Iceland’s glaciers are shrinking fast

Recent data collected by the British Geological Survey, part of a long-term monitoring study at the margin of Iceland’s most climatically sensitive ice cap, show stark evidence of accelerated glacier retreat.

Spanning more than a decade, direct measurements and sequential photographs of the ice front clearly demonstrate that Oraefajökull’s outlet glaciers are now smaller that at any time in the last 80 years, and are shrinking at an increasing rate — faster than at any time since measurements began in the 1930s.

The Virkisjökull glacier, which flows from the highest mountain in Iceland — the Öraefajökull ice cap.l

The images above, taken from the same location, span the last 13 years and show the steep outlet glacier Virkisjökull, which flows from the highest peak in Iceland — the Öraefajökull ice cap. Marked changes in its size and shape have taken place since 1996 when the glacier was in good health. These changes have been most dramatic since 2005.

In the last 15 years it is estimated that almost 500 m of horizontal recession and 50m of vertical thinning has taken place at this glacier. To put this in perspective, the glacier has only retreated around 1km and thinned about 50m in the previous 100 years combined.

Many researchers believe that glaciers disappeared from Iceland during the relatively mild climatic optimum c. 5000–8000 years ago. Will it be long before the glaciers in Iceland disappear again?

Monitoring Virkisjökull — a new BGS project Glacier monitoring: BGS observatory at Virkisjökull, Iceland.

Further information

For more information contact Tom Bradwell