Franz Josef Glacier

Where on Earth is Franz Josef Glacier?

Franz Josef Glacier locator map

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Franz Josef Glacier is approximately 6.8 miles (11 kilometers) long and is located in the Southern Alps on the south island of New Zealand at a latitude of 43.47° South and a longitude of 170.19° East. It begins as an alpine glacier at an elevation of about 11,500 feet (3500 meters) and ends at the bottom of a valley at about 790 feet (240 meters) in a temperate rainforest. Franz Josef is the alpine glacier with the lowest elevation terminus of any alpine glacier in the world.

Emperor Franz Josef

Emperor Franz Josef of Austria for whom J. Von Haast named this glacier. —Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Until recently, Franz Josef Glacier was spared the fate of retreat that most of its neighboring glaciers in the Southern Alps are experiencing. However, from 1999 to 2005, it began losing mass, but then made a slight comeback from 2005 to 2008. It has since started retreating again; and according to a study done by Anderson (2008), it will continue to decline into the 22nd century.

Franz Josef has not seen as much retreat as other glaciers in the Southern Alps region because it lies on the western side of the divide where it gets greater snow fall and is protected from wind and sun, whereas its neighbors to the east are not as lucky. Because of this, Franz Josef is more slowly affected by a warming climate; hopefully, we still have time to save this glacier.


Franz Josef Glacier in 1951, 1954, 2004, 2006

Franz Josef Glacier, photographed from the valley floor in 1951 and 1954, photographer unknown, and in 2004 and 2006 by B.A. Campbell. Click for larger image. —Image Credit: NSIDC Glacier Photo Collection.

"The results indicate that [...] the glacier will retreat 5 km and lose 38% of its mass by 2100"Anderson et al. (2008)

Because of the revenue generated by tourism around Franz Josef Glacier, it is highly monitored. A study done in 2008 by Anderson et al concluded that Franz Josef would lose approximately 38% of its mass by 2100. Read more in Response of Franz Josef Glacier (Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere) to Climate Change.

In the geography department at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, researchers are studying Franz Josef to determine the connection between climate change and glaciers.

Quick Facts

Location: New Zealand
Coordinates: 43.47° S, 170.19° E
Average Elevation: 3500 m
Glacier Type: Alpine, Valley
Current Size: 35 sq km
Retreat: Relatively steady over last century.

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Julius Von Haast

Geologist Julius Von Haast explored Franz Josef glacier during the mid-1800s and named the glacier for Emperor Franz Josef of Austria in 1873. —Image Credit: WikiCommons.

Learn More

Glaciers and glaciation: Tasman, Franz Josef and Fox glaciers from TEARA - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

100 Places to Remember: 25. Franz Josef Glacier Video

Response of Franz Josef Glacier (Ka Roimata o Hine Hukatere) to climate change