Pupils witness melting glacier within an odd field trip.
Icelandic seventh-grader Lilja Einarsdottir is about an odd field trip with her class: they’re measuring the Solheimajokull glacier to see how much it has shrunk in the past year, witnessing climate change firsthand. “It is quite beautiful but at precisely the same time it is very sad to see how much it’s melted,” says Lilja, bundled up against the fall chill at a blue pompom hat.
Each October since 2010, now-retired schoolteacher Jon Stefansson has brought students aged about 13 from a school in Hvolsvollur – a village about 60 kilometres (40 miles) away – into the glacier to record its own evolution.
The results are chilling: distance between 2 moss-covered mountain slopes, Solheimajokull has shrunk by an average of 40 metres (130 feet) per year in the past ten years, according to the students’ dimensions.
Once done, a few of the students hop into a dinghy and cross a lake of brownish melts water to achieve an imposing wall of ice hockey, the so-called terminus, or front of the glacier.
The numbers on the signal, pitched in sand and steadied at the bottom by a pile of stones, indicate the number of metres of ice have disappeared over the past years:”24″,”50″,”110″. “When (the first students) started here, you couldn’t see any water. Therefore it (the glacier) was quite large in the beginning,” states Lilja.
Glaciers cover about 11 percent of Iceland’s surface, the largest ice cap in Europe, including Vatnajokull. But they have lost the equivalent of seven per cent of the volume, or about 250 cubic kilometres of ice at the previous 25 years.
Iceland in August unveiled a plaque commemorating the Okjokull glacier, the first to be stripped off its glacier standing in 2014 of the country. The plaque was meant because scientist’s dread 2200 could goes the 400-plus glaciers of the island as a forecast about the effects of global warming.
Solheimajokull, where the pupils proceed, is a favorite tourist place as it’s among the nearest to Reykjavik, only 150 kilometres off. Icelandic Mountain Guides, one of three operators that runs year-round visits, had 27,000 customers in 2018.
Solheimajokull, two kilometres wide and about 10 kilometres long, is an outlet glacier of Myrdalsjokull, the country ice cap. Under the ice lies Katla, one of the strongest volcanoes of Iceland , which erupted in 1901 and is long overdue to do again, scientists say.
The glacier receded by 11 metres in 2019, a significant amount but far from the record 110 metres registered annually. “Occasionally you get a significant cliff falling to the water and after that you receive a very, very major dimension”
Since the school started its dimensions, the glacier has shrunk by 380 metres in a decade. If we thought that we were maybe wrong, this is proof we weren’t,” says 12-year-old Birna Bjornsdottir.
The dimensions are neither scientifically exact nor official but they do suggest the changes underway and their acceleration in recent years. Measurements from the Iceland Geological Society reveal Solheimajokull shrank by about 200 metres in 2018, placing it among the best three glacier shrinkages of the country. It has been receding since 1996.
The melting can be observed with the naked eye, with drops of water leaking in the ice, sometimes running into small streams. “I see a large change in the glacier’s volume: it is a whole lot lower than it was,” states Daniel Saulite, a Scottish manual who has worked tirelessly on the glacier for five years. “At the front, there is also a ton more crevassing, and also the access becomes increasingly hard.”