PHOTOS: Is climate change wiping out Iceland’s glaciers?

The rock visible outside the opening to this cave was ...

The rock visible outside the opening to this cave was 100 metres inside of it a year ago. Photo: Einar R. Sigurðsson

South-East Iceland’s Breiðamerkurjökull glacier – which runs into the country’s iconic Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon – has lost a massive 600 m in one year.

Tour guide Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson of Local Gui­de of Vatna­jök­ull recently took Morgunblaðið photographer Ragnar Axelsson (RAX) on a visit to the stunning ice caves of the region, to see just how much the ice has receded in recent times.

Change in glacier size at Breiðamerkurjökull between 2003 and 2013.

Change in glacier size at Breiðamerkurjökull between 2003 and 2013. Photo: Loftmyndir ehf - map.is

In one of the caves, which Sigurðsson calls Fosshellir (meaning ‘waterfall cave’), the ice has receded so much that the waterfall which was inside the cave just two years ago is now some way outside of it.

Rax / Ragnar Axelsson

In the nearby Norðurljósahelli (meaning ‘Northern Lights cave’ – again baptised by Sigurðsson), a large rock which was just one year ago 100 metres inside the cave is now outside, 500 metres away from the glacier.

Einar R. Sigurðsson sits on the rock which is now ...

Einar R. Sigurðsson sits on the rock which is now 500 metres away from the tail of the glacier. Photo: RAX

“I’ve measured it,” he says. “The glacier has receded by 600 metres in just twelve months. I have never seen such a large chunk of glacier disappear in one year.”

Visitors to Iceland love the Vatnajökull glacier ice caves.

Visitors to Iceland love the Vatnajökull glacier ice caves. Photo: RAX

Oddur Sigurðsson, a glaciologist at the Icelandic Met Office, puts the blame squarely on the shoulders of climate change.

The glacier has receded huge distances in just ten years ...

The glacier has receded huge distances in just ten years (2003-13). Photo: Loftmyndir ehf - map.is

“Even if we succeed in responding strongly to climate change and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, there is an inbuilt inertia in the system,” he explains. “The situation [of disappearing glaciers] will continue to worsen even if we manage to reduce emissions.”

Related articles:

Snæfellsjökull glacier gone by 2100
Glaciers shrunk by 12%
Climate change to affect glacier lagoon
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Photo: Michel Hammam

Photo: Michel Hammam

The black stripe just to the west of Jökulsárlón is ...

The black stripe just to the west of Jökulsárlón is pulling east and could flow straight into the lagoon in 3-5 years' time. Photo: Snævarr Guðmundsson

Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland's prime tourist sites.

Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland's prime tourist sites. Photo: Ómar Óskarsson

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