Iceland has marked its first-ever loss of a glacier to climate change as scientists warn that hundreds of other ice sheets on the subarctic island risk the same fate. According to satellite images from the NASA Earth Observatory, the glacier appeared as a solid-white patch in 1986, and Icelandic geologist Oddur Sigurðsson said it used to stretch six square miles (15 square kilometers).
As the world recently marked the warmest July ever on record, a bronze plaque was mounted on a bare rock in a ceremony on the barren terrain once covered by the Okjökull glacier in western Iceland.
Around 100 people walked up the mountain for the ceremony, including Iceland’s prime
minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the former UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson, and local researchers and colleagues from the United States who pioneered the commemoration project. “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,” the plaque reads. It is also labelled “415 ppm CO2”, referring to the record level of carbon dioxide measured in the atmosphere last May.
Julien Weiss, an aerodynamics professor at the University of Berlin who attended the ceremony with his wife and seven-year-old daughter, was one of those moved by the occasion. “Seeing a glacier disappear is something you can feel, you can understand it and it’s pretty visual,” he said. “You don’t feel climate change daily, it’s something that happens very slowly on a human scale, but very quickly on a geological scale.”