Iceland marks ‘death’ of glacier killed by global warming

Aug 20, 2019

Iceland on Sunday honoured the passing of Okjokull, its first glacier lost to climate change, as scientists warn that some 400 others on the subarctic island risk the same fate.

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 former glacier in western Iceland, attended by local researchers and their peers at Rice University in the United States who initiated the project.

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson also attended the event, as well as hundreds of scientists, journalists and members of the public who trekked to the site.

An appeal for efforts to stem global warming

“I hope this ceremony will be an inspiration not only to us here in Iceland but also for the rest of the world, because what we are seeing here is just one face of the climate crisis,” Jakobsdottir told AFP.

The plaque bears the inscription “A letter to the future”, and is intended to raise awareness about the decline of glaciers and the effects of climate change.

As the world recently marked the warmest July ever on record, a bronze plaque was mounted on a bare rock in a ceremony on Iceland's first glacier lost to climate change

“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.

The plaque is “the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world”, Cymene Howe, associate professor of anthropology at Rice University, said in July.

“Memorials everywhere stand for either human accomplishments, like the deeds of historic figures, or the losses and deaths we recognise as important,” she said.

“By memorialising a fallen glacier, we want to emphasise what is being lost — or dying — the world over, and also draw attention to the fact that this is something that humans have ‘accomplished’, although it is not something we should be proud of.”

Howe noted that the conversation about climate change can be abstract, with many dire statistics and sophisticated scientific models that can feel incomprehensible.

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