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Iceland to Hold Memorial for Glacier Lost to Climate Change

By Katherine LaGrave

07.24.19

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View from Ok volcano to the snowfields of Thorisdalur.

Photo by Depricter/Shutterstock

View from Ok volcano to the snowfields of Thorisdalur.

The nation’s former Okjökull Glacier is now just known as “Ok.”

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Iceland is known as the “land of fire and ice,” thanks to its healthy mix of volcanoes and glaciers. But the nation’s glaciers are at risk of melting because of global warming, and to raise awareness, the country is taking a different approach: On August 18, there will be a public memorial for a glacier that was “lost” due to climate change, replete with an “un-glacier” tour of the site and a plaque. It will be the world’s first monument of its kind.

In 2014, the Okjökull glacier in Borgarfjörður, about two hours by car from Reykjavík, was stripped of its title as a glacier after scientists determined it was no longer heavy and thick enough to sink under its own weight, reports Newsweek. The onetime glacier—reduced to a shield volcano—is now referred to as “Ok.”

Okjökull was the focus of a 2018 documentary about the disappearing glacier, Not Ok. After the film helped raise awareness of the loss, anthropologists and researchers from Rice University in Houston decided to memorialize the glacier with a plaque, in cooperation with Icelanders.

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In Icelandic and English, the plaque will read: “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.” Though only about 50 people will attend the ceremony, those behind the memorial hope the monument inspires visitors to take responsibility for their part in climate change. 

Iceland currently loses around 11 billion tons of ice mass annually, and all of its glaciers—more than 400 of them—are at risk. But Iceland won’t be the only country affected by the loss of ice: By 2050, around half of the glacier volume worldwide will have disappeared due to global warming, according to research from the European Geosciences Union.

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