Students at the bedside of a glacier in danger


It is really very beautiful, goal so sad to see how much the glacier has melted”. With her class of 5th, Lilja Einarsdottir uses to walk on the Solheimajökull endangered by the warming climate.


Each year, Jon Stefansson, a retired teacher, works with students of Hvolsvöllur, in the south of Iceland, at the head of the glacier and monitor sti evolution.


Stuck between two mountain sides, the Solheimajökull acknowledgements an annual drop of some forty metres since 2010, according to the records of the students.


In this rainy day of October, using a GPS device, a meter down, and two yellow flags, the teens begin by taking readings on the mainland.


And then rescue them through in a Zodiac, a lagoon brownish, formed by the waters cast up a wall of ice: there, the glacier reached up to 200 metres thick.


“When (the first students have started here, (they) did not see the slightest trace of water”, recalls Lilja, 11 years.


Below the path leading to the front of the glacier stands a sign planted in the black sand: the inscription “Jöklamaelingar” (“measurements of the glacier” in icelandic) is surrounded by a series of numbers entered by hand–“24”, “50”, “110”– which represents the annual decline in meters of the glacier, calculated by the students.


While the world has experienced in July, its the hottest month ever observed, in Iceland, was unveiled in August, a plaque to the memory of the Okjökull, the first glacier on the volcanic island disappeared under the effect of global warming, a symbol to alert public opinion.


The Okjökull has been downgraded by glaciologists in 2014, and 400 others are in danger.


The Solheimajökull, which extends over ten miles long and two wide, approximately, is a part of the Myrdalsjökull, the fourth ice sheet of Iceland.


The area is highly geothermal as below the ice lies dormant Katla, one of the five most active volcanoes and one of the most powerful in the country.


The glacier has retreated by 11 meters in 2019, far from the 110-meter record saved in the past year. “It depends more or less of the time and the manner in which the glacier breaks off (…), sometimes a big part of the glacier breaks off, falls into the water and you get a very, very, very big,” says Jon Stefansson.


In total, the school has seen the front glacial withdraw from 380 metres in almost ten years.


“We thought that we may be wrong (about global warming, note), but when you see this it is evidence that not”, asserts Birna Björnsdottir, 12 years.


Even if the measures are not perfect and are not official, they give an idea of the changes underway, which seems to be accelerating in recent years.


And confirm the trend observed by scientists. In 2018, the Solheimajökull was one of the three glaciers in the country to hold the record of annual decline (approximately 200 meters), according to data from the Association for research on the glaciers of Iceland.


“The changes are quite subtle when you’re here every day,” granted Daniel Saulite, guide for the past five years. “But the volume of the glacier is much lower than before. There are also a lot of cracks on the front and the access becomes more and more difficult,” he explains.


The destination is very popular among the tourists. The company Icelandic Mountain Guide, one of the three operators of the year’, claims 27 000 visitors in 2018.


The glaciers, which cover about 11% of the land area of the country, are the distinctive features of the landscapes of this island, colonized 1200 years ago. But the cast had completely changed the landscape.


“Lakes formed in front of several of them” note Hrafnhildur Hannesdóttir, a glaciologist at the meteorological institute of Iceland.


In total, the icelandic glaciers have lost 250 km3 of ice for the past 25 years is the equivalent of 7% of their total volume.



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