Smoke and ash drifting from the Australian bushfires have caused New Zealand’s glaciers to turn caramel brown, with one expert fearing this could increase the risk of them melting faster this year.
A jet stream transporting large amounts of smoke and ash this week from the blazes in Victoria and New South Wales deposited them along the way in New Zealand’s South Island as they traveled east, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy.
Pictures and videos taken on New Year’s Day show that the yellow haze had discolored the snowy mountain peaks and glaciers in the Southern Alps.
Rey, an Australian woman living in Wellington, snapped some of these photos on Fox and Franz Josef glaciers.
“We took a flight up over Fox and Franz Josef glaciers (from Franz Josef township) and landed on a flat surface not too far from the glaciers, not on a glacier per se. The pilot said he had been up the day before and the snow was white,” Rey, who didn’t want to give her full name, told CNN.
“I’m an Aussie living in Wellington, New Zealand, on a South Island road trip with my sister who is from rural New South Wales, so we’ve been following the news closely and feeling pretty devastated,” she said.
Satellite pictures on Thursday showed smoke from the fires in New South Wales and Victoria crossing the Tasman Sea and the North Island of New Zealand. New South Wales and Franz Josef glaciers are more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) apart.
New Zealand’s former prime minister Helen Clark tweeted that the impact of Australian ash on glaciers “is likely to accelerate melting.”
That’s because of the so-called Albedo effect, Guy explains.
“This is when the whiteness of an object reflects radiation away impacting its temperature,” he continues.
“Thus, areas on the planet that are covered in ice and snow do not absorb the radiation as fast because it reflects it, causing lower temperatures than areas with a lower whiteness value which are quick to absorb the radiation and increase and hold on to the temperatures.”
Guy added that this year, glacier melt may quicken “since the color will be a little darker than true white.”
People in other parts of New Zealand’s South Island woke up on New Year’s Day to skies turning an eerie yellow, orange and gray from the bushfires.
In November, travel photographer and blogger Liz Carlson took photos of the glaciers in Mount Aspiring National Park on New Zealand’s South Island turning pinkish-red from dust and particles blown over from Australia’s bushfires.
“Often at the end of summer the glaciers can appear dirty, even gray with all of the snowmelt and bits of black rock on them, but this was the height of spring so it was really bizarre,” she told CNN last month.
While it’s too early to say exactly how the particles will affect the glaciers in New Zealand, scientists have found that forest fires in the Amazon have caused glaciers in the Andes mountains to melt faster, with pollutants such as black carbon and dust lodged in the ice, reducing the glacier’s ability to reflect sunlight.