New Zealand Capstone 2008
Milford Kew

Day 3- Franz Josef Glacier Hike

March 10th, 2008

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Location Map of Stops

UWEC Student Research Day

Dr. Harry Jol




The Franz Josef Glacier (above) is located on New Zealand’s south island in Westland National Park (below).  The climate surrounding the Franz Josef is actually considered temperate. How can a glacier exist in these environments? The Southern Alps play a very important role in the location of the Franz Josef Glacier. Moist maritime air masses that are forced to ascend when they encounter the west coast of New Zealand. This ascending air cools and condenses creating heavy precipitation typically in the form of snow at higher elevations. The constant supply of moisture, from orographic lifting of the moist maritime air masses, to the high elevation snow fields allows for glaciers to exist on the south island. The Franz Josef Glacier is located in a temperate climate with a west facing alpine valley on New Zealand South Island. The upper basin or snowfield for the Franz Josef is about 31 km2 and reaches altitudes near 3000 m.


Glaciers have several factors that influence how a glacier advances and retreats. Snow accumulates at the head of the glacier or snow field. Here the snow is compressed over time into glacial fern, known as the accumulation zone.  The snowline is the lowest elevation where snow accumulates on the glacier. Below this line ablation or melting occurs. If ablation exceeds accumulation then a glacier will retreat and vice versa. Currently the Franz Josef Glacier is advancing.


On March 10th, 2008 we participated in an all day glacier hike with the Franz Josef Glacier Guides. The hike departed from the Waiho River. From here the group hiked for about 45 minutes through rain forests to reach the glacier (below).



When the group finally reached the glacier crampons were required to hike on the massive glacier. Steps are carved daily into the glacier for tourists accompanied by guides (below).


Several glacial features were visible while hiking on the glacier. There was a push moraine formed as the glacier advanced at the snout of the glacier. Moulans, or meltwater channels through the glacier were visible from the surface. Below our fearless leader stares a moulan (second below) in the face.



On December 10th 2006 the subglacier meltwater channel was blocked due to a collapse of the glacier. A build up of water caused the water to shoot up through the glacier causing a supra glacial flooding event. Evidence of this even is still visible through massive deposits of rocks and debris on the top of the glacier. The group had to cross this debris while hiking.


The group had to squeeze their way through crevasses present on the glacier.


There were also some very steep faces on the glacier to traverse.


Here are some additional group photos of the group enjoying a once in a lifetime educational experience.


Written by: Pat Dryer



Website designed by Jackie Ebert