Iceland Memorial Commemorates Death of Glacier

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August 20, 2019

It's not every day that people gather to farewell a glacier, but that's what a group of Icelanders did recently, to mourn the loss of a glacier that ended its life after 700 years.

Okjokull is the name of the glacier, which was officially declared dead in 2014 and fought bravely on for another five years before becoming just a small bit of ice on top of a volcano near the capital, Reykjavik. Among the more than 100 children and adults attending the ceremony were Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, and Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson. Jakobsdottir addressed the crowd gathered for the ceremony, and then the mourners walked for two hours up to top of the volcano and laid a plaque that doubled as a time capsule in the form of a letter to future viewers:

Ok is the first Icelandic 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
Iceland glacier Okjokull 1986
Iceland glacier Okjokull 2019

Andri Snaer Magnason, an Icelandic author, wrote the dedication. A moment of silence punctuated the ceremony. Also attending was former Irish President Mary Robinson. The plaque contained the level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide; local equipment measured that record-breaking level in May 2019.

The death declaration in 2014 came from Oddur Sigurdsson, a glaciologist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, who has taken photographs of the glaciers around the countryside for 50 years. In an inventory in 2000, he found 300 around the country; in a similar inventory in 2017, the number was 244. The once six-square-mile Okjofull now covers less than one square mile.

American anthropologists Dominic Boyer and Cymene Howe made a 2018 documentary titled Not Ok, about the glacial loss. They helped drill the holes into which the plaque was set during the memorial ceremony. The plaque is the first in the world to mark the death of a glacier.

Okjokull is the first glacier known to recede as a result of Global warming. Scientists have reported similar glacial shrinking elsewhere, including in Antarctica, in Greenland, in New Zealand, and in the Alps. Melting of giant blocks of ice helps create a rise in sea level, and that can result in displacement of large numbers of people who now live on land that is not far above the existing sea level.

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Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2018
David White

Social Studies for Kids
copyright 2002–2019
David White