Blog: Down Under


    Driving about four hours from volcanic country through winding hills reminding us of the Amalfi coast, we arrived in the very windy city of Wellington on Sunday, 2/12 in time for me to participate in the opening events of The International Cryosphere Conference.  The conference gathered scientists from all over the world (much like the AGU but way smaller) where papers would be presented throughout the whole week.  Its director, James Renwick, having been alerted of my coincidentally being in town, invited me to contribute. Seeing everyone enjoying themselves at this “icebreaker” we both agreed that a lecture hall was inappropriate – so we spontaneously changed the venue to right there:

    My 15-minute talk began by thanking everyone for their research and assuring them that we are all with them. Then I shared images of collaborations with many of their colleagues along with examples of work and my outreach efforts. I closed with the image of my upcoming book for the Walton show:

    I suggested they sign up so they could receive news from my distributor when its published in March. The editor of a UK journal suggested getting an advance copy to them for a possible book review.  More drinking and interesting conversations continued withpeople from the UK, China, Tasmania, Hawaii and from the states.

    Richard noticed that Dr. Eric Rignot was from his alma mater – Irvine.  We had a delightful conversation with him that first evening – not knowing then that he was the keynote the next day.

    His topic was: “Have we Passed the Point of No Return?” Short answer: YUP

    He very calmly explained the data of the most current models and how crucial paleo research shared across glacial science disciplines over last decade have added to the certainly of those models and inevitability of further sea level rise without strong changes in global behavior. He reviewed the data in terms of key “floodgates” in Greenland and Antarctica which they are all monitoring…I was thrilled to see that two of the three he showed from Greenland: Jakobshavn and Petermann have been glaciers I have referenced in my imagery:

    We spoke afterwards, and after reading up on him I mentioned that we had met Charles Elachi, former director of JPL in Banff at the Renaissance meeting – he then informed me that was who hired him...small world.

    Here was the last slide of his talk:


    We awoke early in Rotorua to get to Tongariro National Park, our next destination. This volcanic wonderland is among New Zealand’s most striking landscapes and is its first national park established in 1887.  In it are three mighty volcanoes Tongariro, Ngauruhoe, and Ruapehu all dominating the horizon big, readily accessible, and all still active.

    We were hoping to meet our pilot for a noon flight, but as the drive provided incredible vistas at every turn, the clouds grew ominous by the time we got to Chateau Tongariro at 11AM.

    We postponed hoping for better weather the next morning and went exploring instead. We took a hike to a water all and witnessed a typical kiwi just dive in…

    A clear sky greeted us the next morning for our flight with Bhrent Guy, the senior pilot and director for Mountain Air (Your Volcanic and Heritage Scenic Flight Adventure). We not only circled the main volcanoes in the area at a range of heights and angles, as well as flying back up to Lake Taupo - we also learned a great deal about their geological history.

    I was paeticulary taken with Mount Rehapehu, always omnipresent in the landscape as we drove there and away the next day towards Wellington...


    Rotorua is a land of geothermal pools, lakes, and steaming geysers located in the heart of the North Island’s Taupo Volcanic Zone. All due to its last major eruption - about 240,000 years ago. 

    Richard and I spent two days living at the edge of the Lake Rotorua, on “Bay of Plenty” a thinly water covered Caldara.

    The first day, we walked almost 10 miles today capturing the most incredible images of bubbling gurgling mud and sulphur vapors - right in the middle of town…

    The next day we drove about a half hour from there to Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Area with similarities to Yellowstone National Park – It was wonderful to explore the hot springs and pits of bubbling mud.

    From there we drove to Waimangu Volcanic Valley where we explored a “new” thermal eco-system created by the eruption of Mount Tarawera in 1886. This litho was made by A. D. Willis, based on a painting by Charles Blomfield. The view is from the Māori village of Waitangi, on the northern shores of Lake Tarawera:

    That hike was gruesome- but we survived….


    Wai means water and tomo means hole in Maori.  The caves we explored on Wednesday were formed thousands of years ago by water pouring through the limestone layers – the former seabed of this area - now its surface. We visited this town, Waitomo of only 40 residents which receives over a half million tourists each year- including us…. After putting on our helmets,

    about a dozen of us (from many parts of the globe) followed our guide deep into a cold a damp cave. Why? To see the glow worms which populate the ceilings and walls of these dark wet caverns, to learn about bioluminescence and to learn that these creatures are not really worms after all, but maggots…

    It was truly a magical, surreal experience and satisfying our curiosity and need to understand our geological history.

    Deep inside one of them we came upon the skeletal remains of a Moa...


    When the Polynesians settled New Zealand around CE 1280, the Moa population was about 58,000. Think of “big bird” and you get the idea of these creatures who sometimes reached about 12 feet in height with their neck outstretched, and weighed about 500 lbs.…


    They were the dominant herbivores in New Zealand's forest, shrubland and subalpine ecosystems for thousands of years - until the arrival of the Māori who hunted them down. Their extinction occurred around 1300 primarily due to overhunting by Māori- similar to what happened in the states to the mastodon and wooly mammoth.



    On the morning of February 2, we arrived in “Aotearoa” - this name was originally used in reference to the North Island of New Zealand but now is the most widely known and accepted Māori name for the entire country. The word Māori refers to the indigenous people of New Zealand. Both the term and the people are a hybrid of various Polynesian cultures.

    Auckland, (the original capital of both islands because of the Maori) with its impressive museums, provides the perfect introduction to the history and attitudes of this country …

     The Auckland Art Gallery, aside from presenting some important contemporary artists such as Lee Mingwei (

     and Ann Shelton (

    immediately gave us insight into a rich and complicated cultural history through an exhibition of more than 120 historical portraits of Māori and Pākehā by their most prolific professional colonial painter, Gottfried Lindauer (1839-1926).  

    Then, by visiting the War Memorial Museum, we learned of the rich Maori heritage of these people who first settled here a thousand years ago. Through informative exhibits and videos the deep political tensions between the European settlers and the original peoples was explained.   We learned about the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi treaty and the many protests movements culminating in 1975 which set up a tribunal to redress colonial injustices.  Since, there were many settlements including some land returns, compensation and an apology from the crown.  A 1995 settlement included a formal apology from Queen Elizabeth II. I found their ongoing reconciliation and negotiation efforts in stark contrast to ours in the United States.

    And ironically tomorrow, February 6th is Waitangi Day (named after where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed) – a national holiday commemorating this deeply significant day in New Zealand's history.















    In just three days I begin an adventure to a part of the planet I have never explored. We leave on the 31st of January and due to the international dateline, we won’t arrive in Auckland, New Zealand until February 2.

    Aside from the complicated demands of packing camera gear, computers and clothing for trekking on glaciers, volcanic terrain and in rain forests, there are the multiple power points I’ve been working on. The first will occur in Wellington where I’ve been asked to participate in the welcoming events for the International Cryosphere Conference:

    and, later in the week, the Science in Society Group (Victoria University) has asked me to speak to their Cafe Scientifique public program:

  • Some thoughts, before flying to Auckland on January 31...

    Back in the 80’s, I got a postcard from Sarah McCoubrey who on her honeymoon wrote: “Burko this country is made for you - it has every possible landscape you can imagine.”

    Ever since, I’ve dreamed of traveling to New Zealand. And now that it’s finally a reality  - Australia, Tasmania and Hawaii have been added to this upcoming adventure. 

    The term Down Under is a colloquialism which refers to New Zealand and Australia -  both countries being below the equator. Already in 2012-13, and 2015, I got to almost 60 latitude below, when Richard and I sailed to the Antarctic Peninsula. This will be the next big adventure since my Polar Investigations project.

    This adventure will provide the chance to revisit content I explored in the early 2000’s: volcanoes  (1999-2004) by spending time in Rotorura on North Island.  

    and my still on going project on global wrming by visiting the fast melting glaciers on the South Island.

    Climate change remains my passion. By broadening my reach for landscape experiences, I will bear witness to the shrinking Franz Josef and Fox glaciers in South Island, as well as dried up river beds in Australia. I also will be continuing my pubic engagement speaking to a range of audiences about how my practice addresses global warming and my personal journey.