(Alec Loorz is a guest contributor to Green Scene. He is currently
participating in a National Geographic student expedition to Iceland.
Alec’s posts are his personal observations of his experience and of his
commitment to climate change awareness.)
Wow, that was an amazing week. Just the fact that it’s taken me till day seven to sit down and write something should tell you something about how much we’re doing here in Iceland. It’s about 11 p.m. here, it’s still completely light out, (the sun goes down for about three hours per day, but it’s never really dark,) and I am exhausted. This has honestly been the best week of my entire life, hands down. I’ve achieved at least five of my life goals, and I’m expecting a few more over the next part of this journey. Let me list a few here:
For one, I saw my first glacier a few days ago (they all blur together,) and I walked on my first glacier yesterday. It was unbelievable. Seriously, I felt like I was in a dream, it was so surreal and incredibly beautiful, it was hard to actually believe I was there. The glacier we hiked on was called Fellsjökull (fells-yo-cull,) which is part of the great Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe, and the third largest in the world, right behind Greenland and Antarctica. I honestly cannot think of the words to describe what it felt like to be there, with the glacier, being able to touch and feel what’s happening to massive body of ice. I think the closest I can get is with a few pictures:
you can see the bus we drove in on, in front of Fellsjökull. You can’t
tell from the picture, but that was actually a 15-minute walk from the
bus to the entry point of the glacier.
In 1940, the glacier went
all the way to the bus. That’s where the entry point was. Seventy years
ago, the glacier would have covered that entire picture. That’s how
much has melted. And I could physically see it, walking across. On top
of the glacier, there were these streams of very tasty water flowing
into holes in the ice called moulins (pronounced moo-lahn, like the
Disney movie.) From there, the water travels in a series of tunnels
underneath the glacier, finally coming out in a huge stream and flowing
into the ocean, a few miles away. I know it’s normal for a glacier to
melt, but the fact that it’s melted so fast in the past century and the
speed that it’s melting now is just appalling. I was in awe looking at
this massive, powerful river of ice, and seeing how fragile and
vulnerable it is.
You can see the glacier waaaay in the back, past all the icebergs, which, as you can see, there are a lot of. Here’s a better picture of the glacier and surrounding bay:
We had to take a boat to get near enough to the glacier so that we could see it, and it took a good 20 minutes from the time we left shore. At first, I was just awe-struck by the beauty of it, taking pictures of every iceberg and not really thinking much of it. Then, the guide started talking about the story of the glacier.
The most surprising thing was this: in the 1930s, that entire bay didn’t exist. It was all the glacier. All the way from where it is to the shore, and beyond. All of these icebergs were connected to the glacier, and were formed hundreds, even thousands of years ago, way up on the top of Vatnajökull. Then, they started to break apart. And now it’s speeding up. The most surprising thing is the fact that this glacier has been retreating over 100 meters (that’s 300 feet) per year. And this last year, it retreated 900 meters. 900 meters! That’s over a half a mile! Just in one year. I couldn’t believe it when she said it. It was heartbreaking, hearing about that and seeing the melt from Fellsjökull. And today, I’ll leave you with that.
I wish I had time to go into detail about all the other awesome things we’ve done, which include an intense rescue mission in a huge sandstorm right next Eyafjallajökull, the big volcano that paused Europe, snorkeling with dry suits in the 30 degree water inside the rift between the N. American and Eurasian plates, exploring caves, watching geysers, swimming in geothermal hot springs, and much more, even shopping in Reykjavik, the capital. That’s about as much detail as I can go into today, because it will be midnight in 5 minutes, but maybe next time. For now, I’m going to go to sleep after a long and productive day in the field. Oh, and yes, happy 4th of July!
Here’s another example, a glacier we saw today:
is an iceberg bay at the base of Breidamerkurjökull, also connected to