Effects on Ocean Among Primary Climate Concerns for Iceland Skip to content
Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse
Photo: Golli. Waves crash over lighthouse in Reykjavík winter storm.

Effects on Ocean Among Primary Climate Concerns for Iceland

Ocean acidification, increased frequency of landslides, and possible changes to ocean currents are some of the impacts of climate change that could most affect Iceland, according to the country’s experts. Responding to the newly released report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Iceland’s Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson says government around the world need to step up their response to the climate crisis.

The PICC’s newest climate change report, intended as a resource for policymakers, compiles the latest data on climate change. Compared to the panel’s earlier reports, its findings are categorical about climate change being caused by humans and about the severity of the consequences it has in store.

Ocean acidification as concerning as warming

Tómas Jóhannesson is Director of Glaciology and an expert on the avalanche team at the Icelandic Met Office. He says the impact on the ocean surrounding Iceland is one of the biggest concerns regarding the local impact of climate change. The earth’s ocean’s have absorbed around 90% of the heat that has accumulated due to the increased greenhouse effect.

Considering Iceland’s dependence on the ocean, its acidification as a result of the carbon it absorbs from the atmosphere could be a long-term issue for the country. Acidification can affect the survival of smaller ocean organisms, in turn affecting the survival of fish and sea birds. “The acidification of the sea is unequivocal and is just as much a reason to stop emissions as warming,” Tómas stated.

Read More: Iceland’s Plan to Become Carbon Neutral by 2040

Weakening currents and more frequent landslides

Weakening and even halting ocean currents is an unlikely but significant change that could occur as a result of continued global warming. Changes in the Atlantic Ocean’s system of currents, known as the AMOC, could affect climate and precipitation in Iceland and its tipping point is not known, according to Tómas. “The possibility of this is one of the reasons why it is very urgent to take action to stop this development.”

Global warming could increase the risk of landslides in Iceland, especially as permafrost in mountains and glaciers thaws. Warmers winters that bring rain rather than show could magnify that risk. “We are seeing landslides in areas where we have not expected landslides to occur or they were previously rare.” Whether the devastating landslides that occurred in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland last winter are a result of global warming is, however, uncertain, according to Tómas.

Iceland must address agriculture and fisheries

Responding to the IPCC report, Iceland’s Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson called it “yet another confirmation that we need to do even better.” Energy exchange in fisheries and agriculture are two areas where Iceland needs to achieve better results, he told RÚV. Road transport, however, “has gotten off to a much better start and is beginning to yield results,” the Minister added. He added that authorities must ensure climate measures do not come down harder on low-income or marginalised groups.

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