August 18th, 2019 was a very sad day for Icelanders, environmentalists, and climate change activists around the world. It was the day that we commemorated the loss of an Icelandic glacier to global warming with a ceremony. The climate crisis is real and we are very much feeling the effects of Iceland glacier melting. The Okjökull glacier extinction was declared official by Iceland geologist Oddur Sigurðsson several years ago. 

Iceland glacier melting into pieces

Iceland Glacier Melting

Rice University anthropologist Cymene Howe says this is the first ceremony of its kind marking a glacier lost to climate change. Glaciers are expected to continue disappearing, so we hope this can draw some sort of attention to the issue. 

Global leaders also recognized the importance of the crisis facing us. In the words of Icelandic prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir: “We see the consequences of the climate crisis. We have no time to lose”. Even former Irish president Mary Robinson weighed in on the issue, stating “The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action”.

When a glacier in Iceland loses its status as a glacier, this is a flashing red warning signal that we all need to pay attention to.

Okjökull Glacier Extinction

About 100 people showed up for the funeral of what is the first of Iceland’s glaciers to go extinct due to climate change. Okjökull glacier used to be 160 feet (49 meters) thick and the ice cap spanned nearly 6 square miles (16 square kilometers). It lost its glacier status in 2014.

They set up a memorial complete with a death certificate of the glacier. The monument is to acknowledge this tragic environmental loss. Public figures like author Andri Snaer Magnason spoke at the sad event in Borgarfjordur, West Iceland.

While some skeptics may write this off as a mere publicity stunt, it’s much more serious than that. As the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status, this is just the beginning of a very negative trend. 

They installed a plaque in English and Icelandic at the monuments dedicated to the dead glacier. It serves as a letter to the future which issues a dire warning. It reads that all of Iceland’s glaciers are expected to follow the same path over the course of the next 200 years.  We know what’s happening and what needs to be done, but only time will tell if we actually do it. 

How tragic would it be if in the coming years all our glaciers were to become dead ice?

The Effects of Melting Glaciers

When you look at satellite photos of melting glaciers before and after, it really is quite shocking. There’s no way that climate change deniers can say nothing is happening when the proof is right there in front of their eyes. 

And what about melting glaciers effects on animals? We’ve all seen those heartbreaking images of polar bears either starving or not able to find ice to stand on. One of the knock-on effects of melting glaciers is the possible extinction of these beautiful creatures as their environment changes. 

Iceland glacier melting and polar bears

Rising sea levels are another huge issue due to man-made fossil fuel usage. Melted ice flows into the sea and over time, coastal cities around the globe will be impacted. This causes a number of hazards including reduction of water supply, displacing people from their homes, threatening food supplies, submerging islands and coastal cities, and disrupting the global economy. 

If things continue on their current path, this won’t be the last glacier lost to climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere will continue to increase, and things will only get worse. Some have even gone as far as to say we need to declare a public emergency. 

We need to take action and fight climate change so that future generations do not feel the disastrous consequences. 

The Glacier Melting Rate

But it’s not just Iceland glacier melting where effects are being seen. There are glaciers melting in 2019  all over our precious planet. These masses of ice are dissolving at an unprecedented rate globally. From the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in the south to Greenland’s massive glaciers in the north, scientists say it’s happening rapidly. According to geologists, if we keep up this pace, it’s simply unsustainable. 

There are many different studies and hundreds of scientists monitoring thousands of shrinking glaciers around the world. As we face The Big Thaw, we need to look more at how much sea levels have risen rather than the percentage of glaciers that are melting. This provides a much more accurate assessment. 

Iceland glacier melting raises sea levels

It’s currently rising at the rate of about one-tenth of an inch per year. That may not sound like much but over time it adds up. It’s definitely an accelerating trend behind some of the consequences outlined above.

The Okjökull Glacier Extinction

There’s an expression in English that comes to mind in this situation. It seems that the death of a glacier is the canary in the coal mine and an unmistakable sign that we need to act, and soon. So all I can say for now is rest in peace Okjökull. And let’s figure out how we can stop the glaciers from melting and take action. 

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