Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast, South Island

The Franz Josef Glacier is located in Westland National Park on the West Coast of the South Island. Together with the Fox Glacier (20 km to the south), it is unique in the fact that it descends from the Southern Alps to just 240 metres above sea level amidst the greenery and lushness of a temperate rainforest.

The glacier area is one of the main tourist attractions in the West Coast. Guided and unguided walks to the glacier is possible, though it is safer to go with a guide.

The Franz Josef Glacier is currently 12 km long and terminates 19km from the Tasman Sea.
Franz Josef Glacier in 2007, South Island, New Zealand. Photo Image © Karen Toh
The glacier was named after Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria by the German explorer, Julius von Haast in 1865. The Maori name for the glacier is Ka Roimata o Hinehukatere ('The tears of Hinehukatere'), arising from a local legend: Hinehukatere loved climbing in the mountains and persuaded her lover, Tawe, to climb with her. Tawe was a less experienced climber than Hinehukatere but loved to accompany her until an avalanche swept Tawe from the peaks to his death. Hinehukatere was broken hearted and her many, many tears flowed down the mountain and froze to form the glacier.

Glaciers act like conveyor belts, carrying rocky debris. As the ice melts, this debris emerges at the surface. On the lower reaches of some glaciers, such as the Tasman, the ice is barely visible beneath the rocks. Some of the rocks are dumped as ridges of moraine along the sides and terminus (front end) of the glacier, outlining the limits of the ice.

The distinctive blue tint of glacial ice is because the dense ice of the glacier absorbs every other color of the spectrum except blue--so blue is what we see!
Franz Josef Glacier in 2007, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Karen Toh
Another interesting fact was that the Alpine Fault, a geological fault, known as a right-lateral strike-slip fault, that runs almost the entire length of New Zealand's South Island. It forms a transform boundary between the Pacific Plate and the Indo-Australian Plate. Earthquakes along the fault, and the associated earth movements, have formed the Southern Alps. Here at Franz Josef, the fault line can be seen quite clearly from the valley floor.
Franz Josef Glacier in 2001, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Wikipedia
Franz Josef Glacier in 2011, Southern Alps, South Island, New Zealand.
Photo Image © Wikipedia

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