Observers

A forest ranger in Iceland took a photo of the Skaftafell glacier every year for eight years to document the rapidly disappearing ice. The images are a sobering reminder of the effects of the climate crisis in the country.

The photos were taken in Vatnajökull National Park, home to several of Iceland’s 269 glaciers. A large sheet of ice can be seen in 2012, but has already started to recede in 2013.

The Skaftafell glacier in 2012. (Photo: Gudmundur Ogmundson)

The Skaftafell glacier in 2013. (Photo: Gudmundur Ogmundson)

The change in 2014 is striking.

The Skaftafell glacier in 2014. (Photo: Gudmundur Ogmundson)

Ice continues to disappear in 2015. By 2016, only a small amount of ice is visible.

The Skaftafell glacier in 2015. (Photo: Gudmundur Ogmundson)

The Skaftafell glacier in 2016. (Photo: Gudmundur Ogmundson)

The glacier continues to shrink in 2017. By 2018, there is no ice seen in the photo.

The Skaftafell glacier in 2017. (Photo: Gudmundur Ogmundson)

The Skaftafell glacier in 2018. (Photo: Gudmundur Ogmundson)

In the most recent photo, taken in April, the ice has not reappeared.

The Skaftafell glacier in 2019. (Photo: Gudmundur Ogmundson)

The Skaftafell glacier, located in southern Iceland, still exists, but the photos are proof of the rate at which it is melting in recent years.

"When you see a glacier every day, you don’t realise that it is melting”

Gudmundur Ogmundson, a forest ranger in Vatnajökull National Park, took the photos.

I was working in the park in 2012 and I knew that the glacier was receding. But when you live next to a glacier and you see it every day, you don’t realise that it is slowly melting.

I bought a new lens for my camera that year and used it to take pictures of the Skaftafell glacier. The next year, I was looking back at the photos I had taken and decided it would be interesting to take another photo from the same place at the same time of year and see what had changed. I saw immediately that the ice had diminished in 2013, so I started to take the same photo sometime between February and April each year.

Photos by Gudmundur Ogmundson.

The melting ice I saw wasn't surprising because the same thing is happening to all of the glaciers in our country. There’s no doubt that this is a result of the climate crisis.

The climate crisis has serious consequences. The glaciers are important water reserves, especially for hydroelectric energy [Editor’s note: More than 80% of Iceland’s energy is generated by hydroelectric plants]. Melting ice means more water, which, in the short term, is generally good for local factories. But in the long term, they might find themselves short on resources.

Glaciers also supply potable water. And lastly, as the glacier recedes, moist ecosystems nearby will dry out. This will likely have a negative impact on the plants and drive away the birds, animals and insects that live there.

750 square kilometres of ice gone since 2000

The rate at which Iceland’s glaciers are melting began accelerating in the '90s. About 750 square kilometres of glacier surface area has disappeared since 2000, according to a report from the Icelandic Meteorological Office. In 2014, Iceland removed the Ok glacier from maps because it had completely melted. Several glaciers receded by 300 metres in 2018.

Tomas Johannesson, a glaciological researcher at the Icelandic Meteorological office, told the local news outlet The Reykjavik Grapevine that human activity has had a colossal impact on the climate. 

"We can expect very serious consequences from our disruption of the climate,” Johannesson said.

“It’s safe to say that if things continue as they are now developing, the glaciers will be mostly gone in a couple of hundred years,” Johannesson added.

In April, a video showing part of a glacier collapsing in front of a group of tourists went viral.