Iceland honors lost glacier as more expected to follow

‘DEAD ICE’::Scientists in 2014 stripped Okjokull’s title, as it was no longer a moving glacier, and predicted that the country’s 400-plus glaciers would be gone by 2200

AFP, REYKJAVIK

Mon, Aug 19, 2019 - Page 5

Iceland was yesterday to honor the passing of Okjokull, its first glacier lost to climate change, as scientists warned that about 400 others on the subarctic island risk the same fate.

A bronze plaque would be unveiled in a ceremony to mark Okjokull — which translates to “Ok glacier” — in the west of Iceland, in the presence of local researchers and their peers at Rice University in the US, who initiated the project.

Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, Icelandic Minister for the Environment and Natural Resourcers Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson were to attend the event.

“This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world,” Cymene Howe, associate professor of anthropology at Rice University, said last month.

The plaque bears the inscription “A letter to the future,” and is intended to raise awareness about the decline of glaciers and the effects of climate change.

“In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it,” the plaque reads.

It is also labeled “415 ppm CO2,” referring to the record level of carbon dioxide measured in the atmosphere in May last year.

“Memorials everywhere stand for either human accomplishments, like the deeds of historic figures, or the losses and deaths we recognize as important,” Howe said.

“By memorializing a fallen glacier, we want to emphasize what is being lost — or dying — the world over, and also draw attention to the fact that this is something that humans have ‘accomplished,’ although it is not something we should be proud of,” she said.

The conversation about climate change can be abstract, with many dire statistics and sophisticated scientific models that can feel incomprehensible, Howe said.

“Perhaps a monument to a lost glacier is a better way to fully grasp what we now face,” she said, highlighting “the power of symbols and ceremony to provoke feelings.”

Iceland loses about 11 billion tonnes of ice per year, and scientists fear all of the country’s 400-plus glaciers would be gone by 2200, according to Howe and her Rice University colleague Dominic Boyer.

Glaciologists stripped Okjokull of its glacier status in 2014, a first for Iceland.

In 1890, the glacier covered 16km2, but by 2012, it measured 0.7km2, according to a report from the University of Iceland from 2017.

In 2014, “we made the decision that this was no longer a living glacier, it was only dead ice, it was not moving,” Oddur Sigurdsson, a glaciologist with the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told reporters.