Walking on thin ice

Sharnae Hope
Sharnae’s Stance

If you put ice into a warm drink, it is guaranteed to melt.

This is a small scale model of  what our planet is currently doing, and it is closer to home than we may think.

Global warming is a controversial subject; not so much on the topic of whether it’s happening, but where to pinpoint the blame.

Many climate scientists say there is too much blame on us, as it’s proven that natural weather fluctuations also cause record high and low temperatures and rainfall.

However, the pace that glaciers are receding is enough proof that we are the reason for things moving along at a scarily fast pace.

The proof is in the ice

New Zealand has eight main glaciers: Fox, Franz Josef, Tasman, Mueller, Hooker, Volta, Murchison and Douglas, but there are many more than that - around 3150 glaciers to be more accurate - and the majority of them are receding.

NIWA has been carrying out aerial surveys of more than 50 of the South Island’s glaciers every year for more than four decades.

Researchers have painstakingly pieced together thousands of photographs of New Zealand’s Southern Alps to tell the story of our shrinking glaciers.

Since that first survey 40 years ago, scientists have detected a 30 per cent loss of ice.

To put that into perspective, it’s as if one-third of the Mount had corroded over 40 years while previously only corroding by a handful of dirt.

The last survey, in March 2018, also showed that last year’s summer marine heatwave resulted in one of the largest glacier melts observed since the survey began in 1977. And if this year’s summer is anything to go by, NIWA’s next survey will top that record.

If that’s not scary enough, the Tasman Glacier is also showing signs of significant damage.

This month the huge glacier, which is more than half the size  of Tauranga, lost chunks of ice  the size of skyscrapers as they fell into the ocean.

The pictures say it all. A tiny boat and a big, pale blue waffle-like piece of ice coming towards the tiny passengers. It’s a stunning sight, but a terrifying thought.

Too far away to care

Although the cold for us Tauranga locals is something we’re not too fond of, ice plays an important part in daily living, even for us.

With each drop of ice, a glacier changes the environment around it, chipping away at the land and contributing to rising sea levels.

The ocean and many rivers and lakes are fed by this, but too much continuous melted ice could mean these changes are catastrophic for their ecosystem.

Many species will die out or become endangered and land will disappear at faster rates.

Temperatures will also rise even further, because without ice, less sunlight will be reflected into space and will instead be absorbed into the ocean.

In monetary terms, this will have a major effect on tourism, fishing and the agriculture industry, and your beach side business or house could end up in the sea.

Half of the oxygen we breathe is also made from plants in the ocean, which will die as the ocean salt levels dilute from all of the melting fresh water.

This is why we should care.

It’s an avalanche effect, and we are hearing it loud and clear, but are we really doing enough?

Global warming isn’t going to stop, just like nature doesn’t stop, but maybe we can slow it down.


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