Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, New Zealand: Historic length records

Heather Purdie, Brian Anderson, Trevor Chinn, Ian Owens, Andrew Mackintosh, Wendy Lawson

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42 Citations (Scopus)


Compilation of modern and historical length change records for Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers demonstrates that these glaciers have lost ~3km in length and at least 3-4km2 in area since the 1800s, with the greatest overall loss occurring between 1934 and 1983. Within this dramatic and ongoing retreat, both glaciers have experienced periods of re-advance. The record from Franz Josef Glacier is the most detailed, and shows major advances from 1946 to 1951 (340m), 1965-1967 (400m), 1983-1999 (1420m) and 2004-2008 (280m). At Fox Glacier the record is similar, with advances recorded during 1964-1968 (60m), 1985-1999 (710m) and 2004-2008 (290m). Apart from the latest advance event, the magnitude of advance has been greater at Franz Josef Glacier, suggesting a higher length sensitivity. Analysis of the relationship between glacier length and a reconstructed annual equilibrium line altitude (ELA) record shows that the glaciers react very quickly to ELA variations - with the greatest correlation at 3-4years' lag. The present (2014) retreat is the fastest retreat in the records of both glaciers. While decadal length fluctuations have been linked to hemispheric ocean-atmosphere variability, the overall reduction in length is a clear sign of twentieth century warming. However, documenting glacier length changes can be challenging; especially when increased surface debris-cover makes identification of the 'true' terminus a convoluted process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-52
Number of pages12
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate change
  • Debris-cover
  • Fox Glacier
  • Franz Josef Glacier
  • Glacier length
  • Reaction time

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