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Icelandic glacier melting faster than it can recover, experts warn

Written by on 09/11/2021

An Icelandic glacier is melting faster than it can recover due to climate change, experts have warned, as footage has captured the startling rate of melting ice.

During the summer, a team of filmmakers, glaciologists and science communicators installed two time-lapse cameras at Breidamerkurjokull, within Vatnajökull National Park in the southeast of Iceland.

Experts have highlighted that the rapid rate of melting glaciers during the summertime has now significantly impacted recovery during the winter months.

Glacier watch
Image: The pictures show the startling rate at which centuries-old ice is melting. Pic: Dr Kieran Baxter/University of Dundee

Dr Kieran Baxter, a lecturer in Communication Design at the University of Dundee, was behind the time-lapse project which was shot over a period of less than six weeks.

It shows the startling rate at which centuries-old ice is melting, highlighting the impact that climate change is having on some of the planet’s most fragile landscapes.

As the COP26 summit continues for a second week in Glasgow, Dr Baxter is calling for action on climate change.

He said: “Footage like this should act as a wake-up call that we cannot ignore the signs any longer.

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“Climate change is already having dire consequences around the world and we have to take responsibility for that.

“The paths we choose now, including the decisions made at COP26, will have a huge influence on the climate impacts that we will have to deal with in the future. The volume of ice melt that we are seeing in Iceland is just one of the indicators that show us the scale of those impacts.”

Dr Kieran Baxter/University of Dundee
Image: The world’s rising temperatures are having a catastrophic impact on Iceland’s glaciers. Pic: Dr Kieran Baxter/University of Dundee

The world’s rising temperatures are having a catastrophic impact on Iceland’s glaciers.

Snævarr Guðmundsson, a glaciologist at the South East Iceland Nature Research Centre, said: “While this footage represents only a fraction of the 16km wide glacier terminus, it demonstrates how rapidly Breidamerkurjokull is now melting.

Dr Kieran Baxter/University of Dundee
Image: The Breidamerkurjokull is melting rapidly. Pic: Dr Kieran Baxter/University of Dundee

“When a glacier is in balance the winter accumulation would equal the summer melt, but we do not see that here. The ablation has accelerated beyond recovery and in recent decades a retreat of up to 250m per year has been recorded.”

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Dr Baxter has worked with partners at the University of Iceland’s Research Centre in Hornafjordur on the project.

He previously published dramatic aerial photographs showing the disappearance of some of Iceland’s largest glaciers, working in conjunction the University of Iceland and the National Land Survey of Iceland.

Most recently, he has worked on a project to visualise the future of Breidamerkurjokull, Iceland’s third-largest glacier, and how it will be impacted by different scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming century.

Image: Two time-lapse cameras were installed at Breidamerkurjokull in Iceland. Pic: Dr Kieran Baxter/University of Dundee.

On the latest findings, Helga Árnadóttir, specialist at Vatnajökull National Park, said: “It is important to communicate the research that is happening in the national park and to improve access to the results through visualisations like this one.

“This project is of great value for the park rangers, park visitors and tour operators in the area and will increase the quality of information about melting glaciers and climate change.”

 Sky News

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