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Emeritus Professor Blair Fitzharris

Professor Blair Fitzharris has undertaken research on climate change in New Zealand, Canada, Norway, England, Switzerland and Australia and has written over 150 research publications on the subjects of climate, snow and glaciers. He is also a Consultant with 35 years experience on climate matters related to large scale resource development, mining, land use, energy (including hydro and wind power) and climate change. Blair has acted as a Consultant for many of New Zealand’s largest corporations.

Professor Fitzharris has played a senior role with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 1992. IPCC and Al Gore were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

Blair has been a Convening Lead Author for four major Assessment Reports of IPCC. This work investigates climate change, its possible impact and how vulnerable we may be. His role with IPCC is summarized below:

  • 1993-1996 Convening Lead Author, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Second Assessment Report, Working Group II, (Ch 7, The Cryosphere)
  • 1996-1998 Convening Lead Author, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Regional Assessment Report, Working Group II (Chapter 3, Polar Regions)
  • 1998-2001 Convening Lead Author, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Third Assessment Report, Working Group II (Chapter 16, Polar Regions)
  • 2003-2007 Convening Lead Author, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group II (Chapter 11, Australia & New Zealand)

Currently, Professor Fitzharris is a Review Editor for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Working Group II (Chapter 25, Australasia). He was also involved with the UNEP Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, where he acted as Review Editor for the Chapter on "Mountains". He is a past member of Antarctica New Zealand’s Research Committee.

Professor Fitzharris is a past member of the Royal Society of NZ Standing Committee on Climate Change, a former President of the Meteorological Society of NZ and former Chair of the NZ Mountain Safety Council. In 1998 he was elected a Life Member of the Otago University Rugby Football Club.

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Research Interests

Future global warming is expected to have large impacts. The ultimate objective of Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is stabilising greenhouse gas emissions “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system”. It states that “such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner'”. Professor Fitzharris investigates three aspects of these objectives:

1. Impacts of climate change on glaciers and snow: these are very sensitive to climate change because of the critical threshold temperature of freezing/melting and because of changes in type and amount of precipitation. The research relates past behaviour of snow and ice to climatic variability and atmospheric circulation patterns. It creates computer simulation models of past snow and ice behaviour. These models are then used to examine the sensitivity of snow and ice under various scenarios of future climate change. Changes in snow and ice affect runoff from mountain areas and the elevation of the snow line and these parameters are also modeled. Such impacts may contribute to dangerous climate change through increasing vulnerability to water shortages, increased hazards and rising sea levels. They also will have socio-economic effects related to Alpine tourism and recreation.

2. Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of climate change in Australia and New Zealand: this research is part of my work as a Convening Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Evidence for climate change (warming, drying, and more storms) has become clearer, and modeling indicates these trends are likely to continue. While potential benefits are likely to accrue for southern and western New Zealand, there will be dramatic shifts in the geographic distribution of agriculture, forestry and bio-security threats. The structure, function and species composition of many natural ecosystems are certain to alter. Research indicates that water security problems will be exacerbated. Growing coastal settlements are likely to be highly vulnerable to more frequent storm surges and rising sea levels.

3. Vulnerability of developed countries to climate change: It has long been accepted that developing countries are likely to be highly vulnerable to the climate change. But, could climate change also become dangerous for developed countries with western style economies? The example of the Australia and New Zealand region is used to examine this question. Both countries have high adaptive capacity to alleviate many of the impacts of climate change, but sustainable development is likely to be threatened in a number of identifiable hotspot regions.

Professor Fitzharris remains active in a small research group that investigates end of summer snowlines for 50 glaciers of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. This data are used to estimate changes in mass balance of glaciers and changes in total ice volume of the Southern Alps back to 1930. Also examined are climate and atmospheric circulation drivers of these changes.

 

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Publications

Salinger, M. J., Diamond, H. J., Behrens, E., Fernandez, D., Fitzharris, B. B., Herold, N., … Smith, R. O., … Trought, M. C. T. (2020). Unparalleled coupled ocean-atmosphere summer heatwaves in the New Zealand region: Drivers, mechanisms and impacts. Climatic Change. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10584-020-02730-5

Salinger, M. J., Renwick, J., Behrens, E., Mullan, A. B., Diamond, H. J., Sirguey, P., Smith, R. O., … Cullen, N. J., Fitzharris, B. B., Hepburn, C. D., … Sutton, P. J. (2019). The unprecedented coupled ocean-atmosphere summer heatwave in the New Zealand region 2017/18: Drivers, mechanisms and impacts. Environmental Research Letters, 14(4). doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/ab012a

Salinger, M. J., Fitzharris, B. B., & Chinn, T. (2019). Atmospheric circulation and ice volume changes for the small and medium glaciers of New Zealand's Southern Alps mountain range 1977–2018. International Journal of Climatology, 39, 4274-4287. doi: 10.1002/joc.6072

Fitzharris, B. (2016). Reflections on climate and water over 50 years. Australasian Journal of Water Resources, 20(2), 93-107. doi: 10.1080/13241583.2017.1348888

Fitzharris, B. B. (2013). Ten years on from the inaugural SIRG workshop of 2003 and whither the next decade? Proceedings of the New Zealand Snow and Ice Research Group (SIRG) Annual Workshop. (pp. 5). Retrieved from http://www.sirg.org.nz/abstracts/SIRG2013_proceedings_v3.pdf

Authored Book - Research

Ahmad, Q. K., Anisimov, O., Arnell, N., Brown, S., & Fitzharris, B. B. (2001). Climate Change 2001. Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policy Makers. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations Environmental Programme, 89p.

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Edited Book - Research

Watson, R. T., Zinyowera, M. C., Moss, R. H., & Fitzharris, B. B. (Eds.). (1996). Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation: Summary for policymakers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 22p.

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Chapter in Book - Research

Fitzharris, B. B. (2003). Climate. In J. Darby, R. E. Fordyce, A. Mark, K. Probert & C. Townsend (Eds.), The natural history of Southern New Zealand. (pp. 65-86). Dunedin: Otago University Press.

Fitzharris, B. B. (2002). Climate and atmosphere. In M. Trewby, B. Fitzharris (Consulting Editor for climate & atmosphere entries) (Eds.), Antarctica - An Encyclopedia from Abbott Ice Shelf to Zooplankton. (pp. 1-208). Auckland: Natural History NZ Ltd and David Bateman Ltd.

Sturman, I., Owens, I. F., & Fitzharris, B. B. (2001). Precipitation processes and water storage. In A. Sturman & R. Spronken-Smith (Eds.), Introduction to the Physical Environment - A New Zealand Perspective. (pp. 152-174). South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Fitzharris, B. B. (2001). Global energy and climate processes. In A. Sturman & R. Spronken-Smith (Eds.), Introduction to the Physical Environment - a New Zealand Perspective. (pp. 62-75). South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

White, K. S., Ahmad, Q. K., Anisimov, O., Arnell, N., Brown, S., & Fitzharris, B. B. (2001). Technical Summary. In J. J. McCarthy, O. F. Canziani, N. A. Leary, D. J. Dokken & K. S. White (Eds.), Climate Change 2001. Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (pp. 19-73). Cambridge, U.K.: WMO and UNEP, Cambridge University Press.

Fitzharris, B. B. (2001). The state of the Ross Sea Region atmosphere. In E. J. Waterhouse (Ed.), Ross Sea Region - A State of the Environment Report for the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica. (pp. 1-26). Christchurch: New Zealand Antarctic Institute.

Anisimov, O., & Fitzharris, B. B. (2001). Polar Regions (Arctic and Antarctic). In J. J. McCarthy, O. F. Canziani, N. A. Leary, D. J. Dokken & K. S. White (Eds.), Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. (pp. 801-841). Cambridge, U.K.: WMO and UNEP, Cambridge University Press.

Fitzharris, B. B. (2000). El Nino and its impact in the Southwest Pacific. In L. C. Nkemdirim (Ed.), El Nino - Southern Oscillation and its Global Impacts. A Publication of the Commission of Climatology of the International Geographical Union. (pp. 239-251). Bonn, Germany: International Geographical Union.

Everett, J. T., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1998). The Arctic and Antarctic. In The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability. A Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group II. (pp. 85-103). Cambridge University Press.

Fitzharris, B. B. (1996). The cryoshpere: changes and their impacts. In R. T. Watson, M. C. Zinyowera & R. H. Moss (Eds.), Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses: Contribution of Working Group II to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (pp. 241-265). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Garr, C. E., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1996). Using seasonal snow to forecast inflows into South Island hydro lakes. In Prospects and Needs for Climate Forecasting. (pp. 63-67). Wellington: The Royal Society of New Zealand Miscellanous Seri.

Fitzharris, B. B. (1996). Review of prospects and needs for climate forecasting. In Prospects and Needs for Climate Forecasting. (pp. 112-116). Wellington: The Royal Society of New Zealand Miscellanous Seri.

Fitzharris, B. B. (1996). The cryosphere: changes and their impacts. In R. T. Watson & M. C. Zinyowera (Eds.), Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses. (pp. 241-265). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fitzharris, B. B., & Garr, C. E. (1996). Climate, water resources and electricity. In W. J. Bouma, G. I. Pearman & M. R. Manning (Eds.), Greenhouse: Coping with Climate Change. (pp. 263-280). Collingwood, Australia: CSIRO Publishing.

Watson, R. T., Zinyowera, M. C., Moss, R. H., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1996). Technical summary: impacts, adaptations and mitigation options. In R. T. Watson, M. C. Zinyowera & R. H. Moss (Eds.), Climate Change 1995: Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses. (pp. 19-53). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Journal - Research Article

Salinger, M. J., Diamond, H. J., Behrens, E., Fernandez, D., Fitzharris, B. B., Herold, N., … Smith, R. O., … Trought, M. C. T. (2020). Unparalleled coupled ocean-atmosphere summer heatwaves in the New Zealand region: Drivers, mechanisms and impacts. Climatic Change. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1007/s10584-020-02730-5

Salinger, M. J., Renwick, J., Behrens, E., Mullan, A. B., Diamond, H. J., Sirguey, P., Smith, R. O., … Cullen, N. J., Fitzharris, B. B., Hepburn, C. D., … Sutton, P. J. (2019). The unprecedented coupled ocean-atmosphere summer heatwave in the New Zealand region 2017/18: Drivers, mechanisms and impacts. Environmental Research Letters, 14(4). doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/ab012a

Salinger, M. J., Fitzharris, B. B., & Chinn, T. (2019). Atmospheric circulation and ice volume changes for the small and medium glaciers of New Zealand's Southern Alps mountain range 1977–2018. International Journal of Climatology, 39, 4274-4287. doi: 10.1002/joc.6072

Chinn, T., Fitzharris, B. B., Willsman, A., & Salinger, M. J. (2012). Annual ice volume changes 1976–2008 for the New Zealand Southern Alps. Global & Planetary Change, 92–93, 105-118. doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2012.04.002

Gjermundsen, E. F., Mathieu, R., Kääb, A., Chinn, T., Fitzharris, B., & Hagen, J. O. (2011). Assessment of multispectral glacier mapping methods and derivation of glacier area changes, 1978-2002, in the central Southern Alps, New Zealand, from ASTER satellite data, field survey and existing inventory data. Journal of Glaciology, 57(204), 667-683. doi: 10.3189/002214311797409749

Mathieu, R., Chinn, T., & Fitzharris, B. (2009). Detecting the equilibrium-line altitudes of New Zealand glaciers using ASTER satellite images. New Zealand Journal of Geology & Geophysics, 52(3), 209-222. doi: 10.1080/00288300909509887

Fitzharris, B. B., Clare, G. R., & Renwick, J. (2007). Teleconnections between Andean and New Zealand glaciers. Global & Planetary Change, 59, 159-174. doi: 10.1016/j.gloplacha.2006.11.022

Clare, G. R., Fitzharris, B. B., Chinn, T. J., & Salinger, M. J. (2002). Interannual variation in end-of-summer snowlines of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, in response to changes in Southern Hemisphere atmospheric circulation and sea surface temperature patterns. International Journal of Climatology, 22(1), 107-120.

Keiffer, H., Kargel, J. S., Barry, R., Bindschadler, R., Bishop, M., MacKinnon, D., … Fitzharris, B., … Young, N. (2000). New eyes in the sky measure glaciers and ice sheets. Eos, 81(24), 265,270-271. doi: 10.1029/00EO00187

Lamont, G. N., Chinn, T. J., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1999). Slopes of glacier ELAs in the Southern Alps of New Zealand in relation to atmospheric circulation patterns. Global & Planetary Change, 22(1-4), 209-219.

Fitzharris, B. B., & McAlevey, B. P. (1999). Remote sensing of seasonal snow cover in the mountains of New Zealand using satellite imagery. Geocarto International, 14(3), 33-42.

Purdie, J., & Fitzharris, B. (1999). Processes and rates of ice loss at the terminus of Tasman Glacier, New Zealand. Global & Planetary Change, 22, 79-91. doi: 10.1016/S0921-8181(99)00027-2

Fitzharris, B. B., Lawson, W., & Owens, I. F. (1999). Research on glaciers and snow in New Zealand. Progress in Physical Geography, 23(4), 469-500.

Hooker, B. L., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1999). The correlation between climatic parameters and the retreat and advance of the Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand. Global & Planetary Change, 22(1-4), 39-48.

Purdie, J., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1999). Ice loss at the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand. Global & Planetary Change, 22(1-4), 79-91.

McKerchar, A. I., Pearson, C. P., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1998). Dependency of summer lake inflows and precipitation on spring SOI. Journal of Hydrology, 205, 66-80.

Tait, A. B., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1998). Relationships between New Zealand rainfall and south-west Pacific pressure patterns. International Journal of Climatology, 18, 407-424.

Fitzharris, B. B., Chinn, T. J., & Lamont, G. N. (1997). Glacier balance fluctuations and atmospheric circulation patterns over the Southern Alps, New Zealand. International Journal of Climatology, 17(7), 745-763.

Tait, A. B., Kavalieris, L., & Fitzharris, B. B. B. (1997). An alternative method of representing 2-dimensional principal components: A climatological example. Weather & Climate, 17(2), 7-10.

Neale, S. M., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1997). Energy balance and synoptic climatology of a melting snowpack in the Southern Alps, New Zealand. International Journal of Climatology, 17(14), 1595-1609.

Tyson, P. D., Sturman, A. P., Fitzharris, B. B. B. A., Mason, S. J., & Owens, I. F. (1997). Circulation changes and teleconnections between glacial advances on the West Coast of New Zealand and extended spells of drought years in South Africa. International Journal of Climatology, 17(14), 1499-1512.

Wratt, D. S., Ridley, R. N., Sinclair, M. R., Larsen, H., & Fitzharris, B. B. B. A. (1996). The New Zealand Southern Alps experiment. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 77, 683-692.

Fitzharris, B. B., & Endlicher, W. (1996). Climatic conditions for grape growing, Central Europe and New Zealand. New Zealand Geographer, 52(1), 1-11.

Fitzharris, B. B., & Garr, C. E. (1995). Simulation of past variability in seasonal snow in the Southern Alps, New Zealand. Annals of Glaciology, 21, 377-382.

Endlicher, W., & Fitzharris, B. B. (1995). Die Klimatischen bendingungen dis qualitatswienbaus au seiner polar grenze in Deutschland und NeuseeZeeland. Die Erde, 126, 243-261.

Salinger, M. J., Basher, R. E., Fitzharris, B. B. B. A., Hay, J. E., Jones, P. D., MacVeigh, J. P., & Schmidely-Lelen, I. (1995). Climate trends in the Southwest Pacific. International Journal of Climatology, 15, 285-302.

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Journal - Research Other

Fitzharris, B. (2016). Reflections on climate and water over 50 years. Australasian Journal of Water Resources, 20(2), 93-107. doi: 10.1080/13241583.2017.1348888

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Conference Contribution - Published proceedings: Full paper

Sirguey, P., Mathieu, R., Arnaud, Y., & Fitzharris, B. B. (2009). Seven years of snow cover monitoring with MODIS to model catchment discharge in New Zealand. Proceedings of the IEEE International GeoScience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS) (Vol. 2). (pp. II863-II866). IEEE. doi: 10.1109/IGARSS.2009.5418232

Fitzharris, B. B., & Prowse, T. (2002). Impact of climate change on global sea ice. In V. Squire & P. Langhorne (Eds.), 16th International Association of Hydraulic Engineering Symposium. 3, (pp. 72-79). Dunedin: Department of Physics, University of Otago. [Full Paper]

Blair, R., Fitzharris, B. B., & Richards, K. (2002). Interpolation of growing degree-days in non-homogeneous terrain. In P. A. Whigham (Ed.), Proceedings of the Fourteenth Annual Colloquium of the Spatial Information Research Centre. (pp. 9-18). Dunedin: Spatial Information Research Centre, University of Otago. [Full Paper]

Fitzharris, B. B. (1998). Snowing the new electricity market. In E. Blizz (Ed.), Proceedings of Second Joint Conference, Institute of Australian Geographers and New Zealand Geographical Society. (pp. 410-412). Massey University. [Full Paper]

Fitzharris, B. B. (1996). El Nino and its impact in the Southwest Pacific. In L. C. Nkemdirim (Ed.), Proceedings: 28th International Geographical Congress, the Hague, August 5-7, 1996: Sessions on Climatology. (pp. 74-83). Amsterdam: International Geographical Union. [Full Paper]

Fitzharris, B. B. (1996). Overview of impacts of climate change: a summary of IPCC '95 assessment: Working Group II. Climate Change IPCC '95 and Beyond. (pp. 32-35). Wellington: The Royal Society of New Zealand Miscellaneous Ser. [Full Paper]

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