Last year was one of the worst on record for glacial decline in Iceland according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.
Warm, sunny weather caused Iceland’s glacier mass to fall by approximately 1.5m of water, which is the “highest [change in mass balance] ever measured” according to a study conducted by experts from the Icelandic Meteorological Office and the Vatnajökull Natural Park. The surface area of of Iceland’s glacier also shrank considerably.
The worst rates of glacial decline were recorded in Breiðamerkurjökull, where the glacial front bordering the Jökulsárlón lagoon retreated by between 150 and 400m last year. Concerns have also been expressed about Hoffellsjökull in Hornafjörður and Síðujökull and Tungnárjökull in Vatnajökull.
Glacial decline is one of the clearest markers of the devastating impact of global warming on Iceland. Since 1900, the surface area of Iceland’s glaciers has shrunk by almost 2200km2. Climate change, and as a result glacial decline, have been accelerating since 2000. In the last twenty years alone, glaciers in Iceland have shrunk by over 800 km2.
Impact of Glacial Decline
If the 3500 km3 of ice that make up Icelnad’s glaciers melted, sea levels would rise by 1cm, according to experts at the Vatnajökull National Park. Rising sea levels have devastating consequences for coastal regions, including flooding, cliff erosion and habitat loss for birds.
Furthermore, glacial erosion weakens bedrock often causing dangerous landslides and flash flooding. These immediate consequences are particularly concerning as glaciers, ice caves and glacial lagoons are some of the country’s most popular tourist attractions.
Glacial decline can also lead to increased volcanic activity. As glaciers retreat, surface load decreases so the earth’s crust lifts, causing greater magma generation. Calculations suggest that the glacial decline between 1890 and 2010 caused magma generation to increase by 100-135% in the Vatnajökull region. If just 25% of this magma came to the surface, every seven years it would cause an eruption equivalent to the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruption, according to experts.
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