Glacier retreat: feedbacks and implications for glacier tourism — ASN Events

Glacier retreat: feedbacks and implications for glacier tourism (15764)

Heather Purdie 1 , Jude Wilson 2 , Christopher Gomez 1 , Emma Stewart 2 , Stephen Espiner 2 , Paul Bealing 1 , Nicolas Key 1
  1. Department of Geography, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  2. Faculty of Environment, Society and Design, Lincoln University, Lincoln, New Zealand

Since the culmination of the most recent advance period in 2008/09, the Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers situated on the West Coast of New Zealand, have lost around 500 m in length and experienced significant ice thinning in their lower regions. But even as the glaciers rapidly retreat, they remain some of New Zealand’s most popular tourist attractions, with over 300,000 international tourists visiting the glacier region each year. In this research we take a multidisciplinary approach combining cutting-edge technology (unmanned aerial surveys and structure from motion modelling) to measure and monitor the rapidly changing physical characteristics of the glaciers, along with face-to-face semi-structured interviews with local tourism stakeholders (n=13) and visitor interviews (n=500), to explore the impact of these changes on the visitor experience. It was found that in addition to shortening and thinning, the region of the Fox Glacier that is heavily utilised for tourism is becoming increasingly debris-covered. This is due to melt-out of englacial debris and increased rockfall from the surrounding recently exposed valley slopes. With thinning the previously convex glacier cross-profile has flattened and modelling has demonstrated that falling rocks can now travel up to 50 m further out onto the glacier surface than was the case in 2008/09 – potentially into regions utilised for guided glacier walks. Overwhelmingly, the majority of the visitors surveyed expected the glaciers to get smaller in the future, and a number identified the importance of seeing the glaciers before they disappeared due to climate-related change. Interestingly, some stakeholder interviews revealed local optimism in that the glacier will re-advance in the future, and that the tourists will continue to visit. When visitors were asked if they would still visit the glaciers even if the only way to see them was by helicopter, over one-half of respondents indicated they would still visit. By integrating physical and social perspectives we gain greater understanding of the impacts that climate change will have on glacier tourism in New Zealand.