Sea Ice Unusually Close to North Iceland Coast

The Coast Guard flight yesterday discovered plenty of sea ice unusually close to Iceland’s northern coastline, which could pose a risk to seafarers. At the same time, parts of the North Atlantic Ocean are warmer than ever before. RÚV reported first.

“We have some very scattered ice coming up to the shore some eight to nine nautical miles from Hornstrandir [nature reserve in the Westfjords], which is closer than we’ve been seeing lately,” sea ice expert Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir, who was on the flight yesterday, stated. Thicker sea ice was also present further out to sea. Although the ice is thin in many places, it could be dangerous for smaller ships, according to Ingibjörg.

While the sea of Iceland’s north coast is currently cold, south of the island it has reached higher temperatures than ever before. The average temperature in the North Atlantic Ocean has never measured higher since record-taking began, breaking records for the past three months in a row. The ocean’s average temperature is just over one degree hotter than the average over the past two decades. In some areas, it is up to 4 degrees Celsius hotter than is considered normal.

Halldór Björnsson, Coordinator of Atmospheric Research at the Icelandic Met Office, says there is no doubt about the reason for this warming. “The basic reason is that all the world’s oceans are much warmer than they were, and that is simply the result of global warming,” he stated.

The Climate Disaster Has “Already Begun to Materialise”

Climate Change

The international community is “falling far short of the Paris goals,” a new UN report finds. “The disaster has already begun to materialise,” Halldór Þorgeirsson, Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council, told RÚV yesterday.

The 2022 Emissions Gap Report

Yesterday, October 27, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published its 2022 edition of the Emissions Gap report. The report provides an update on the progress towards “achieving national mitigation pledges” and the goals set by the Paris Agreement by taking stock of the so-called “emissions gap.”

As noted by a UN press release, the report concludes that the international community is “falling far short of the Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place.” The authors state that the only way to avoid climate disaster is via an urgent “system-wide transformation.”

Read More: The Age of Eco-Anxiety

“Global and national climate commitments are falling pitifully short,” Secretary General of the UN António Guterres stated in a video message during an introduction of the report yesterday. “We must close the emissions gap before climate catastrophe closes in on us all.”

Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council

To address the report’s findings, RÚV invited the Chair of Iceland’s Climate Council Halldór Þorgeirsson (and a retired Senior Director at the UN Climate Change Secretariat) to an interview during yesterday’s nightly news. Halldór was blunt: “These disasters have already begun to materialise, and this year, we have seen disasters that are truly man-made. The strongest example being Pakistan, and, just as bad, and nearer to home, Florida.

“These things are already manifesting in such a way that it’s no longer a question of the future. Our meagre achievements means that the window of opportunity grows ever narrower; there’s much less time. That’s why the only feasible path forward is to undertake fast and extensive system-wide transformation.”

The only way to do this, Halldór maintained, was increased investment. “These are large figures but in reality, it’s only about 2% of the total budget. So it certainly seems doable. Central banks play a big role, and we need to rethink the economy. That’s what this is about – alongside greater cooperation between nations.”

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) will be held from November 6 to 18 in Egypt. It will mark the 27th United Nations Climate Change conference. According to Halldór, no “big decisions” are expected to be made during the conference.

“This conference will focus more on following through with the agreement,” Halldór observed. “The implementation of the Paris Agreement was concluded in Glasgow last year. During the first two days of the conference, global leaders will be present, and the messages that they send matter. All eyes will be on China. They’ve been quite reticent. Then there’s this very strong undercurrent, connected to those aforementioned disasters because one of the big questions of this conference is how we provide aid to nations who suffer such disasters.”

Reykjavík Hosts Cryosphere Symposium on Climate Change

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

The 2022 Cryosphere Symposium will take over Reykjavík’s Harpa this week with lectures and events on ice, snow, and water in a warming world. Organised and funded by the Icelandic Met Office, the World Meteorological Organization, the UN, and other partners, the conference also features events open to the public. The symposium intends to highlight rapid changes occurring in all components of the Earth’s cryosphere, the portions of the Earth’s surface where water is in frozen form.

The symposium will include presentations on the latest scientific results on changes occurring in the cryosphere all over the planet as well as new technologies. Besides lectures, there will also be panel discussions and events open to the public. Tonight at Bryggjan Brewery, four specialists will share experiences from the field and give the audience insight into glaciological work. The presentations, which are open to all, will be in English, and attendees are invited to ask questions in a relaxed atmosphere.

The conference’s full program is available on the Cryosphere website.

Skeiðarárjökull Fastest Retreating Glacier of Last Year

iceland glaciers

In a newsletter from the Melting Glaciers project, Skeiðarárjökull was singled out as the fastest-retreating glacier last year, having lost some 400m of its eastern tail.

In their 2021 overview of the state of Icelandic glaciers, the Meteorological Office of Iceland stated that glaciers in Iceland have been receding for at least a quarter of a century and that this pattern is one of the clearest forms of evidence for climate change in Iceland. The only significant exception to this trend was in 2015, when Icelandic glaciers were either in equilibrium, or even experienced slight growth.

Since 1995, Icelandic glaciers are estimated to have lost a total of 8% of their total volume.

Breiðamerkurjökull, the glacier that terminates in the popular tourist attraction Jökulsárlón, also experienced significant loss last year, shrinking around 150m.

Melting Glaciers is a cooperative project between the Icelandic Meteorological Office, Vatnajökull National Park, the Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Climate, the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences Glaciology Group, and the Southeast Iceland Natural History Museum.

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.

Iceland Lagging Behind on Climate, Minister Suggests

Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

At a Climate Day conference in Reykjavík, Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson stated that Iceland would need to do “even better” with regard to greenhouse-gas emissions, as Iceland is lagging behind countries to which it would like to compare favourably.

Climate change in layman’s terms

Many of Iceland’s foremost experts on climate change convened at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall in Reykjavík for Climate Day (sponsored by Iceland’s Environment Agency). Over 20 lectures were scheduled from representatives of various institutions and agencies in the hopes of discussing global warming in layman’s terms.

Among today’s speakers was Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate, who revealed plans to make Iceland’s emissions ledger accessible to the public in one place, making monitoring the country’s climate goals easier.

As noted by RÚV, Guðlaugur Þór referred to data from Iceland’s Environment Agency, which showed that emissions for which Iceland is directly responsible totalled 2,716 tonnes in 2020 – down by 13% since 2005, the benchmark year for Iceland’s commitments. Emissions in 2020 were 5% lower than in 2019. “Improvements must be made,” Guðlaugur Þór stated.

“When you delve into the numbers, you can see that the biggest decline in emissions has been in road transportation, and it is believed that the pandemic played a big role in that regard. Iceland lags behind many countries to which we’d like to compare ourselves when it comes to climate change. This means that we need to work fast and work together to achieve better results.”

Guðlaugur also emphasised the importance of basing climate action on scientific facts and revealed that work had begun to analyse the Ministry’s projects to achieve goals put forth in the government agreement. According to the Minister, information on emissions is to be accessible to the public via a new climate dashboard.

“It’s my hope that data on the dashboard will be interconnected so that one can access a wide variety of information in an easy way. We need to publish updates regularly on how well we’re doing in meeting our goals,” Guðlaugur remarked.

Another Low Front Expected This Weekend in East Iceland

A woman walking two young children through the snow

A yellow weather alert will be in effect for northeastern Iceland from late Saturday afternoon and until early Sunday morning. Iceland Review spoke to a meteorologist at the Icelandic MET Office yesterday to inquire about the storm – and the inordinate number of lows that have passed through Iceland this winter.

(The interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

“Is it finally over?”

“Are the storms finally over?” I inquire, in a tone of hollow hopefulness, of meteorologist Óli Þór Árnason with the Icelandic MET Office.

Thursday saw yet another yellow weather warning in the capital area (my mother-in-law’s flight to Ísafjörður was cancelled).

“Well, no, that’s the simple answer,” he replies. “We’ll have another low front Saturday evening, and it’ll last into the morning. The weather will be quite divided. You’ll have sharp southerlies and warm temperatures to the east – exactly what you’d like to see here in the south, to get rid of the snow, you know? – and then you’ll have slow-moving northerly winds in the south and west of the country.”

“Hmmm,” I say, taking notes.

“It’ll be black and white – and I’ll let you decide which part is black and which part is white.”

“Thank you so much for that, for respecting independent journalism. Listen, doesn’t this bother you?”

“Yes, no, you know I’d like to see a little more spring in the weather. Less south-westerly winds and less hail. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be much of a problem.”

“You know, this is the first time in my life that the weather has really bothered me. Like really bothered me. I’m 36 years old, but for the first time in my life, I’m exasperated.”

“It was like this all the time before the turn of the century. This kind of weather was much more common back then. Probably your memory’s playing tricks on you.”

“Maybe you’re right; I was in the States from 97 to 2002 – and then in the early ‘90s as well.”

“Yes, it’s not exactly advisable, making such comparisons.”

“So, let me get this straight, none of this is bothering you at all?”

“No, I’m fine, pretty much. March can be a little tricky, but then the low fronts start subsiding. The main motor for these storms, that cold puddle just west of Greenland, which has been quite active in feeding this kind of weather, is gradually getting warmer. And you can feel it. There are changes in the air. The sun’s climbing higher.”

“But things don’t look great, in the long-term, do they?”

“You mean like global-warming?”

“Yes, that’s what I mean.”

“Well, we won’t be breeding crocodiles in Iceland anytime soon if that’s what you mean. But, yes, there’ll be more heat and more humidity. More bursts of precipitation. The best indicator of global warming is the fact that the alcohol content of certain wines is rising, because they’re growing at higher temperatures.”

“Thank you, for your time. It’s been enlightening.”

(For more updates on the weather, visit




‘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.






Winter Heat Wave on Anniversary of Coldest Day Ever

On Friday, the remote seaside village of Bakkagerði in Borgarfjörður eystri experienced temperatures that would be notable in the summer months in Northeast Iceland, let alone the winter. A high of 17.6°C [63.7°F] was recorded in the village just after midnight on Friday, reports. Only sixteen hours before, around 8:00 am on Thursday, temperatures along the fjord had hovered just below 0°C [32°F].

Temperatures also reached off-putting highs elsewhere in the East Fjords. Seyðisfjörður had the second highest temperature in the country on Friday morning: 17.3°C [63.14°F]. The heatwave only lasted briefly. For about six hours, temperatures of around 15°C [59°F] were measured in the region before falling to under 10°C [50°F] in the afternoon.

See Also: Looking Back: The Fateful Year of 1918

Friday also marked 104 years since the coldest temperatures ever recorded in Iceland. The winter of 1917-18 is known in Iceland as Frostaveturinn mikla, the Great Frost Winter. During this terrible winter, temperatures plummeted and sea ice formed around Iceland, closing off vital shipping routes and exacerbating existing shortages of vital goods. The month of January 1918 was particularly devastating, and on January 21, temperatures plummeted lower than they ever had or have done since: -24.5°C [-12.1°F] in Reykjavík, and, in Northeast Iceland, -36°C [-32.8°F] at Grímsstaðir and -38°C [-36.4°F] at Möðrudalur.

Facing North

The Arctic Circle Assembly took place in Harpa last October. Dignitaries from all over the world attended the event, filling up the conference centre with important-looking people in suits, younger people in tighter-fitting suits handing them papers, and slightly-more-dishevelled people with backpacks poring over figures and data with a look of concern.

The doyen at the helm of this event, which even now, when a global pandemic is raging, brings more than 1,500 in-person participants from over 50 countries to Reykjavík, is Iceland’s former president for over two decades, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. The Assembly was cancelled in 2020, but this year, Ólafur Ragnar sent out invites for a party.

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