Mock funeral marks loss of glacier due to climate change

Published by Kayle Crosson on

August 20th, 2019

A funeral was held in Iceland on Sunday to mark the world’s first loss of a glacier to climate change.

Around 100 people, including former President Mary Robinson, attended the ceremony atop a volcano in the country’s central highlands to commemorate the Okjökull glacier.  “The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action,” Ms Robinson said.

At the start of the 20th century, the glacier covered a total of 38km2 but by 1945 had dwindled down to just 5km2. By 2014, Okjökull had lost its glacier status. 

The glacier, Science Alert reported, is nowadays simply referred to as Ok, having shed the -jökull (“glacier”) part of its name.  A plaque was unveiled during the funeral with a short “letter to the future”. 

“Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier,” the text reads. “This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

Noted at the bottom of the plaque was the record-breaking level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of 415 parts per million observed this May.

Research published earlier this year revealed that glaciers have lost over nine trillion tonnes of their mass over the past 50-plus years, contributing to a 27-millimeter increase in sea level.

Reduced glacier cover also threatens the water supply for millions of people around the world, results in a lower yield of hydroelectric power, and sees a decreased amount of available water for food production. 

The study found that the most significant ice loss occurred in Alaska around the perimeter of the Greenland ice sheet and from glaciers found in the southern Andes.

Substantial amounts of ice also disappeared from Canadian glaciers as well as in the Russian Arctic and Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago also found in the Arctic.

“While we can now offer clear information about how much ice each region with glaciers has lost, it is also important to note that the rate of loss has increased significantly over the last 30 years,” report author Michael Zemp said.

“We are currently losing a total of 335 billion tonnes of ice a year, corresponding to a rise in sea levels of almost 1 mm per year,” he added. Glacier melting, Mr Zemp also noted, was responsible for 30 per cent of the current rate of sea-level rise.

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Kayle Crosson

Kayle is a multimedia journalist focused on climate and environmental issues and contributes to The Irish Times and The Green News.