Beyond

Rivers of Ice

A couple of summers ago I got invited on a helicopter tour of one of New Zealand’s biggest claims to fame: Milford Sound.

Located in Fiordland National Park on the southwest coast of the South Island, Milford Sound is a world renown tourist attraction. People travel from all over the globe to marvel at its landscape and wildlife, so to be able to experience it for myself was an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.

Although Fiordland National Park is home to many sounds, each spectacular in its own right, Milford is particularly special. What makes it special though, is not what it is, but what it isn’t. Despite its name, it isn’t actually a sound, but a fjord - an inlet carved out by ancient glaciers.

And, amongst the rainforests and waterfalls and mountains and native flora and fauna, this is what people come to see - the glaciers.

A glimpse of Milford - the perpetual cloud cover is the result of air cooling and condensing as it moves over the mountains.

A glimpse of Milford - the perpetual cloud cover is the result of air cooling and condensing as it moves over the mountains.

Not just because of their spectacular visual aesthetic, but the increasing recognition that in a few decades they may very well cease to exist.

Because, unlike mountains, glaciers are not fixed entities. Although formed over thousands of years, the existence of these “rivers of ice” is almost exclusively contingent on the climate.

Which means their continued existence is currently under serious threat. Thanks to global warming, glaciers all around the world are retreating at a rapid rate, and given they account for around 75% of the world’s freshwater supply, their extinction will have massive implications for the world as we know it.

One of Milford’s glacial lakes, formed by erosion and melting of ice at the glacier’s base. The vibrant blue is the result of light reflecting off tiny pieces of rock, “rock flour”, that become suspended in the water as the glacier melts.

One of Milford’s glacial lakes, formed by erosion and melting of ice at the glacier’s base. The vibrant blue is the result of light reflecting off tiny pieces of rock, “rock flour”, that become suspended in the water as the glacier melts.

It’s crazy and quite sad to think that future generations might not be able to explore this extraordinary landscape. So whilst I am incredibly grateful to have been able to witness it myself, I am also reminded of the responsibility we have to look after our environment, so that people can continue to marvel at it not just in photos, but in the flesh.