They ‘Dig Their Own Grave’

Vala Hafstað

“Almost all glaciers being monitored in Iceland are retreating, and this is their response to a warming climate,” Hrafnhildur Hannesdóttir, glaciologist at the Icelandic Met Office, tells Morgunblaðið.

The way in which glaciers move and retreat has changed substantially, she explains. In front of most of the termini of South Vatnajökull glacier, lagoons have formed, which expedite the retreat and melting of glaciers.

“The glaciers have indeed dug their own grave,” she laments, “for the bottom underneath them reaches up to 300 m (984 ft) below sea level. They have dug huge basins, which in turn form these lagoons.”

Since 1932, the terminus of Svínafellsjökull has been measured by volunteers of Iceland Glaciological Society.

“In recent years, Svínafellsjökull glacier has mainly been getting thinner instead of retreating much, unlike, for example, Skaftafellsjökull glacier, which is retreating very fast,” Hrafnhildur explains.

The latter has retreated more than 1,000 m (3,280 ft) since the year 2000. Svínafellsjökull, on the other hand, has thinned by 150 m (492 ft) at the front of the terminus since the year 1900. Both of them are outlet glaciers on the south side of Vatnajökull glacier.

From 1950 till 1990, the position of the terminus of Svínafellsjökull glacier hardly changed, but since 2000, it has retreated about 200 m (656 ft).

The retreat of glaciers is a reason for concern, states Hrafnhildur.

“There is a long crevice in the rock face of Svínafellsheiði mountain, beyond Svínafellsjökull glacier, and organized tours on the glacier have been canceled during an uncertainty phase regarding the risk of an imminent rockslide,” she explains.

“The melting of glaciers is one of the most visible examples in Iceland of the effects of a warming climate – a huge problem which the nations of the world must address,” Hrafnhildur emphasizes.

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