Iceland’s Glaciers Shrunk by 800 Square Kilometres in 20 Years Skip to content

Iceland’s Glaciers Shrunk by 800 Square Kilometres in 20 Years

By Yelena

Photo: Golli.

In the past 20 years, the surface area of Iceland’s glaciers has decreased by around 800km2, an area roughly the size of the Reykjanes peninsula. The data comes from a report by Iceland’s foremost glacier researchers that presents an overview of the country’s glaciers at the end of 2019. The report shows that glaciers in Iceland have been retreating rapidly for 25 years, what its authors assert is “one of the most obvious consequences of a warming climate.”

Iceland’s glaciers reached their maximum area since the island’s settlement at the end of the 19th century. Since then, their surface area has decreased by almost 2,200km2 (849mi2). In recent years, the glaciers have been shrinking at a rate of 40km2 each year, equivalent to around 7,500 American football fields. When it comes to the retreat of their edges, Hagafellsjökull eystri in Langjökull ice cap and Síðujökull and Tungnárjökull in Vatnajökull ice cap hold the 2019 record, retreating by 150m (492ft) last year alone.

Glacier lagoons grow as glaciers retreat

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, a popular tourist site, started to form in the mid-1930s because of the retreat of Vatnajökull glacier. The Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier retreats rapidly where it calves into the lagoon, as much as 150-400m (492-1,312ft) in 2019. On average, Jökulsárlón and Breiðárlón, as well as some smaller lagoons in the area, have grown by 0.5-1km2 (0.2-0.4mi2) annually in recent years.

The report was based on measurements done by The Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland, the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the National Power Company of Iceland, the South East Iceland Nature Research Center, and the Iceland Glaciological Society.

The full report is available in Icelandic and English.

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