- In Iceland, locals and scientists held a funeral and installed a plaque for the former Okjökull glacier.
- In 2014, Okjökull lost its status as a glacier because of how much it had shrunk due to climate change.
- Iceland loses almost 25 square miles of glacier each year due to global warming. Some scientists predict that the country could lose all its glaciers by 2200.
- July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. A heat wave swept Europe and melted Greenland’s ice sheet at a rate scientists didn’t expect until 2070.
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Where a glacier once covered nearly 6 square miles of land in Iceland, there is now only a commemorative plaque beside a small patch of snow.
The glacier, once known as Okjökull (“jökull” means glacier in Icelandic) lost its status as a glacier in 2014, since it had shrunk below one square mile and was barely 50 feet deep, according to The Guardian. Rising temperatures due to climate change caused the glacier to melt.
Now it is known simply as “OK.”
On Sunday, dozens of people hiked to the top of the rocky volcano where Okjökull once stood. (Glaciologists have dubbed the remaining portion “dead ice,” since glacial flow has ceased.) They carried a plaque with them to memorialise the glacier.
“This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world,” Cymene Howe, an anthropologist at Rice University who directed a documentary about the glacier, called “Not OK,” said in a July press release. “By marking OK’s passing, we hope to draw attention to what is being lost as Earth’s glaciers expire.”
The crowd at the glacier’s funeral heard a poem about it, as well as speeches from the plaque’s author, Andri Snær Magnason, and geologist Oddur Sigurðsson (who first declared OK’s new status).
Then a group of children installed the new monument.
Here’s what the plaque, titled “A letter to the future,” says:
The last line – “Only you know if we did it” – serves as an unnerving message to people in the future who will pass by the site.
“We felt it was important to have the children install the plaque because the message of this memorial is that we are accountable to future generations,” Dominic Boyer, Howe’s colleague who co-produced the documentary, said in a release. “The quality of their lives will depend on the climate actions we take, or don’t take, today. As adults, we need to always be thinking about how our children and grandchildren will judge us.”
Below the text, the plaque notes the current concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: a record-breaking 415 parts per million. The concentration hasn’t been that high since at least 800,000 years ago, before humans evolved.
July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. A heat wave swept Europe and caused extreme ice melt in Greenland that scientists didn’t expect to see until 2070 in a worst-case scenario. In five days, Greenland’s ice sheet lost 55 billion tons of water - enough to cover the state of Florida in 5 inches of water.
Scientists link this extreme melting to climate change.
Though glaciers in Iceland have undergone brief periods of expansion, they’re shrinking overall due to climate change. Iceland loses almost 25 square miles of glacier each year.
“Its fate will be shared by all of Iceland’s glaciers unless we act now to radically curtail greenhouse gas emissions,” Boyer said of OK.
Some scientists predict that all of Iceland’s glaciers could be gone by 2200. If that happens, global sea levels would rise by an additional centimeter.
“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,” Howe said.