Scientists Document Glacier Melt in Real Time: ‘We Have to Make a Conscious, Informed Decision About Which Future We Choose’

New footage and photography compiled by a team of scientists at the University of Iceland shows three decades of glacial melt in just over three minutes. CNN reports that the team superimposes archival aerial photos on top of contemporary drone footage to show the dramatic effect that warming climates have had on glaciers in Southeast Iceland. Some of these glaciers are retreating at a rate of 150 metres [492 ft] a year. Since 2000, it’s estimated that Iceland’s glaciers have decreased by some 800 km2 [309 mi2].

The team is led by Þorvarður (Thorri) Árnason, director at the Hornafjörður Research Centre. “About 14 years ago, I started to do repeat photography at one of the glaciers here, Hoffellsjökull,” Þorvarður told CNN. “I went once a month for eight years. It’s like visiting an old friend, there’s a sense of familiarity.”

Iceland has twenty outlet glaciers that extend from the Vatnajökull ice cap. All of them, Þorvarður says, have receded in the time he has been observing them. Some experts say that if global warming conditions continue apace, Iceland’s glaciers are at risk of disappearing completely.

See Also: Snæfellsjökull Could Be Gone in Thirty Years

“We need to tell people what the reality is,” says Þorvarður. “On the other hand, we don’t want to frighten people, to immobilize them through anxiety.”

Having documented the present situation, Þorvarður and his team are now turning their attention toward the future. “We want to pre-visualize what our fastest retreating glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, will look like 100 years from now. Based on worse-case, business as usual, and best case. There is always a range of potential futures that is open to us. There is still a chance for the wounds to heal and for the glaciers to recover, at least to some extent. We have to make a conscious, informed decision about which future we choose.”

See the full documentary short, in English, on CNN, here.

‘Blue Blob’ Is Slowing Icelandic Glacier Melt — For Now

Snæfellsjökull National Park

Icelandic glaciers have been losing mass since the Little Ice Age, but that process has slowed over the last decade thanks to the influence of what scientists have dubbed the Blue Blob, “an area of regional cooling in the North Atlantic Ocean to the south of Greenland,” Euronews reports. This was among the findings in a new study authored by Icelandic and Dutch scientists, who also project that the slowdown is only temporary.

When less snow accumulates on glaciers in the winter than melts in the summer, this is called Negative Surface Mass Balance, or SMB, which in turn, causes sea levels to rise. In Iceland, this process accelerated at the start of the 21st century but has slowed down considerably since 2011. This is particularly surprising because loss of mass has not slowed down for glaciers in nearby Arctic areas—most notably the Greenland Ice Sheet, which has been identified as the single greatest contributor to rising sea levels. In the span of 12 months alone, from August 2020 to August 2021, the Greenland Ice Sheet lost close to 166 billion tonnes of ice.

In the course of their research, the Icelandic-Dutch team noted that the slower rate at which Icelandic glaciers have been losing mass coincided with the emergence of the Blue Blob. As Iceland is “more exposed to the ocean and maritime influences than Greenland,” the scientists say that it now “appears that a cooler convection of air from the blue blob has kept [Icelandic] glaciers more intact.

The mystery of the Blue Blob

GISS Surface Temperature Analysis Map, via NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

The Blue Blob is a mystery in and of itself, and one which scientists have sought to explain for years. Over the last 100 years, global temperatures have risen by an average of 1°C, but at the same time, the temperature of the Blue Blob has dropped, in almost direct proportion, by .9°C. One hypothesis for this is that the North Atlantic current has gotten weaker, which means that Nordic waters are getting less of an infusion of warm water from the tropics. Back in 2016, Norwegian climate researcher Peter Langen offered quite a simple explanation: the blob came into being during a very cold winter, he said, “and the cold actually resulted in an increased mixing of surface water with the deeper levels.” Most recently, in 2020, it was postulated that human-created factors caused the cold spot, namely low-level clouds that deflect sunlight.

Whatever its origin, the Blue Blob’s effect on Icelandic glaciers is clear. But while it has slowed SMB in Iceland’s glaciers for now, scientists say this won’t last forever. The research team conducted climate modeling that took into account both satellite images and fieldwork findings. Their model showed that there will be a short window in the 2040s when Icelandic glaciers “actually go back to an SMB of zero,” but by the 2050s, “global warming will flip the narrative.”

Icelandic glaciers could lose up to a third of their volume by end of 21st century

The Blue Blob will eventually stop cooling, the scientists say, and at that point, Icelandic glacier ice will begin to melt even faster. If there is no intervention to curb climate change, by the end of the 21st century, Icelandic glaciers will have lost a third of their total volume. And this could easily have “disastrous consequences around the world.” The projections are not entirely without hope, however.

“The Arctic is warming fast, and it can be difficult to live with” lead author Brice Noël, a post-doc researcher at the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research in Utrecht, told Euronews. “But climate projections give us trajectories that enable us to see what needs to be done to try and mitigate glacier melt.”

See the full study (in English) here.

 

 

 

 

 

Gas Pollution Warning Near Mýrdalsjökull

Mýrdalsjökull

The Icelandic Met Office warns there is a risk of gas pollution to the east of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, not far from the village of Vík í Mýrdal, in South Iceland. In a post on its Facebook page, the IMO urges travellers in the area to be cautious, particularly in low-lying areas.

The gas pollution is thought to be a consequence of geothermal water leaking from under the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap and seeping into the Múlakvísl river. This has increased the river’s conductivity in recent days. Travellers in the area around the ice cap have also reported a significant smell of sulfur (hydrogen sulfide).

“Due to geothermal activity below the glacier, meltwater accumulates beneath cauldrons on the glacier and at a certain point finds a way from there to the glacial rivers,” explains the post. “It is quite common that it happens during the summer when surface melt on the glacier has started.”

 

“Iceland Almost Ice-free” Within 200 Years

A ceremony took place on Ok mountain to mourn the now gone Okjökull glacier yesterday. The former glacier was the first Icelandic glacier to officially lose its glacier status, which took place in 2014. A hike onto Ok mountain was organized scientist and scholars from Rice University, who made the documentary ‘Not Ok’, highlighting the glacier’s disappearance. The ceremony was attended by around 100 nature lovers. Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason, who wrote the text on Ok’s memorial plaque, joined the service, along with Minister of the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson.

“I said goodbye to Ok today by vowing to do what I can to prevent the disappearance of more Icelandic glaciers.” – Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson.

Okjökull was the subject of a 2018 documentary called Not Ok, made by Rice anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer. Narrated by former Reykjavík mayor and comedian Jón Gnarr According to the filmmakers, scientists fear that all of Iceland’s 400-plus glaciers will be gone by 2200.

Ice-free Iceland
Oddur Sigurðsson, a geologist from the Icelandic Met Institute, was part of the ceremony. According to him, Iceland will largely be ice-free within 200 years. “My co-workers, both at the Icelandic Met Institute and the University of Iceland, have calculated with projections that the expected climate in the next two centuries will lead to all of the glaciers in Iceland melting, more or less. There will maybe be some miniature glaciers on the highest mountain tops but they will disappear within 200 years. So Iceland will then become an almost ice-free country,” Oddur said.

More to follow
A number of glaciers are in severe risk of disappearing in the next couple of years, including Hofsjökull eystri glacier which will disappear within a decade. When asked what other glaciers are in danger of melting completely, Oddur painted a grim picture. “Kaldaklofsjökull, which is ‘behind’ Landmannalaugar if I can say so, Torfajökull, and Þrándarjökull in the East fjords don’t have long left. Then in the wake of those three, Tindfjallajökull and Snæfellsjökull will not handle the warming.” The glaciers on Tröllaskagi peninsula in North Iceland are expected to last a langer as they are largely situated in shadows.

The worldwide attention brought on by Okjökull glacier’s disappearance has not been missed by Icelandic scientists. “Of course it doesn’t matter for the world population, and Iceland neither, whether one small glacier melts completely or not. But it is, however, a clue about this massive event which is taking place in the whole world. And where one disappears, others will follow,” Oddur stated. “Larger glaciers than Okjökull will melt in the near future. I don’t expect us to be able to save them, as things currently stand,” he said in an interview with www.ruv.is

Letter to the future
[media-credit name=”Rice University Press Release” align=”alignnone” width=”860″][/media-credit]

The monument put in place is styled as a “Letter to the future,” and reads:

Ok is the first glacier to lose its status as a glacier. 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. August 2019, 415ppm CO2

More information: www.notokmovie.com

NASA Higlights Ok Glacier’s Disappearance on Satellite Photos

Nasa Earth has released a video which showcases the difference in the ice cover of Okjökull glacier between 1986 and 2019 using satellite photos. Okjökull is the first Icelandic glacier to officially lose its status as a glacier.

A memorial service will be held on August 18 to remember the former glacier, which officially lost its glacier status in 2014. A hike onto Ok mountain, where Okjökull glacier previously sat, will be organized scientist and scholars from Rice University. Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason, who wrote the text on Ok’s memorial plaque, will be joining the service.

[media-credit name=”Rice University Press Release” align=”alignnone” width=”860″][/media-credit]

The monument is styled as a “Letter to the future,” and reads:

Ok is the first glacier to lose its status as a glacier. 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. August 2019, 415ppm CO2

Oddur Sigurðsson, an Icelandic glaciologist, was the first to declare that Okjökull glacier was no longer a glacier. Since 2014, 56 of the 300 total small glaciers have been lost in North Iceland.

Okjökull was the subject of a 2018 documentary called Not Ok, made by Rice anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer. Narrated by former Reykjavík mayor and comedian Jón Gnarr According to the filmmakers, scientists fear that all of Iceland’s 400-plus glaciers will be gone by 2200.

“By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire,” Cymene remarked in the press release. “These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance.” The monument is said to be the first of its kind in the world.

You can find more information about the documentary and RSVP to take part in the monument ceremony at https://www.notokmovie.com.

‘First Glacier Lost to Climate Change’ to be Memorialised

The former Okjökull glacier will be memorialised with a monument recognising its status as “the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier.” A press release from Rice University announced that Researchers from Rice University in Houston, Texas (US), author Andri Snær Magnason, and geologist Oddur Sigurðsson will join members of the Icelandic Hiking Society and the general public to install the monument to the former glacier in Borgarfjörður, West Iceland on August 18, 2019.

 

[media-credit name=”Rice University Press Release” align=”alignnone” width=”860″][/media-credit]

The monument is styled as a “Letter to the future,” and reads:

Ok is the first glacier to lose its status as a glacier. 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. Ágúst 2019, 415ppm CO2

Okjökull, or Ok Glacier, was the subject of a 2018 documentary called Not Ok, made by Rice anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer. Narrated by former Reykjavík mayor and comedian Jón Gnarr, Not Ok tells how in 2014, Ok became the first glacier in Iceland to melt and thereby “lose its title” as a glacier. Scientists credit Ok’s melting to global warming. According to the filmmakers, scientists fear that all of Iceland’s 400-plus glaciers will be gone by 2200.

“By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire,” Cymene remarked in the press release. “These bodies of ice are the largest freshwater reserves on the planet and frozen within them are histories of the atmosphere. They are also often important cultural forms that are full of significance.” The monument is said to be the first of its kind in the world.

“One of our Icelandic colleagues put it very wisely when he said, ‘Memorials are not for the dead; they are for the living,'” Cymene continued. “With this memorial, we want to underscore that it is up to us, the living, to collectively respond to the rapid loss of glaciers and the ongoing impacts of climate change. For Ok glacier it is already too late; it is now what scientists call ‘dead ice.'”

You can find more information about the documentary and RSVP to take part in the monument ceremony at https://www.notokmovie.com.

No Signs Yet of Imminent Múlakvísl Glacial Outburst Flood

So far, there have been no clear signs of the Múlakvísl jökulhlaup, or glacial outburst flood, which is expected to happen in the coming days or weeks. A GPS monitor has been put up in one of the calderas in Mýrdalsjökull glacier which will give more information on the timing of the flood. Salóme Jórunn Bernharðsdóttir, a natural hazard specialist at the Icelandic Meteorological Institute, states the institute is watching proceedings in Múlakvísl closely. So far, there have been no signs that the glacial outburst flood has started.

The newly installed GPS monitor is hoped to give clues about an imminent flood one to two days before the flood reaches the Múlakvísl river crossing at Route 1. Salóme stated that earthquake measurement devices should also display some disturbances around four to six hours before the flood reaches the bridge. Furthermore, electric conductivity should increase in Múlakvísl river before the flood happens. When water levels have risen at Léréftshöfuð, which is six kilometres north of the Múlakvísl river, the flood will reach the Route 1 crossing in half an hour to an hour.

The geothermal heat under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier causes water to collect in the calderas, causing regular glacial outburst floods in the area. Normally, the floods take place a little later in the summer when the mid-summer thaw at Mýrdalsjökull. The amount of water under Mýrdalsjökull glacier has led scientist to believe a glacial outburst flood is imminent. Last year, 2018, there was no flood so a considerable amount of water has collected under the glacier. The flood is expected to be the largest one in eight years, when the 2011 flood ruptured the Route 1 crossing the Múlakvísl river east of Vík í Mýrdal.

Information for travellers
At this point in time, it is believed that it is not necessary to close roads. That situation could change quickly, however, and authorities will step in if they believe a flood is about to occur.

What can happen, and how should travellers react?
Dangers which accompany a glacial outburst flood in Múlakvísl river:
– Floodwater can block the route from Route 1 towards Kötlujökull glacier west of Hafursey.
– Floodwater can flood over and block, or even rupture, Route 1 at the bridge crossing of Múlakvísl river.
– Floodwater can block the route into Þakgil.
– The gas hydrogen sulphide could be found in copious amounts close to Múlakvísl river. The gas can burn mucous membrane in the eyes and in the respiratory tract

Instructions:
– Respect road closures, as well as evacuations if they should occur.
– Keep away from the Múlakvísl river when a glacial outburst flood is occurring.
– Avoid places affected by gas pollution, such as along the river as well as in depressions nearby by it. Do not stop at the bridge crossing Múlakvísl or Skálm.

For those looking to keep a watchful eye on the proceedings when the flood occurs, this webcam of the Láguhvolar area should provide a view of the flood: http://brunnur.vedur.is/myndir/webcam/2019/07/04/webcam_laguhvolar.html

Travellers passing through the area are instructed to head to the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, www.road.is, for further information on road conditions, or call 1777.

Glacial Outburst Flood in Múlakvísl Expected

Measurements from Mýrdalsjökull glacier indicate that a glacial outburst flood could occur in Múlakvísl river in the next days or weeks. A relatively large flood is expected, the largest in the last eight years. Authorities do not expect to have to enforce closures on roads at this point in time, but they will follow developments in the area closely. Closure of Route 1 might occur. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management reported this yesterday, and will continue to monitor the situation.

The results from The Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland indicate that enough water has collected below geothermal heat calderas in the eastern part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. The water flow during the height of the glacial flood could be significantly more than the flood which took place in 2017, but likely less than the severe flood of 2011. The flood in 2011 destroyed the bridge on Route 1 crossing the Múlakvísl river east of Vík í Mýrdal.

Regular flooding of Múlakvísl
Small glacial floods have occurred in Múlakvísl river almost yearly in the last couple of years, close to or right after mid-summer when the thaw in Mýrdalsjökull glacier is at a high point. Those floods have most often been small enough that the river does not flow out of the riverbed, and have therefore not caused any damages. There was no glacial outburst flood in 2018. The flood in 2017 was considered significant although it did not cause any damages. However, the flood in 2017 caused significant air pollution due to the release of hydrogen sulphide. In the last 100 years, there have been at least two severe glacial outburst floods in Múlakvísl, in 1955 and 2011. In both of those floods, the bridge crossing Múlakvísl river was ruptured. For scale, the flood in 2017 is estimated to have been to the tune of 200 cubic metres per second near the Route 1 crossing, which was 20% of the maximum water flow in the 2011 flood in the same site.

“We’ve performed measurements in the same calderas four times since 2017. We can expect that the flood will be the largest flood which has occurred in Múlakvísl in the last eight years. In all likelihood, it will be significantly smaller than the 2011 flood which ruptured the bridge, but nonetheless, it would be the largest flood since then. The main explanation is the fact that there was no outburst from these calderas last summer,” said Eyjólfur Magnússon, a glacial research expert at The Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland in an interview with RÚV. The warmth in Iceland this summer could be causing an earlier flood than usual, according to Eyjólfur. “It could be causing that this flood will happen sooner than usual. These calderas often have outbursts in July or the beginning of August. That has been the main rule. It seems to be so that the summer thaw is starting this flood. So it seems to be often that these calderas empty when the summer thaw is at high-point up on the glacier, or soon after that.

There is considerable geothermal heat under Mýrdalsjökull glacier which creates about 20 calderas on the surface of the glacier. The heat melts the glacial ice and the meltwater collects under the geothermal calderas. In addition to this, thaw water from the surface of the glacier seeps through the glacier and is added to meltwater collecting below the glacier. When enough water has collected, it breaks out from under the glacier and causes the glacial outburst flood.

Members of the travel industry in the nearby area have been informed of the danger. If a flood should occur, they will be informed of further proceedings right away. Scientists believe that the flood will come with some prior warning, and they are now working on putting up a GPS measurement device in one of the sub-glacial calderas to measure proceedings more accurately.

At this point in time, it is believed that it is not necessary to close roads. That situation could change quickly, however, and authorities will step in if they believe a flood is about to occur.

What can happen, and how should travellers react?
Dangers which accompany a glacial outburst flood in Múlakvísl river:
– Floodwater can block the route from Route 1 towards Kötlujökull glacier west of Hafursey.
– Floodwater can flood over and block, or even rupture, Route 1 at the bridge crossing of Múlakvísl river.
– Floodwater can block the route into Þakgil.
– The gas hydrogen sulphide could be found in copious amounts close to Múlakvísl river. The gas can burn mucous membrane in the eyes and in the respiratory tract

Instructions:
– Respect road closures, as well as evacuations if they should occur.
– Keep away from the Múlakvísl river when a glacial outburst flood is occurring.
– Avoid places affected by gas pollution, such as along the river as well as in depressions nearby by it. Do not stop at the bridge crossing Múlakvísl or Skálm.

Travellers passing through the area are instructed to head to the website of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration, www.road.is, for further information on road conditions, or call 1777.

Geothermal Heat Exposes Glacial Cliffs

Fifty-metre [164 ft] high cliffs have emerged to the west of Grímsvötn volcano in southeast Iceland after having been covered by the Vatnajökull glacier for fifty years, RÚV reports. Geophysicist Magnús Tumi Guðmundsson says that increased volcanic activity and geothermal heat, not climate change, are responsible for the glacial melt that has recently uncovered the towering rock walls. The Icelandic Glaciological Society discovered the cliffs on a spring outing in the area.

Grímsvötn is located on the west side of Vatnajökull glacier and is the most active volcano in Iceland. Over the last few decades, its activity has increased, and the resultant heat has melted part of the glacier.

“If we’d talked about this twenty years ago,” Magnús Tumi continued, “I’d have said it meant that Grímsvötn would see [an increased accumulation of water]. What’s happened over the same time period, however, is that the geothermal heat has shifted such that water does not accumulate in Grímsvötn like it did up until 1996.” Magnús Tumi said this indicates that the melt that led to the cliffs being revealed was not triggered by global warming.

Researchers will better explore the cliffs once they’ve emerged more from the side of the glacier. “This is part of a caldera,” he continued. “These are steep cliffs. What you can see of the largest of them is at least 50-metres high. If this continues, they’ll be even bigger.”

Newly uncovered cliffs have been found in three spots around Grímsvötn, but Magnús Tumi says it may not be long before more show their faces. “There are cliffs that haven’t emerged yet that were named in the 50s, Depill and Mósar, which we’ll hopefully be seeing soon.”