The devastating impact of the Australian fires continues to cause concern, this time with the smoke playing havoc with our pristine white glaciers. Whilst onlookers were shocked on New Year's day to discover the hazy skies, only a few could spot the damage up high, with pictures showing mass discolouration and brown sludge on tourist hotspots Mt Cook, Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers.
Andrew Gutsell, lead pilot of Helicopter from Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopter, said he first noticed the effects about four to five weeks ago when a layer of ash settled on top of the snow, but was quickly covered up by fresh snowfall. For one day they were unable to access the Upper Neve of the glacier due to the smoke haze, with Gutsell adding, “There was an orange tinge to the sky with the smoke particles and while there was some impact on some of our scenic flights, what we experienced is nothing to what our neighbours in Australia are going through. They are in our thoughts.”
The discolouration of the glacier got the crew talking about climate change, with no one having ever seen anything like this before in their years of flying. Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopter are proudly certified carbonzero, “we’re actively reducing our emissions, and we offset all the emissions we can’t reduce” and sees this latest scare as a talking point for their visitors, “we’ve been flying here for 65 years so we can talk to them about those actions we can take individually and collectively to ensure we’re still visiting this glacier in another 60, 70 or 80 years,” says Gutsell.
The long-term impact of the smoke on the glacier is unknown but many fear for the worst, with even Helen Clark tweeting that the “impact of ash on glaciers is likely to accelerate melting.” In the meantime however, Gutsell says “We’re getting snowfall events reasonably regularly, so the smoke ash and dirt is getting buried. However once that new snow melts, it does become visible again.” Thankfully there’s been no decrease of tourism in the area, with the company already noting increased awareness from people wanting to visit the glaciers after pictures of the brown slopes went viral in the UK.