New Zealand’s Glaciers Turn Brown: Concern for Accelerated Melting

New Zealand’s Glaciers Turn Brown: Concern for Accelerated Melting

It’s an unfortunate start of the new year for New Zealanders. Starting on December 30, the country’s MetService issued a series of tweets with impressive satellite images showing smoke from the Australian brush fires “making haste across the Tasman, driven by upper level jet of westerly winds.”

By January 1st, we started seeing reports and images of snow and glaciers in New Zealand’s Alps turned brown by dust and ash blown in from the Australian fires.

Professor Andrew Mackintosh, head of earth, atmosphere, and environment at Monash University, is quoted in this article published in The Guardian. He states that in almost two decades of studying glaciers in New Zealand, he’s never seen such a quantity of dust transported across the Tasman, and the current event had the potential to increase this season’s glacier melt by an estimated 20 to 30 percent.

There are more than 3,000 glaciers in New Zealand. Total ice volume is estimated to have decreased by 33 percent from 1977 to 2018, according to a recent research project on the country’s small- and medium-sized glaciers. The research is discussed in this Glacier Hub article.

We echo former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s concerns that the impact of the recent ash on the glaciers will likely accelerate melting.

Curious as to what might be causing the extreme nature of Australia’s brush fires? Check out this intriguing article, published last October, by Monash University. The article references a recent study led by Dr. Eun-Pa Lim and published in Nature Geoscience. They identified changes in springtime winds high above the South Pole as an additional driver of Australia’s hot and dry extremes.

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