Aug 10, 2017

As glaciers melt, 'Land of Fire and Ice' watches its history seep away

Thin Lei Win

The tourists come in droves, aboard buses, bicycles and camper vans. They stand at the water's edge in awe of the icebergs floating before them - some as white as snow, others radiating a deep blue. They gasp when a chunk breaks off and topples into the chilly turquoise water.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in southeast Iceland is one of the country's top attractions. It is also a vivid warning of the glacier's predicted disappearance, a devastating consequence of climate change in a nation where these slow-moving rivers of ice are a cultural and social touchstone.

It looks centuries old, but the lagoon only appeared in the mid-1930s when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started to retreat. Declared a nature reserve in July, it is now the country's deepest lake and growing bigger every day.

Vatnajökull, Europe's largest ice cap and the source of Breiðamerkurjökull, is thinning rapidly due to rising global temperatures and could be completely gone in 200 years, scientists say. Other glaciers may vanish much earlier.

"All glaciers in Iceland are retreating at an unprecedented pace," said Oddur Sigurðsson, a geologist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) who has studied them for 30 years.