On August 18, about 100 people, including Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, hiked for two hours to attend a somber event. The gathering was in memory of OK Glacier, which had melted so extensively that, in 2014, scientists pronounced it dead. It is the first Icelandic glacier lost to climate change.
To be considered a glacier, an ice mass needs to have movement. OK melted so significantly that it no longer had the mass to move under its own weight and so no longer met the criteria of a glacier.
“Glaciers are melting all across the world, contributing enormously to rising sea levels,” she wrote. “Himalayan glaciers help regulate the water supply of a quarter of humankind. Natural systems will be disrupted.”
Two researchers, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, first proposed commemorating the loss of OK Glacier. The Rice University scientists produced a documentary called “Not Ok” in order to draw attention to the plight of the glacier. In the process of making the film, Howe and Boyer had the idea to hold a kind of memorial for OK, which is shorthand for Okjökull.
Howe and Boyer attended the August 18 commemoration.
“As we neared the site of the lost glacier, we followed an Icelandic hiking tradition where you walk in silence, think of three wishes, and never look back,” Howe told GlacierHub in an email. “Completing that last 100 meters in silence was exceptionally poignant. We were stepping forward, to be sure, but also reflecting on what it means to say goodbye to the world that we have known.”
Once the participants reached OK, they reflected on the tragedy of OK’s disappearance and on the need to protect existing glaciers.
“At the site of the memorial we had words of recognition, remorse, and— more than anything—calls to action,” Howe said.
Echoing the sentiment, Robinson told the Associated Press: “The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action.”
OK’s demise and the commemoration in Iceland has already had ripple effect. On September 22, mourners will gather at a funeral for the Pizol Glacier in eastern Switzerland.
What Happens to Species Diversity as Glaciers Melt?
Published in July 2019, a study looked at the effects of melting glaciers on seafloor species diversity in Antarctica.
As glaciers melt, more sediment is released into the surrounding waters and can smother seafloor communities. As part of the same process, more icebergs are created which can scrape the bottom of the ocean, removing the top layers of sediment, known as soft sediment.
Soft sediment contains a great deal of life and plays an important role in marine ecosystems The study explains that it is one of the “key components of energy flow through food webs” and is important “in sedimentary processes especially nutrient and carbon cycling, waste breakdown and removal.”
The authors wrote that it was “the first study to comprehensively analyse the composition of Antarctic soft sediment metazoan communities across all size classes, from < 1 mm up to 10 cm, in two geographically distinct coves.”
The study found that “in contrast to findings from rocky substrata, there was no evidence of an effect of typical Antarctic stressors of iceberg scour and intense seasonality. As at other latitudes, organic content of the sediment was most strongly correlated with community structure, suggesting that increased sedimentation from run-off from melting glaciers may be the main climate change effect on these communities.”
Credit rating agency buys climate risk firm
A New York Times article explains the credit rating agency Moody’s purchase of Four Twenty Seven, a firm that measures climate risk:
“Sudden shocks such as floods, wildfires or storms can hurt businesses and send residents fleeing, taking away the tax revenue that governments use to pay their debts. And longer-term threats — such as rising seas or higher temperatures — can make those places less desirable to live in, hurting property values and, in turn, the amount raised by taxes.
Rating agencies translate those risks, along with more traditional factors such as a government’s cash flow and debt levels, into a credit rating, which communicates to investors the odds that a government will be unable to repay its bondholders. Lower ratings generally mean that borrowers need to offer investors a higher return to account for that risk.
Following a string of deadly hurricanes and wildfires in 2017, Moody’s, along with S&P Global and Fitch Ratings, issued reports warning state and local governments that their exposure to climate risk could affect their credit ratings.”
Alaskan glacier podcast
In a 25 minute podcast, Manasseh Franklin describes her experience following the water from a glacier in Alaska to the sea. She “wanted to make the melting of glaciers more real to people through her writing. So on an Alaskan rafting trip, she followed water to its source.”
Iceland is home to hundreds of glaciers, but in 2014 the number fell by one: the former Okjökull glacier was the first Icelandic glacier to melt due to human-caused climate change.
On August 18, 2019, an event will be held to install a monument to the lost glacier. It was organized primarily by a group of researchers from Rice University in Houston. Participants will include geologists, authors, members of the Icelandic Hiking Society and the general public. In a press release from Rice University, anthropologist Cymene Howe who produced a documentary about Ok said, “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.”
During the event, which the organizers have termed an Un-glacier Tour, a metal plaque will be installed which 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 it.” The words were written by Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason who will be present at the ceremony. Howe also said that it is the first monument to be installed for a glacier lost to climate change.
The plaque also lists the carbon dioxide concentration “415 ppm,” referring to the concentration recorded in May 2019 at Mauna Loa Observatory.
Ok is now considered dead ice. Director of the North Cascades Glacier Climate Project, Mauri Pelto told GlacierHub that “stagnant ice that no longer moves is dead ice; a glacier by definition has movement.” In other words, glaciers continuously build up new ice and flow as a result of that process. When an ice mass loses has those qualities it can no longer be called a glacier and is instead dead ice.
“Iceland is not the first country on our planet to lose a glacier due to increasing climatic changes, and it is not the last,” geographer M Jackson told GlacierHub. She continued, saying “we are losing glaciers worldwide at unprecedented rates.” Other countries that have already lost glaciers include Bolivia, the United States, and Venezuela and many other places are on their way to losing their glaciers.
Despite the unfortunate prevalence of glacial retreat, the loss of a glacier in Iceland is particularly poignant because of the country’s relationship to its ice and glaciers. Icelandic anthropologist Gísli Pálsson told GlacierHub he thinks glaciers “have strong significance in Icelandic culture and history.” He elaborated saying, “there is a slogan about Iceland, ‘it is the land of fire and ice,’ the name ‘Iceland’ of course highlights the ice connection, and, historically, there have been scholars on glaciers, some glaciers have been travel routes and have been located between communities without any other connections so there were frequent travels across them for trading.”
Pálsson was a member of the first Un-Glacier tour in the summer of 2018. He described the day, saying “it was a long ride into the highlands and once we got there the mountain was covered with fog and it was a bit spooky. We started to walk uphill and soon the sky cleared. Once we got up there it was stunning scenery of the nearby mountains and we walked around the crater almost in a complete circle and could soon see the remains of the sleet and ice in the bottom of the crater.” He said the tour was composed of about 20 people and they “talked about the climate, glaciers, and the history of this particular one, and plans for an event a year later which is now coming up.”
With regard to the Un-Glacier Tour II, Pálsson said “I am unsure if I will be able to go this time, but I wish I could. I’m sure this first symbolic event of paying tribute to a gone glacier will be a well attended and significant event that will later on, with more glaciers under threat, be on record and flagged repeatedly.” M Jackson also had a positive response to the event and said “I’m grateful this memorial has been created, and hope such a stunt will encourage more social and political action to meet climatic changes in the days, months, and years to come.”
The melting of Ok takes on one meaning for Icelanders and another in the broader context of climate change, but in both circumstances helps to increase awareness of the challenges that climate change will bring about as time goes on.
Photographer James Whitlow Delano has created a series of powerful images of Bolivia’s ongoing water crisis. His photos focus on the Altiplano, the high plateau where the Andes Mountains are at their widest and which crosses the borders of Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, is the largest city on the plateau. Families from rural areas are moving into La Paz and its largest satellite city, El Alto, because the agricultural way of life they rely on is no longer viable due to a lack of water. These families move into slums in the cities, like the one captured below, hoping to find better paying jobs.
Rural areas are struggling because the glaciers they rely upon are melting, which means less water for farming or snow for skiing. The lodge shown below was formerly a part of the highest ski resort in the world, but now sits empty because the Chacaltaya Glacier, which filled the adjacent valley, melted entirely in 2009 due to warmer and more frequent El Nino events.
Mountains in the Andes, like Condoriri, currently show what the region would look like without the effects of climate change. Glaciologist Edison Ramirez conducted a study that predicted, however, that the glaciers on the mountain may completely melt over the course of the next thirty years.
The melting of the glaciers has already had negative effects; along the shores of the dried up Lake Poopo sit quinoa plants in desiccated soil. Migration from rural areas to Bolivia’s cities is driven by drought. The difficulties created by drought are contributing to residents’ moves into bigger cities.
Other lakes and ponds in the Altiplano are at risk of suffering the same fate; below is a pond in the process of drying up. The melting of the glaciers and the lakes they feed is significant because the Altiplano does not get enough rain to support those who live there—It relies on glacial melt to support the human population.
Since the series on Bolivia was posted in late June, @everydayclimatechange has highlighted water shortages in Chennai, India; wildfires in Yosemite; and youth climate strikes inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish youth climate activist.
Famous for being the largest and fastest-thinning glacier in Greenland—and creating the iceberg that sunk the Titanic, Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier has recently increased in size. For the past 20 years it has been melting, but during 2016-2017 it grew vertically about 100 feet, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
With so much news about global warming, it’s rare to hear about a glacier that’s expanding. It is crucial to note, though, that the glacier’s growth is not because climate change has suddenly stopped. Rather, it’s expansion can be attributed to cooler temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. The cooling occurred in 2016 and is likely due to the natural variability of North Atlantic Oscillation.
The waters of the Atlantic will eventually warm again and could bring about renewed melting of the Jakobshavn Glacier—and higher sea levels.
“At first we didn’t believe it,” NASA’s Ala Khazendar said. “We had pretty much assumed that Jakobshavn would just keep going on as it had over the last 20 years.”
From Jurassic Wiki: A Jurassic Park video game features a glacier park located in Patagonia. The game follows similar video games in the genre like Zoo Tycoon where the player designs and monitors a park with formerly extinct animals. Some animals require more upkeep than others and the last thing the owner of the park would want is for them to get out and interact with the customers! “Everybody has been calling this animal the saber-tooth tiger. It does kind of look like a saber-tooth tiger, but it’s actually called the Megistotherium. For this animal, you can take a look at its fossils on Wikipedia,” according to Jurassic Park Builders.
From Atmospheric Research: “Mineral aerosols scatter and absorb incident solar radiation in the atmosphere, and play an important role in the regional climate of High Mountain Asia (the domain includes the Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, Pamir, Hindu-kush, Karakorum and Tienshan Mountains). Dust deposition on snow/ice can also change the surface albedo, resulting in [deviations] in the surface radiation balance. However, most studies that have made quantitative assessments of the climatic effect of mineral aerosols over the High Mountain Asia region did not consider the impact of dust on snow/ice at the surface. In this study, a regional climate model coupled with an aerosol–snow/ice feedback module was used to investigate the emission, distribution, and deposition of dust and the climatic effects of aerosols over High Mountain Asia.”
From Anthropod-Plant Interactions: “Successional changes of plant and insect communities have been mainly analysed separately. Therefore, changes in plant–insect interactions along successional gradients on glacier forelands remain unknown, despite their relevance to ecosystem functioning. This study assessed how successional changes of the vegetation influenced the composition of the flower-visiting insect assemblages of two plant species, Leucanthemopsis alpina (L.) Heyw. and Saxifraga bryoides L., selected as the only two insect-pollinated species occurring along the whole succession… We emphasize that dynamics of alpine plant and insect communities may be structured by biotic interactions and feedback processes, rather than only be influenced by harsh abiotic conditions and [randomly determined] events.”
Read more about anthropod-plant interactions here.