The Mueller Glacier

Recently I was lucky enough to pay a visit to the South Island of New Zealand. I am actually a Kiwi by birth (that’s why it’s so easy for me to work in Australia) but grew up in Canada. This was my first visit back since I left as a baby – in fact, we were in my hometown exactly 20 years to the day after I left. We didn’t plan this, but it was a neat coincidence to discover.

Among the many places we visited was Aoraki / Mt. Cook National Park in the Southern Alps. It was my first experience of an alpine environment and I absolutely loved it. It was also my first glacier sighting – a momentous day in the life of any climate scientist.

There are 72 named glaciers in the park, of which we saw two: the Hooker Glacier and the Mueller Glacier. The latter is pictured below as seen from the valley floor – the thick, blue-tinged ice near the bottom of the visible portion of the mountain. As it flows downward it becomes coated in dirt and is much less pretty.

Along with most of the world’s glaciers, the Mueller is retreating (see these satellite images by NASA). At the base of the mountain on which it flows, there is a large terminal lake, coloured bright blue and green from the presence of “glacial flour” (rock ground up by the ice). According to the signs at the park, this lake has only existed since 1974.

In the photo above, you can see a large black “sill” behind the lake, which is the glacial moraine showing the previous extent of the ice. Here’s a photo of the moraines on the other side, looking down the valley:

It’s hard to capture the scale of the melt, even in photos. But when you stand beside it, the now-empty glacial valley is unbelievably huge. The fact that it was full of ice just 50 years ago boggles my mind. Changes like that don’t happen for no reason.

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “The Mueller Glacier

  1. Closer to home, I’ve visited the Athabasca Glacier three times over a span of 30 years and have witnessed a dramatic reduction in its size. http://www.explorerockies.com/columbia-icefield/ Not too far into the future I imagine that the following description will change.

    Facing the Columbia Icefield Discovery Centre lies the Athabasca Glacier – a tongue of ice 6 kilometres long and one kilometre wide. Take time for Brewster’s “Ice Age Adventure”, a tour onto the icy slopes of the Athabasca Glacier. You will travel in a specially designed Ice Explorer to the middle of the glacier, on a 5 kilometre round trip journey. Your driver/guide will explain how glaciers are formed and point out interesting geological features as you travel in safety and comfort. At the mid-point, you will have the option of stepping out onto ice formed from snow falling as long as 200 years ago.

  2. Ditto in the Alps, of course. On a Hochtour (mountaineering trip) it’s important to have an up-to-date topo, as even in 10 years there can be dramatic changes, with crevasses shifting and rocks being exposed. I like to bring along the 20-year-old maps we have kicking around in the lab for comparison, and if I’m with someone who’s known the area for years, they have interesting things to say…

  3. This will sound either nitpicky and pedantic but I mean it seriously. Re.: your last sentence. No change happens for no reason. Therein lies the controversy. And, just to be clear, I’m on your side of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.