retreat, said University of Canterbury researcher Dr Heather Purdie.

"The current glacial retreat is making access increasingly difficult for guided walks at Fox and Franz Josef glaciers but, simultaneously, an enlarging glacial lake at Tasman Glacier is increasing tourism opportunities," Purdie said in a statement.

Steepening ice slopes, increased debris cover and an increase in rock fall hazards were some of the challenges glacier tourism operators faced.

"The termini of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are drawing increasingly close to their previous minimum which, coupled with thinning, indicates that retreat will continue for the near future, " said Purdie.

While helicopters and longer tracks up glacier valleys could ensure continued access, these would be financially and environmentally costly, she said.

Glacier tourism had been a part of the New Zealand experience for a century, but access and viewing points would become increasingly unsatisfactory as glaciers retreated into steeper, more inaccessible terrain.

  • Scientists, policy makers and tour operators needed to work together, sharing knowledge, ideas and experience, to find a balance between utilization, safety and conservation, she said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that predicted glacier shrinkage and retreat would reduce visitor numbers in towns like Fox Glacier and Franz Josef, but tourism on New Zealand glaciers was as busy as ever, with up to 400 tourists a day last summer


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