Iceland builds monument to a glacier lost
Iceland on Sunday honoured the passing of Okjokull, its first glacier lost to climate change, as scientists warn that some 400 others on the subarctic island risk the same fate.
A bronze plaque was unveiled in a ceremony on Sunday afternoon to mark Okjokull — which translates to “Ok glacier” — in the west of Iceland, in the presence of local researchers and their peers at Rice University in the US, who initiated the project.
Iceland’s prime minister Katrin Jakobsdottir, environment minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, and the United Nations high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson also attended the event.
“This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world,” Cymene Howe, associate professor of anthropology at Rice University, said in July. The plaque bears the inscription “A letter to the future,” and is intended to raise awareness about the decline of glaciers and the effects of climate change.
“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,” the plaque reads.
“Memorials everywhere stand for either human accomplishments, like the deeds of historic figures, or the losses and deaths we recognise as important,” researcher Howe said.
“By memorialising a fallen glacier, we want to emphasise what is being lost — or dying — the world over, and also draw attention to the fact that this is something that humans have ‘accomplished’, although it is not something we should be proud of.”
Iceland loses about 11 billion tonnes of ice per year, and scientists fear all of the island country’s 400-plus glaciers will be gone by 2200, according to Howe and her Rice University colleague Dominic Boyer.
Glaciologists stripped Okjokull of its glacier status in 2014, a first for Iceland.
In 1890, the glacier ice covered 16 square kilometres but by 2012, it measured just 0.7 square kilometres, according to a report from the University of Iceland from 2017.
According to a study published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)in April, nearly half of the world’s heritage sites could lose their glaciers by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate.