Observing Flora Near a Famous Norwegian Glacier

On a temperate afternoon last July, I arrived at a Norwegian National Park visitor center called the Breheimsenteret. Located in western Norway, the visitor center is often used as a meeting place for glacier walks, white water rafting, and glacial lake kayaking. Some visitors say that the exterior of the building resembles a giant Viking helmet, making it easy to spot. 

The Breheimsenteret is close in proximity to Jostedalsbreen, which is continental Europe’s largest glacier. Covering a total of 188 square miles, Jostedalsbreen is roughly 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.C. 

As I looked into the distance to the right of the visitor center, I noticed a steep mountain landscape featuring a magnificent, snaking portion of ice down its center. This piece of ice, or best-known as Nigardsbreen, is one of Jostedalsbreen’s most famous glacial arms. 

Nigardsbreen is easily accessible by car or on foot. There’s a narrow road, which begins near the visitor center and continues all the way near the glacier’s edge. 

On this sunny day, the stark contrast between the light-colored ice against the dark, grey-colored mountains and the green vegetation below was mesmerizing. At this moment, I decided I needed a closer view. I grabbed my camera and started walking.

The Road to Nigardsbreen 

Map lichen on a marble rock (Source: Maria Dombrov)

While walking along the road, I captured some images of the local flora. Because of my undergraduate degree in biology, I often take interest in understanding local ecosystems and species’ interactions. 

This particular mountain ecosystem has a lot to offer. To the left of the road, there’s lake Nigardsbrevatnet, and to the right, there’s a flourishing forest. As I walked along, I found a break in the trees and a short path that had full visibility of the glacier’s tongue. The tongue is the portion of the glacier that extends downward into the valley. 

A close up of Melancholy thistle (Source: Maria Dombrov)

During my short exploration of the mountain ecosystem, I came across an abundance of green-colored lichen growing on top of the rocks. Despite their simplistic appearance, lichen is the mutually beneficial relationship of a fungus and algae or cyanobacteria. 

While on the path, I stepped onto a small hill to get a few close-ups of Nigardsbreen. Cold winds were blowing from the glacier, making this vantage point particularly chilly.

I snapped a few photos, and then, I just stared at it for a bit. I was so used to seeing towering skyscrapers all around me in New York, but in this instance, I was fascinated by the change of scenery. 

Wild crowberries scattered in the landscape (Source: Maria Dombrov)

I also came across some wild crowberries growing along the rocks, which are edible berries. Crowberry shrubs can live up to 20 years and have the ability to grow in nutrient-poor locations. 

Additionally, I found colorful, flowering plants all over the place. Both melancholy thistle and goldenrod are native to Scandinavia. 

Sadly the closer I walked, the more I noticed how dirty the glacier appeared, which is often an indication of melting. 

Goldenrod along the road (Source: Maria Dombrov)

Now, it was time to rejoin society. I reached the car park at the end of the road.

Looking back on this experience, I’m thankful that I was able to see Nigardsbreen while it’s still easily visible from the road. And after this trip, I understand the added value in experiencing firsthand what I read and study. 

This post is the final in a series of posts about firsthand experiences visiting Norwegian glaciers, famous fjords, and well-known hiking destinations. Thanks for reading. 


Additional Reading on GlacierHub:

Annual Assessment of North Cascades Glaciers Finds ‘Shocking Loss’ of Volume

Roundup: Alpine Hydropower, Water Availability in Pakistan, and Measuring Black Carbon

Warming Rivers Are Causing Die-Offs Among Alaska Salmon

Photo Friday: The Summertime Lure of the World’s Iconic Glaciers

It’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere. And for those of us that are able, the summer months can mean time off from work and an opportunity to venture near or far on a vacation.

Glaciers lie on each of the world’s seven large landmasses, meaning, while they’re often located in relatively remote areas, one needn’t travel to the polar regions to observe the remnants of the last Ice Age—which makes them a popular vacation draw.

New Zealand has the Southern Alps. Glaciers are found in each of the seven Andean nations: Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. The mountains of the American West, as well as Alaska, host glaciers. And, of course, there are the alpine peaks of southern Europe and the iconic, albeit much more remote, mountains of the “Third Pole.”

A survey of photo sharing websites, such as Flickr, reveals the enduring allure of the world’s glaciers, particularly as climate change and the threat it poses to the longevity of the world’s cryosphere becomes more and more apparent.

And therein lies a paradox.

So-called last-chance tourism is driven by interest in visiting the landscapes that are vulnerable to rising temperatures and more frequent and more intense extreme weather events. Yet with greater interest in these places comes increasing threats to their sustainability, whether due to carbon-intensive airline travel or the consumer waste that results from a simple visit to the refreshment stand at a national park. A recent study even sought to quantify the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic that melts with each metric ton of carbon emitted by an individual.

Individual consumer decisions won’t bring the world significantly closer to zero emissions as long as decisions about how energy is generated, what modes of transportation are available, and how consumer goods are produced—the largest sources of carbon pollution—remain largely in the realm of the public sector, that is society-wide.

Visiting glaciers can heighten one’s understanding of the massive forces bound up in Earth’s climate and geology, which, perhaps for many people, explains their seduction.

Here’s a view of some of the world’s popular glacier destinations through the eyes of recent visitors.

An image of Alaska’s Columbia Glacier taken on July 10, 2019. (Source: dvs/Flickr)
A view of tourists visiting Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska (Source: Mulf/Flickr)
A cruise ship passes in front of Alaska’s Hubbard Glacier. (Source: zshort1/Flickr)
A view of Switzerland’s Aletsch Glacier taken on June 8, 2019 (Source: velodenz/Flickr)
Tourists on a hike at Norway’s Nigardsbreen Glacier on June 10, 2016 (Source: clare_and_ben/Flickr)

Read More on GlacierHub:

East and South Asia Are the Largest Sources of Black Carbon Blanketing the Tibetan Plateau

Dispatch From the Cryosphere: Amid the Glaciers of Antarctica and Chile

South Asian Perspectives on News of Rapid Himalayan Glacier Melt

Roundup: Deadly Glacier Calving & Groundbreaking Assessments

Calving Glacier Kills Tourist in Norway

From The Local Norway: “An Austrian man has been killed in Norway after a huge block of ice calved off the Nigardsbreen glacier, causing a shower of water and ice which threw him into the fast-flowing meltwater. The man […] had ignored the warning signs and crossed over a safety cordon to get closer to the glacier.”

Read more about the deadly incident here.

According to the story, the man had ignored warning signs and crossed a safety barrier to get closer to Nigardsbreen Glacier (Source: The Local Norway/Twitter).


Identifying the Highest Plants on Earth

From Alpine Botany: “Three specimens from the 1952 Everest expedition are reviewed and analyzed, bringing the number of species sharing the title of ‘highest known vascular plant’ from two to five… This taxonomic investigation contributes to our knowledge of the biogeography of Himalayan flora and opens the way for future field-based investigations of mechanisms limiting plant growth on the roof of the world.”

Check out more about this important discovery here.

Mt. Everest (Source: Wangpin Thondup/Flickr).

Shrinking Glaciers and Growing Lakes in Peruvian Andes

From Global and Planetary Change: “In the tropical Andes, current rates of glacier loss are investigated to some point but associated future extent of both vanishing glacier and forming lake areas and volumes are poorly explored… Our current baseline and future projections suggest that a decrease in glacier shrinkage is also followed by a slowdown in lake formation and particularly volume growth which might have already developed or occur in the near-future.”

See for yourself what this assessment determined here.

Image of Pastoruri Glacier, a vulnerable glacier in the Peruvian Andes (Source: Guillaume Weill/Flickr).