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Iceland's Glaciers a Must-See

May 16, 2012|Stephen Markley

In case you hadn’t heard—since it’s been all over upwards of one of the blogson this site—I’m going to Icelandfor a while, and in trying to get an idea of what I want to see on my trip, I’ve decided some glaciers are a must. And lucky you, now you can prepare for a long blog post on glaciers! Hope you’ve got your seventh grade science class notes handy. 

You figure that with any extended vacation, you gotta see some nature and shit.

Nature and shit is the best, especially for city-dwellers, and especially for Chicagoans where if you want to actually get out and see anything decent you must first hop over the endless, mesmerizing suburban sprawl of the Chicagoland area, which has more concrete lots, car dealers, and tract-housing per capita than anywhere else on the planet (note: not a researched fact).

With Iceland’s volcanic topography, history of environmental degradation by early human settlers, and sprawling glaciers, I’m assuming it will look not like Aurora, Illinois, and I’m greatly looking forward to this.

The reason you must go see glaciers in your lifetime is because they are all going away. According to the World Glacial Monitoring Service, 90 percent of the world’s glaciers are in retreat, which sucks because many of these glaciers provide drinking water to millions of people from mainland Europe to Peru to Pakistan.

Iceland happens to be home to the largest ice cap in all of Europe, called Vatnajokull (there’s supposed to be some dots in there or whatever, but this blog is for ‘Mericans, not Frenchies). With a thickness of up to 1,000 feet, the glacier is named after Count Vatnajokull, who freed the Merman from the clutches of the Greenland Norse and brought piece to the internecine conflict of the Seventh Order of the Mermanic Empire (note: also not a researched fact, existence of Merman still in scientific dispute).

Vatnajokull has been having some problems recently. Scientists have found that ice-marginal lakes in front of outlet glaciers have been expanding rapidly since 1995. This is important because as researcher Anders Schomacker of the Institute of Earth Sciences at the University of Iceland wrote, the development of “land-based glacier termini” into “lake-terminating glaciers is an eye-catching environmental change.”

And here’s where it gets weird: when we think of global climate change, we think of different things depending on our level of sophistication with the subject. Some assume that planetary warming means across-the-board warmer temperatures without variation. This is not the case. Warming will cause all kinds of weird weather, including heavy snowstorms during the winter. However, even if you’re more familiar with the subject, you might not know that scientists are beginning to think that global warming will eventually lead to more earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

“Huh?” I hear you saying. “Is this like the Mermanic Tribes of the Great Labrador Current? Not really a researched thing?”

Unfortunately, it is a thing.

Glaciers exude enormous, unthinkable pressure upon the land on which they rest. Rapid melting will reduce this weight not in incremental easing as in most historic periods of glacial retreat, but more like jerking a bag of cement off a spring-loaded platform. Tectonic instability results, and the likelihood of volcanic eruptions rises. Iceland, with 10 percent of its land mass covered by glaciers and a hotbed of volcanic activity, could be dealing with a spike in eruptions similar to Eyjafjallajokull (not a made-up fact; they actually name stuff that way), which if you’ll recall grounded air traffic across Europe in 2009.

So see all the glaciers you can while you can because even if you still don’t think anthropogenic climate change is real, the Merman will undoubtedly want revenge soon for being banished to the Svallbard Undersea Empire of the Damned (not a researched fact: Svalbard may in fact be spelled with one “L”).

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