Iceland is memorializing the loss of its first glacier with a special tribute warning those of what is yet to come.
Next month, the Nordic island nation will install a plaque on the former site of Okjökull in Borgarfjörður — a West Iceland glacier lost to climate change.
Back in 1901, Okjökull was measured to span 38 square kilometres on a geological map, according to Science Alert. But by 1945, the swathe of ice had shrunk to just 5 square kilometres. And by 2014, it was officially too small to be considered a glacier.
Now known as just “Ok” (having lost the -jökull or “glacier” part of its name), the locale is just a shield volcano with no glacial cover.
The loss of the former glacier’s mass is apparently a first preview of what’s to come as a result of climate change. Scientists say they fear all of the island nation’s 400-plus glaciers will be gone by 2200, according to Rice University anthropologists, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer — who documented Ok’s loss in the 2018 documentary, Not Ok.
To make sure Okjökull isn’t forgotten, and to also use it as an example of the dramatic effects of climate change, Howe and Boyer took things a step further and installed a plaque at Ok’s base.
“A letter to the future,” the plaque reads. “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.”
“This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world,” Howe said, in a press release. “By marking Ok’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire. 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.”
Added Boyer: “In the same spirit as the film, we wanted to create a lasting memorial to Ok, a small glacier that has a big story to tell. Ok was the first named Icelandic glacier to melt because of how humans have transformed the planet’s atmosphere. Its fate will be shared by all of Iceland’s glaciers unless we act now to radically curtail greenhouse gas emissions.”
Both Howe and Boyer will be on hand for the for the plaque’s instillation on Aug. 18, alongside author Andri Snær Magnason, members of the Icelandic Hiking Society, geologist Oddur Sigurðsson (who first declared Okjökull a glacier-no-more), and the general public.
The hope is that the monument will help raise awareness about the decline of Iceland’s glaciers, as well as the impact of climate change, Howe and Boyer said.
“One of our Icelandic colleagues put it very wisely when he said, ‘Memorials are not for the dead; they are for the living,’ ” Howe said in the press release. “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.’”