The Reports of Iceland’s Glacial Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

A follow-up to my post on this issue last week, which was just published in American Thinker.

The media is abuzz over the first icy “casualty” of climate change: a small glacier in Iceland named Okjökull, also known as “OK.”

The claim, made in a press release from Rice University, is OK became the first glacier in Iceland to lose its glacial status because of global warming. According to the press release, “This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world.”

Of course, the fearmongers do not say why the glacier has stopped growing. Instead, they simply invoke the new universal boogeyman of “climate change” as the reason. And then they tell us about the movie, website, and hiking opportunities to witness the death of a glacier.

For the record, OK is still around, even though it hasn’t grown since roughly 2003. But here comes the interesting part. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “Ok is a lava shield volcano in west-central Iceland, to the west of Langjökull.”

As the U.S. Geological Survey noted, OK is actually an icecap on top of a volcano — located on a volcanically active Iceland. Yes, OK is slowly disappearing, but it is completely disingenuous to say climate change is without any doubt the main reason for OK’s demise.

Even if we assume there’s no heat from the volcano, what else could be causing OK’s ice loss? To answer that question, you need to understand how glaciers work. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC):

“A glacier forms when snow accumulates over time, turns to ice, and begins to flow outwards and downwards under the pressure of its own weight… Glacier retreat, melt, and ablation result from increasing temperature, evaporation, and wind scouring. Ablation is a natural and seasonal part of glacier life. As long as snow accumulation equals or is greater than melt and ablation, a glacier will remain in balance or even grow. Once winter snowfall decreases, or summer melt increases, the glacier will begin to retreat.”

If snow is not added, glaciers don’t grow, and they naturally lose ice due to sublimation, ablation, and melt. I don’t think these people pushing OK’s death fully understand glaciers. The process of ice loss in a high-latitude glacier is mainly due to three things, with temperature coming in last.

  1. Calving into the sea (not applicable on this glacier since it is landlocked).
  2. Ice loss through sublimation (evaporation directly to the atmosphere) or ablation (wind scouring).
  3. In some cases, melting due to elevated temperature (yet to be proven about this glacier).

Al Gore, in his movie An Inconvenient Truth, made the mistake of blaming ice loss at Mt. Kilimanjaro on “global warming.” But inconveniently for Gore, the ice loss was entirely the result of there being a lack of precipitation, thus allowing the ice to sublimate.

Kilimanjaro 1993, left and in 2000, right

In Iceland, glaciers are dependent on precipitation. And changes in the North Atlantic Oscillation could easily explain the change in precipitation. In a recent story from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, scientists were “shocked” to find the previously shrinking Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland growing again.

A wider view of the calving front of Jakobshavn from the window of a NASA research plane. Credit: NASA/John Sonntag

“At first we didn’t believe it. We had pretty much assumed that Jakobshavn would just keep going on as it had over the last 20 years,” said Ala Khazendar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The researchers suspect the cold water was set in motion by a climate pattern called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), which causes the northern Atlantic Ocean to switch slowly between warm and cold every five to 20 years.”

Besides natural cycles, there is a man-made element to consider: carbon soot from the industrial revolution. NSIDC says:

“Over 90 percent of the measured alpine glaciers in the world are retreating, in almost every major glaciated region. The causes of this widespread retreat are varied, but the underlying primary causes are a warming climate and the effects of increased soot and dust in areas of higher agricultural and industrial activity.”

Although some warming may be involved, and precipitation pattern shifts due to changes in ocean currents can easily explain the lack of snowfall, there’s also the fact that OK’s ice is collecting soot, and that darker soot is absorbing more sunlight, thus warming the glacier.

Glaciers have been expanding and shrinking for millennia. In the case of the OK glacier, it may not have even existed a few hundred years ago, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, which concluded, referring to the 13th to 15th century, “OK may not have had a glacier at this time because of the preceding warmer period.”

Given that we didn’t have gas-guzzling SUVs to drive back then, and global population was a tiny fraction of what it is now, I can’t get too excited about activists who claim OK’s ice reduction is due to our current use of life-improving and life-saving conventional energy sources.

Finally, how long will that memorial plaque last? Just look at what recently happened at Glacier National Park, where they had to remove plaques indicating they expected the glaciers to be gone due to climate change by 2020. And what if “OK” starts growing again? Will it become Iceland’s first zombie glacier?

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59 thoughts on “The Reports of Iceland’s Glacial Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

  1. Why are the “far left ecoterrorists” so concerned about a patch of useless ice ? Don’t they shovel their driveways in the winter ?

    • Ha! At first glance I read “far left ecoterrorists” as “far left eco-errorists” – I think both are correct. 🙂

  2. “The process of ice loss in a high-latitude glacier is mainly due to three things, with temperature coming in last.”
    It doesn’t say temperature comes last. It says melting comes last. Any rate of phase change is temperature dependent, and that includes sublimation as well as melting. And since calving is not possible, that means all the processes accelerate with temperature.

      • Perhaps they need to be beaten to the punch. We should place a signs in NY and Montana and Michigan and Illinois and Ohio and Pennsylvania proclaiming the furthest advance of the once great Laurentide Ice Sheet…First Ice Field victim to Global Warming

    • But not only by temperature. Temperature could remain the same or decrease, and yet the process of sublimation accelerate by increased winds and lower humidity. Add in reduced winter precipitation, and you have a rapidly shrinking glacier in a colder environment. Phase change is energy dependent, regardless of the energy source, not temperature dependent.

    • Nick writes

      Any rate of phase change is temperature dependent

      Technically it’s energy dependent not temperature dependent.

  3. 2018 was the first time in a quarter century that the 4 largest glaciers in Iceland all stopped shrinking, while 2 of them grew in size, one significantly. We’ll see what happens in 2019. I’m sure this news will thrill the OK lamentation corps and dry up their tears.

    • Your sarcasm is noted and appreciated but sadly, of course, glaciers growing is a cause of despondency in these sad people. They love ice, that’s why they want it all to melt away. I thank my lucky stars and my parents for those genes missing me.

    • “2 of them grew in size, one significantly”

      That’s just the ginned up version of a story that’s been bouncing around disinformer blogs for a few years. https://icelandmag.is/article/icelandic-glaciers-expand-first-time-over-20-years

      Turns out they had “20-30% more snow”.

      This is the original quote by Finnur Pálsson, University of Iceland:

      “Langjökull had been losing around one and a half meters of ice per year for the past twenty years, “but in the last few years he has been close to zero, that is, he has neither expanded nor diminished. And that applies to this year, both for Vatnajökull and Langjökull as well,” said Pálsson.

      Maybe record precipitaion had some delaying effect to the decades of warming – plenty of smaller glaciers have already completely melted.

      • What”s wrong with the melting of glaciers in the first place? Really! Why is everyone worrying over some glaciers?

        There are two arguments on the table: one that retreating glaciers are evidence that the world is warming and the other that it might be evidence of other things including warming.

        We know from air temperature measurements that the globe warmed over the past (particularly) 45 years and also from 1885 to 1940 (a bit more than during the later period). We don’t need glaciers to tell us this. They are poor thermometers because of the complicating factors.

        Kilimanjaro is not evidence of global warming, air temperature measurements are. Kilimanjaro’s ice sheet comes and goes. So does permafrost in Southern Ontario. I have no desire to see it return. Ice and permafrost are very bad for humans and most other lifeforms. Trees and agriculture are very good for us.

        Usually discussions about glaciers include wailing about how rivers are dependent on glacial melting in spring to provide water for blah blah blah with no discussion about what happens if temperatures rise. Does it stop raining if a glacier is not there to receive precipitation? How do the clouds know to stop?

        That is the illogic of the analysis provided by the Guardian re Himalayan glaciers – they say that all the rivers and tributaries will dry up it the water doesn”t start off as ice, which is silly.

        Anyone trying to prove that global air temperatures are not rising by pointing to glaciers is on hiding for nothing. It’s getting slightly warmer. Deal with it. Anyone trying to use glaciers as a temperature gauge (proving warming) doesn’t know enough about glaciers to have access to the microphone.

        If all the glaciers were to be melted off Greenland and Iceland, the world would be a much better place, that’s my opinion. Land loss to flooding would be much less than agricultural land gained in Canada, Russia, and the two aforesaid countries.

        As we have no ability to cause either vast warming nor freezing, ice-mania has no productive result.

      • “Turns out they had “20-30% more snow”.

        LOL. That’s why glaciers grow. Snow accumulation exceeds melt. Pálsson says it was colder during melt season.

        “They have remained around this year, which is unusual over the last 25 years. They have been in decline, both Vatnajökull and Langjökull, especially Langjökull, “says Finnur Pálsson, project manager for glacial research at the University of Iceland’s Geological Survey.

        Thus, Langjökull had, on average, been diluted by one and a half meters a year for the past twenty years, according to Finn.

        “But for the past few years he has been close to zero, that is, he has neither expanded nor decreased. And that is the case for this year, both for Vatnajökull and Langjökull. ”

        An annual survey of Hofsjökull, presented by the Icelandic Meteorological Office ten days ago, shows that it has improved slightly between years, and a limited measurement of the surface of Mýrdalsjökull shows that it also increased. There was actually a significant addition.

        “… the fact is that it has been a little colder in the last few years. The summer season was very unusual, perhaps not necessarily because of the cold, but because it was so heavy the majority of the summer, especially here in the entire west of the country. ”

        https://www.visir.is/g/2018181209563/joklar-islands-ryrnudu-ekki-i-fyrsta-sinn-i-aldarfjordung

  4. You know what? Sea level has been rising right along. Tide gauges show a 200 year record of rising seas somtimes faster sometimes slower, but about two millimeters per year overall. The water has to be coming from somewhere, and Greenland, Antarctica and the alpine glaciers are a good bet.

    There is no empirical evidence that a dramatic increase to as much as ten times the current rate is about to happen.

    Squabbling over this and that glacier is just silly.

  5. I have been on a number of glaciers in Iceland that were on top of active glaciers. There is nothing like standing on ice sheet with steam flowing up. Getting down from such a glacier is not fun. You have to sit down on the ice and slide all the way down.

  6. It was the first well-known glacier in Iceland to melt away, though dozens of smaller glaciers have also melted away. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Okj%C3%B6kull#cite_note-slate-1)

    Okjökull is no more, is not also known as “OK.” Jökull is the Icelandic word for glacier or ice cap, and so Okjökull had the jökull part of its name stripped. It’s now known as just Ok. That happened 5 years ago- when it had melted so much it was a misnomer.

    1. Calving… no
    2. Ice loss through lack of rainfall… no https://www.icelandreview.com/news/record-year-for-rain-in-reykjavik/
    3. Melting… hmmm.

    “I don’t think these people pushing OK’s death fully understand glaciers.”
    Yeah, what would Oddur Sigurðsson, the senior glaciologist with the Icelandic Meteorological Office understand about glaciers?

    Calving, sublimation, soot, lack of rainfall, volcanoes, lying glaciologists, Al Gore, hasn’t shrunk, it’ll probably grow back, etc, etc, etc.
    Anything but CO2.

  7. Purveyors of these false and alarmist ‘research’ articles should be brought to account! The authors as well as their spin-doctors.

  8. That looks like and old volcanic ash cone, with snow on it. Old snow, new snow–who cares?
    But there is no alpine glacier visible, so “they” must have chosen this bump because they can get to it with an SUV.
    Even in the past with more ice and snow that bump would not host any thickness of what could be called an alpine glacier. Down slope yes.
    What a fake!

  9. Isn’t it possible that sea level rise over the past 200 years could be due to the number of ships on our seas?

    • Isn’t it possible that sea level rise over the past 200 years could be due to the number of ships on our seas?

      No, not possible.
      The volume of water displaced by ships (and all other human activity like dikes and fill and the Dutch lowland dikes and pumping, etc.) is not measurable by any means. Not even a few ten-thousandths of a millimeter on the ocean’s total volume.

    • Impossible. More likely due to the capsizing of the island of Guam, according to Georgia representative Hank Johnson…

  10. ya everytime people point to glacier evidence for he LIA and MWP i have to remind them what utterly weak evidence it is for temperature.

  11. I don’t think these people pushing OK’s death fully understand glaciers.

    Maybe not, are any other clues here, as to what might be going on?

    And then they tell us about the movie, website, and hiking opportunities to witness the death of a glacier.

    Forget about glacier dynamics, these people sure know tourism.

    Other very successful tourist enterprises built on absolutely nothing:
    1) Bigfoot Tours, Pacific Northwest, USA.
    Guided tours into areas said to be the native habitat of a legendary creature of some sort.
    2) UFOs, Flying Saucers, Space Aliens everything, Roswell NM, USA
    A tiny little town, once destined to wither and blow away with the tumbleweeds, is now a tourism powerhouse.
    3) Plymouth Rock, Plymouth, MA, USA.
    Said to be the rock where a group of colonists known as the Pilgrims first set foot in the New World, in 1620.
    The story is utterly implausible, and seems to have been cooked up by a showman and promoter sometime in the late 1800s. Anyway it is a rock, and a small one. It is just a little rock. It is also the anchor of the local tourism industry.

    These people in Iceland know exactly what they are doing. If they can turn “There used to be a glacier here” into a tourist attraction, good for them.

  12. Is is really OK with a capital and not Ok (not sure if it is pronounced like “oak”, or “awk”, or something else)?

  13. It would be refreshing for these “studies” to conclude “We don’t know!” rather than the catchall result “It’s CO2 driven AGW!!! We are all dooooooomed! Now give me more money!”

  14. Iceland is extremely active volcanically and experiences earthquakes on a regular daily basis. The whole area is constantly on the move. To suggest that a shift in behaviour of a small glacier could be the result of increases in CO2 (by implication) is grossly irresponsible.

    • So what? Loydo seems to be arithmetically-challenged. By my calculations the Greenland ice sheet has lost some 0.01% of its total mass this Summer.

      How does Loydo know that this melt wasn’t higher in the past?

    • Yes, we have been looking at it. Typically the SMB *increases* year on year, so only coming out even would probably not be the end of all. (Note that SMB is only part of the Greenland ice story, so a positive SMB does not mean total ice gain.)
      What we have seen on the last few days is a near vertical drop on the estimate. These sorts of vertical movements have often been the results of instrument failures in the past. Some others are suggesting that the hot air mass which caused the recent European heat wave is now over Greenland, causing the melting. (????? I thought the trade winds went the other way ?????)
      So we are waiting on more information, and observing how things develop before we hit the panic button.

    • How long is that “record”? What you are wringing your hands about is insignificant on multiple fronts.

  15. “This will be the first monument to a glacier lost to climate change anywhere in the world.” Yeah? And so what????? A bunch of cold, bored people had to build a moment to something and seeings that it’s ICEland, why not a glacier.

  16. A bit about OK…

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/124967395@N08/23609610245

    Ok (rhyming with ‘talk’) is a 1198 meters high dormant shield volcano with a central crater located to the west of Langjökull in the west of Iceland.

    In Icelandic Ok means load or yoke.

    The volcano erupted during interglacials in the Pleistocene (2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago). A late Pleistocene eruption produced a steep ice contact slope on the south-eastern side.

    The dolerite volcano was formerly covered by a small glacier on its top. In 1890, the Okjökull glacier was 16 square kilometres in size, and more than 50 m thick, but has since been mostly replaced (August 2011) by a small lake within the crater; with the glacier located on the northern slope, measuring less than 1 square kilometre, and less than 15 m thick. In order to fit the criteria glaciers need to be thick enough, about 40 or 50 meters thick, to sink and move under their own weight. Okjökull was the first Icelandic glacier to officially disappear. The Icelandic word for glacier is jökull

    Coordinates: 64°35’32″N 20°53’27″W

    Regards,
    Agust, Iceland

  17. Oksjökull has been going for a long time. From Björnssons “The Glaciers of Iceland”(2017).

    “On the northern side of the dolerite shield volcano of Ok (1190 m), to the west of Kaldidalur, is a small glacial patch (less than 1 km2) that reaches down to a height of 950 m. This glacier has diminished in size rapidly during the 20th century and is now completely below the snowline”

    “The ice cap is depicted as being about 38 km2 on Thoroddsen’s geological map from 1901, but on the map of the Danish General Staff from 1910, it was only around 15 km2, and only 5 km2 on the map of 1945; the glacial patch had a surface area of just over 3 km2 on an aerial photograph from 1978, just less than 2 km2 on a satellite picture from 2004, and it has been reduced even more since then, the crater at the top of the lava dome now glacier-free.”

    So it had already mostly melted before CO2 started to increase around 1950.

  18. As I said before, Rice University is not know for its volcanologists. And if they had any on faculty they would be reluctant to speak up against student mission work in the name of the Global Warming Crusades.

  19. My question is how will this apparent warming of the OK glacier affect the crops grown there.

  20. Just flew in to Anchorage, AK. The glaciers in the Chugach Range looked solid and even had fresh snowpack in the higher elevations.

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