Glacier Loss in Iceland

Aug. 12, 2019

The island nation of Iceland is replete with unique natural wonders and geothermal features, with a rugged interior defined by ice caps, glaciers, and volcanic peaks.

Iceland had 269 named glaciers as of the year 2000, but ice has retreated in the face of warming temperatures. By 2014, Ok Glacier in western Iceland had lost so much mass that it was no longer considered one at all. Icelanders now refer to it simply as “Ok,” the name of the volcano upon which it rests.

Landsat has recorded its decline for nearly five decades. This border shows Ok’s glacial footprint in the year 2000.

The glacier spilled well outside that border in 1973. A growing gap between the glacial mass and the volcano’s summit crater is apparent by 1987. By 2019, just a smattering of ice remains. Declines in glacial mass are also evident in larger glaciers to the east of Ok.

Glaciologists in Iceland who analyzed 80 years of records and concluded in 2014 that the country will lose all but its highest-elevation glaciers by the year 2200 if shrinkage continues at its current rate.

Sources: Landsat 1, Landsat 5, Landsat 7, Landsat 8