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Heather Purdie - Associate Professor; Glaciology, Physical Geology - University of Canterbury

My research expertise is in the field of glaciology, specifically glacier mass balance, dynamics, and climate change, with a focus on mountain glaciers in Te Tiritiri-o-te-moana, the New Zealand Southern Alps. I am very interested in glaciological change that occurs over short temporal scales; that which impacts utilization of the glacier resource, for example glacier-tourism. I also focus on interactions and feedbacks between all aspects of glacier mass balance from snow accumulation processes to ablation processes, including the role of avalanche nourishment to glacier resilience. Most recently, I have been exploring rapid change at lake-calving glaciers, and the impact that crevasses have on glacier mass balance...

Lake Tasman

Rebuilding NZ Glacier Tourism after Covid-19: Lake Tasman

Small communities nestled amongst the Southern Alps of New Zealand, have for many years been key visitor destinations, places where people can see and experience glaciers. Global climate change is driving world-wide glacier recession.

This rapid recession is creating challenges to glacier-tourism activities as once easily accessible glaciers shrink higher into the mountains. Covid-19 delivered yet another blow to the economy of ‘glacier-towns’ as international and national travel ground to a halt.

The paradox; that greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global climate warming and glacier retreat plummeted as people stayed home. The challenge; to rebuild glacier tourism in a sustainable way that minimises its impact on the environment and encourages visitors to do the same.


While many glacier tourism sites struggle with a diminishing glacier attraction, some locations have growing glacier attractions. The mighty Haupapa Tasman Glacier, located in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park, is still New Zealand’s largest glacier. But as the glacier shrinks the ice is being replaced by a lake.

Tasman Lake started forming in the late 1980s; it is now 6 km long and 270 m deep. Once a lake has formed at the end of a glacier the processes that drive glacier retreat become more complex. Not only does the glacier ice continue to melt in response to increasing air temperature, but it also loses mass when large ice bergs break off into the water – a process known as ice-berg calving. Lake Tasman is growing at a rate of 130 m per year.


The University of Canterbury’s School of Earth and Environment’s  research programme uses cutting edge technologies to monitor lake growth and learn more about the complex processes driving glacial recession. Our research team, led by Associate Professor Heather Purdie,  works closely with local tourism operators who in turn share this knowledge and understanding with visitors. By working together we aim to provide visitors with an experience that is not only memorable, but which stimulates people to choose to live more lightly on Earth.

Heather Purdie


Paul Bealing - Geospacial Science Technician - University of Canterbury

Justin Harrison - Laboratory, Field and Equipment Technician - University of Canterbury

We have been technicians in Geography and now the School of Earth and Environment for over 20 years and are both graduates of the University of Canterbury.

Our jobs are to support researchers and students in their research and teaching, of which the project supporting the (re)building of New Zealand's glacier tourism is a prime example.

Night of Ideas New Zealand is presented by the Embassy of France in New Zealand in partnership with Victoria University of Wellington, as part of La Nuit des idées, a worldwide initiative of the Institut français, Paris.

Participation of New Caledonian contributors is facilitated by the Delegation of New Caledonia to New Zealand.

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