"Learn more about Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers" West Coast Things to Do Tip by Kakapo2
West Coast Things to Do: 30 reviews and 93 photos
Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers are unique in the world and, of course, unique in New Zealand. They are the only two of the still 1000 more or less large glaciers or eternal snow-patches of the Southern Alps that are not incised back to the Main Divide, but run down towards the West Coast and therefore end up in the rainforest, to an incredibly low altitude of 240 metres above sea level, and are easily accessible from the Coast. Actually, after years of receding, those two extraordinary glaciers had been growing again until 2009 when they started receding again. Once they reached to the ocean, as did all the glaciers that once shaped the fiords like Milford Sound further south.
Glaciers are a kind of huge rivers of ice. They are relics of the last Ice Age when the earth was covered with ice, with glaciers everywhere. As it has become much warmer on earth since then, most of those glaciers have melted away.
The fact that Franz Josef and Fox have been advancing until recently is due to more rainfall which - funnily - is caused by global warming and El Niño and comes down as snow at higher altitudes. The remaining winter snow which summer cannot melt away forms a nevé and becomes part of the glacier. Time and its own weight transform this residual snow into ice, and the new snowfall pushes the ice down the valleys constantly.
The glaciers flow over large bedrock steps on the valley floors. This causes the ice to extend and break up, forming steep icefalls that are mazes of crevasses and pinnacles of ice. Old glacier ice is blue. This happens when snow is compacted on the nevé, meaning: it is melting and freezing constantly, and the more often this happens, the less oxygen is in the ice, and this makes it look blue.
Franz Josef is 11kms long and named after the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fox falls 2600 metres on its 13kms journey and is named after an early NZ prime minister, William Fox.
New Zealand's longest glacier is the Tasman with 29kms. It is one of the world's longest outside the polar regions and up to 3kms wide. It is home to the world's longest ski run.
P.S. (April 2012)
The length of the glaciers is not stable due to the nature of glaciers. As they are receding at the moment they are significantly shorter than 11 resp. 13 km.
Address: Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers
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