2017 Highlights

To follow is a copy of the email sent out on the SIRG email list by Heather Purdie, the New Zealand correspondent to the International Glaciolocal Society.

Kia ora SIRG,

Another year has almost passed so here is a quick run-down on some of the 2017 SIRG highlights…

 2017 kicked off with the’ International Symposium on the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ hosted at VUW in Wellington. Thanks to all SIRG members who helped to make this an exciting and successful symposium. Check out the latest issue of ICE for some great accounts of the symposium and field trips. https://www.igsoc.org/ice/2017/173/ice173_col.pdf

Glacier Monitoring

  • Out of our 3100+ glaciers only Brewster and Rolleston have ongoing mass balance programmes. 2017 saw the Brewster programme, led by Brian Anderson (VUW) and Nicolas Cullen (Otago), enter its 13th year, while the Rolleston programme, led by Tim Kerr (Aqualinc) and Heather Purdie (UC), entered its 7th consecutive year.  Thanks to all SIRG members who give their time to help with these important field programmes.
  • Ongoing monitoring of Franz Josef Glacier/Kā Roimata o Hine Hukatere (Brian Anderson) and Fox Glacier/Te Moeka o Tuawe (Heather Purdie & Brian Anderson) indicate that Franz has been slowly advancing since December 2016, and while the advance is small so far, the glacier continues to thicken upstream. In a similar vein, Fox is starting to thicken upstream, although this signal has not yet stimulated any action at the terminus.
  • The NIWA EOSS programme is now into its 40th consecutive year. This is an extremely valuable monitoring programme and database, and we hope that it continues for another 40 years!
  • Sabine Baumann (Technical University of Munich) has been working with a number of SIRG members to update the NZ Glacier Inventory which will be presented at AGU in December.


Special congratulations to Andrew Mackintosh on his promotion to Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences at Victoria University.

 Funding Success

  • Dan Price (UC) has been awarded a Marsden Fast-start for research on Antarctic sea ice thickness.
  • David Prior (Otago), Huw Horgan (VUW), Christina Hulbe (Otago), and colleagues, have had Marsden success for research aiming to develop new flow laws for ice sheets.
  • Andrew Mackintosh (VUW), Brian Anderson (VUW) and colleagues have been awarded Marsden funding to explore whether a previous collapse of the Antarctic Ice Sheet caused abrupt climate change in the Southern Hemisphere.

Check-out the Royal Society website for full details of these new projects  https://royalsociety.org.nz/what-we-do/funds-and-opportunities/marsden/awarded-grants/marsden-awards-2017/

  • A number of SIRG members have been successful securing funding for various other projects including (but not limited to)  Ian Fuller (Massey), Sam McColl (Massey) and colleagues have received funding from the Brian Mason Scientific and Technical Trust for research on the response of the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier valleys to climate variability and glacier retreat. Heather Purdie (UC), Tim Kerr (Aqualinc) and colleagues also secured Brian Mason funding to help reinvigorate snow research at Broken River ski field. David Prior and colleagues received a University of Otago Research Grant to improve understanding of mechanical anisotropy of ice. Andrew Mackintosh (VUW) and colleagues secured funding from The Deep South National Science Challenge to undertake research on the impact of climate change to NZ’s frozen water resources. This last project is a truly collaborative effort, bringing together nine NZ snow and ice researchers from a range of NZ institutions!

Recent Theses

  • Edmond Lui, PhD (VUW), Ice Dynamics of the Haupapa/Tasman Glacier Measured at High Spatial and Temporal Resolution, Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand.
  • Matthew Vaughan, PhD (Otago), Creep behaviour and acoustic properties of polycrystalline ice.
  • Meike Seidemann, PhD (Otago, submitted). Microstructural evolution of polycrystalline ice during non-steady state creep.
  • Michelle Ryan, MSc (UC), Characteristics of the Ross and Southern McMurdo ice shelves as revealed from ground-based radar surveys.
  • Ekki Scheffler, MSc (UC), Tide induced velocity fluctuations in the grounding zone of Darwin Glacier, Antarctica, revealed by GNSS and SAR satellite imagery.
  • Sam Taylor-Offord, MSc (VUW), Seismic and Geodetic Observations of Accelerated Sliding at Tasman Glacier, New Zealand.
  • Merijn Thornton MSc (VUW, pending) The Response of Brewster Glacier to Five Decades of Climate.


There have been a number of excellent publications by our SIRG members this year; too many to list here. Below is a selection of publications from some of our SIRG post-graduates. I will forward all the other citations SIRG members sent to me to Tim Kerr, who maintains the SIRG Bibliography. Please remember to send Tim your citations so that he can keep our SIRG page up-to-date. https://sirg.org.nz/about/bibliography/

  • Vaughan, M., Prior, D. J., Brantut, N., Jefferd, M., Mitchell, T. M., and Seidemann, M., 2017, Insights into anisotropy development and weakening of ice from p-wave velocity monitoring during creep. J. Geophysical Research. DOI: 10.1002/2017JB013964.
  • Wild, C.T., Marsh, O.J., Rack, W. (2017). Viscosity and elasticity: a model intercomparison of ice-shelf bending in an Antarctic grounding zone, Journal of Glaciology, 63(240), 573-580.
  • Lauren J. Vargo, Brian M. Anderson, Huw J. Horgan, Andrew N. Mackintosh, Andrew M. Lorrey, and Merijn Thornton. Using Structure from Motion photogrammetry to measure past glacier changes from historic aerial photograph. Journal of Glaciology (accepted).

 So there you have it, some 2017 SIRG highlights, and an email that has hopefully not been so long that you have not made it to this sentence!

I know there will have been other publications, funds awarded, and news, which I have missed. Please accept my apologies for any omissions.

To keep us all up-to-date, make sure you come along to SIRG 2018 at Mt Hutt Retreat, Methven, in February J

 Best wishes for your research/holiday season….

 Ko te pae tawhiti whāia kia tata, ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tīna

Seek out distant horizons, and cherish those you attain


 (as national correspondent for the NZ branch of the IGS (SIRG)

Dr Heather Purdie

Pūkenga Matua

Department of Geography

University of Canterbury Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha

Private Bag 4800


New Zealand

+643 3694131




2018 NZ Snow and Ice Research Group annual meeting registrations open

The next meeting of the New Zealand Snow and Ice Research Group is to be held at Mt Hutt Retreat near Methven from the 7th to 9th February 2018.

The location is at the foot of the Southern Alps with the mighty Rakaia River and its glacial geomorphological marvels a short field trip away.

Student participation is strongly encouraged, with registration (which includes accommodation and most meals) for students just $20. This heavily discounted fee is thanks to the strong support from NIWA, University of Canterbury, Antarctica NZ and Meridian Energy Ltd.

Please download the SIRG2018_FirstCircular, register and submit your abstract now and participate in New Zealand’s most fascinating (and possibly least formal) academic meeting!

Could the temperature eleven millennium ago been the same as a century ago?

In March 1866 Julius Von Haast made a drawing of the debris-covered Ramsay Glacier 300 m below him1. He was atop Mein’s Knob, a vantage point from which he described the view as “…second to none in New Zealand”.

Haast  noted he was standing near glacial moraine remnants which meant that at some previous time the Ramsay glacier must have been 300 m thicker and abutted right up to near the top of Mein’s Knob. He considered this evidence that the Southern Alps had, in the past, been subject to a climate different to what he was experiencing.

From about the same time, New Zealand began a systematic programme of temperature observations. We now know that the climate during Haast’s time was 1oC cooler than  now2.

About 150 years later, Tobias (Toby) Koffman and colleagues3 sampled the quartz from the moraines on Mein’s Knob, and found they had been exposed to the atmosphere for 11 600 years. This is a continuation of amazing work being done to date moraines in the Southern Hemisphere and sort out the global extent of climate variations. Dr Koffman’s group applied a computer model to find what climate was required to enable a glacier to deposit moraines on Mein’s Knob. They found that the temperature would need to be 1o less than today. The same temperature as during Haast’s time when the glacier was 300 m lower.

For the same temperature, Koffman and Haast have two different sized glaciers. Is that possible? Is it likely? Is there a plausible explanation?
Was the temperature eleven millenium ago the same as it was a century ago?

1Burrows, C.J., 2005. Julius Haast of the Southern Alps. Canterbury University Press, Christchurch.
2Mullan, A.B., Stuart, S.J., Hadfield, M.G., Smith, M.J., 2010. Report on the Review of NIWA’s “Seven-Station” Temperature Series (No. NIWA Information Series No. 78). NIWA, Wellington.
3Koffman, T.N.B., Schaefer, J.M., Putnam, A.E., Denton, G.H., Barrell, D.J.A., Rowan, A.V., Finkel, R.C., Rood, D.H., Schwartz, R., Plummer, M.A., Brocklehurst, S.H., 2017. A beryllium-10 chronology of late-glacial moraines in the upper Rakaia valley, Southern Alps, New Zealand supports Southern-Hemisphere warming during the Younger Dryas. Quaternary Science Reviews 170, 14–25. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2017.06.012

Have New Zealand’s glaciers advanced as a result of an accounting audit?

Have you ever noticed how companies sometimes attribute step changes in their finances to “accounting procedure adjustments”.

The same may just be true for New Zealand’s glacier volume.

Measuring glacier volume is very difficult, so estimating it using models is a preferred approach. The choice of model affects the result. A new paper by Daniel Farinotti1 and no fewer than 36 co-authors (including Brian Anderson from Victoria University of Wellington) investigated this model-choice effect. Farintto and friends collected glacier depth observations from 21 glaciers around the world (including New Zealand,s Brewster and Tasman Glaciers). They then sent out a call to glaciologists to model the depths of those glaciers, but he didn’t give them the observed data. After the depths were modeled, they compared the results to the observations. 17 models were applied to 21 glaciers. None of the models proved superior to the others, and their skill varied widely, though combining them led to estimates that were on average within 10 % of the observed values, which you could argue, is pretty good.

In New Zealand, the total glacier volume has previously been estimated2 at 53.3 km3, 63 km3 and 67 km3. The largest of those estimates was prepared using a “shear-stress-based approach”, and is one of the model-types tested in Farinotti’s experiment. For the Tasman glacier, this model type, and the average of all the models in the experiment, underestimated the Tasman’s depth. As the Tasman dominates the glacier ice volume of the Southern Alps, the results of Farinotti’s work indicate we have more ice in New Zealand’s glaciers than previously estimated.

Thanks to Farinotti, an accounting procedure may have just given New Zealand a glacial advance!

Review of the last 10 years of New Zealand alpine processes research published

“Advances in New Zealand Freshwater Science” has recently been published by the New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society and the New Zealand Hydrological Society. This book provides an update of freshwater science over the last decade since the publication of “Freshwaters of New Zealand” and includes a chapter on snow and ice research. Copies of the book may be purchased from the NZ Hydrological Society.

The Alpine Processes chapter has attempted to describe all published research since 2004 related to the hydrological aspect of snow and ice. Most of that research came from members of the NZ Snow and Ice Research Group.

Like the earlier “Freshwaters of New Zealand”, this book will no doubt become a standard reference text for New Zealand hydrology.

International Cryosphere Conference registrations open

For six days in February next year Wellington will be overrun with scientists from around the world sharing their knowledge about how the world’s snow and ice is surviving while the climate changes. The second circular for the conference has just been released and details a wide range of session themes, an exceptional selection of guest speakers and no less than three associated field trips. The conference is a joint initiative of the International Glaciological Society, the International Association of Cryospheric Sciences and the Climate and Cryosphere project of the World CLimate Research Programme.

Details of the conference including a link to the conference circular can be obtained through our “meetings” page

IPCC to prepare a special report on Climate change and the oceans and the cryosphere

The IPCC is to prepare a special report on Climate change and the oceans and the cryosphere. This will be one of just three special reports to be prepared as part of the 6th round of IPCC assessment reports.

Special reports are intended to be prepared as early as possible in the IPCC cycle, ahead of the main assessment and synthesis reports. They provide greater depth of information on their topics than would otherwise be given in the assessment reports.

The Special Report process begins with the selection of a scoping committee which will outline what is to be included in the report. Then authors and reviewers are selected to compile the report.

The report will review all related literature and so will become the definitive review on the topic.

The report will be prepared over the next few years so for any new research to be included in the review it will need to be published as soon as possible.

Dan Zwartz is managing the New Zealand contributions to the Special Reports.

Dan is a Climate Change Analyst with the Ministry for the Environment and is the New Zealand IPCC “Focal Point”.

IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and the oceans and the cryosphere


2016 Annual SIRG Meeting dates released

David Prior from the University of Otago has anounced that the 2016 annual New Zealand Snow and Ice Research Group meeting will be held in Arrowtown on June the 28th-30th.

David will be putting a flyer together shortly, but please mark it in your calendar and start preparing a presentation of your world leading research!