Iceland glacier shrinking faster than it can recover

Experts blame climate change for the rate of melting on Breidamerkurjokull glacier

A camera is installed at a glacier in Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland. PA
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A glacier in Iceland is melting faster than it can recover owing to climate change, researchers have said.

Footage captured by Dr Kieran Baxter, a lecturer at the University of Dundee and an expert in the visual communication of glacial retreat across Europe, showed how quickly the ice was receding on the Breidamerkurjokull glacier in Vatnajokull National Park, south-east Iceland.

These images, taken six weeks apart, show how quickly the ice is retreating at the Breidamerkurjokull glacier in Iceland. PA

It highlighted how the rate at which the ice melted in the summer significantly exceeded its recovery during the winter months.

“Footage like this should act as a wake-up call that we cannot ignore the signs any longer,” Dr Baxter said.

“Climate change is already having dire consequences around the world and we have to take responsibility for that.

“The paths we choose now, including the decisions made at Cop26, will have a huge influence on the climate impacts that we will have to deal with in the future. The volume of ice melt that we are seeing in Iceland is just one of the indicators that show us the scale of those impacts.”

The Cop26 climate summit is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, where world leaders and negotiators are trying to agree to ambitious targets to keep global warming to acceptable levels.

Dr Kieran Baxter says his footage of the glacier should be "a wake-up call" that we cannot ignore the effects of climate change. PA

Experts said the Vatnajokull ice cap had lost between 150 and 200 cubic kilometres of ice since 1989, with its area having been reduced by more than 400 square kilometres.

Breidamerkurjokull is a popular tourist destination and often features in films and TV advertisements.

“While this footage represents only a fraction of the 16km-wide glacier terminus, it demonstrates how rapidly Breidamerkurjokull is now melting,” said Snaevarr Gudmundsson, glaciologist at the South-East Iceland Nature Research Centre.

“When a glacier is in balance, the winter accumulation would equal the summer melt, but we do not see that here.

“The ablation has accelerated beyond recovery and in recent decades a retreat of up to 250 metres per year has been recorded.”

Updated: November 10, 2021, 10:55 AM