Journeyintofragility

Iceland

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Ninth step in Iceland  - curated by Leo Lecci - from 8th to 23th August 2013


The Earth is just as necessary to humanity as all the other things people enjoy, such as the Arts, Philosophy, Music, Poetry, Religion, Science and Theatre and it focused on global warming and melting glaciers. (Manifesto's second thesis)

 

During the journey I dedicated most of the time to visiting the biggest Icelandic glaciers like the Snæfellsjökull,  Mýrdalsjökull,Langjökull, Hofsjökull and the famous Vatnajökull, the largest glacier mass in all of Europe and the third in the world.  It covers an area of roughly 8000 square kilometres and is almost 1000 metres thick at its deepest point, with an average thickness of 500 metres and a total ice volume of 3300 cubic kilometres. The landscape beneath the glacier is an undulating plateau generally reaching 600-800 metres above sea level with numerous valleys and canyons. There are also a number of large active volcanoes under the ice cap including Öræfajökull (2110 metres), Bárðarbunga (2020 metres) and Grímsvötn which has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland. The latest eruption in Grímsvötn was in May 2011 and so far the strongest one for the last 100 years. It began with 12-kilometre-high plumes accompanied by multiple earthquakes and an ash cloud rising up to 20 kilometres.The 1996 eruption of Grímsvötn caused a massive jökulhlaup – glacial outburst flood -releasing 3000 billion cubic litres of water within a few hours, carrying with it giant icebergs down to the lowlands and over Highway 1, destroying the bridges along the way. 


Like so many other glaciers around the world, rising temperatures and reduced snowfall mean that this ancient icecap is melting.  In one of the most recent reports from the Icelandic government's Committee on Climate Change, it warns that by the next century, Iceland's glaciers will no longer exist. Vatnajökull is estimated to be melting at a rate of one metre per year and many of its outlet glaciers are melting at an even higher rate. Continued climate change could quicken its fate. The melting of glaciers in Iceland will cause uplift and increased volcanic activity according to new research on the interplay between glacier-melting and magma production under the Earth's crust. The study was conducted by geophysicist Þóra Árnadóttir. Over the last decades, Icelandic glaciers have been receding and if things don't change radically, the glaciers are likely to be completely gone in 150-200 years. Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland is Europe's largest glacier, but its volume has decreased by about 435 cubic kilometres (104 cubic miles) since 1890. This has the effect of decreasing pressure on the Earth's crust, which causes increased magma production in the mantle. This magma needs to surface and conditions in Iceland also help, as the country is on and between two tectonic plates and great volcanic activity already takes place there.


BGS scientists (British Geological Survey) have been monitoring a retreating glacier in southeast Iceland for over 15 years, making detailed measurements of its health and the dramatic changes currently occurring. In the last 5 years, its health has noticeably deteriorated: the front of the glacier has retreated at a rate of around 40 metres per year, or almost 200 metres in total since 2007. The new work not only identifies these recent rapid changes but suggests that this accelerated retreat is due to more than a decade of warmer than average summers. These warm summers have caused greater glacial thinning and ice stagnation resulting in a new, more unusual (and more rapid) style of glacier retreat by ice margin collapse. Recent data collected by BGS scientists, in collaboration with the Icelandic Met Office, as part of a long-term monitoring study at the margin of Iceland’s most climatically sensitive ice cap, show clear evidence of this accelerated glacier retreat since 2005. Using laser scanning techniques (LiDAR), an array of digital time-lapse cameras, and high-resolution GPS surveys, the BGS team has captured a centimetre-accurate 3-D model of the glacier at the end of every summer since 2009 - like taking a digital plaster cast of the glacier each year. These are being precisely compared to quantify the real-time ice loss at the glacier and the changes to the surrounding land. Importantly, the BGS Glacier Observatory at Virkisjökull in SE Iceland preserves a digital reference or baseline index against which future changes can be measured.