Education and Communications

Changing Glaciers Of Iceland | Explorers In The Field

(slow piano music) – I walk into a room and I tell someone I’m a glaciologist and usually someone looks at me and says, well soon you’ll be a historian because the ice is going away. We have the ability to turn this around and I think we’re going to. We just have to start moving
in that direction now. The more we know about ice the more we can get onboard saving it. My name is M Jackson and I am a geographer and glaciologist and
National Geographic explorer. We have got great data that’s saying the majority of the ice
worldwide is melting. It’s responding to climate change with negative mass balance. There’s a lot of different mechanisms but very generally we can say, Earth temperatures are getting warm and that’s having a negative effect on the ice and the ice is getting smaller. The work I do really tries to address the question, what’s going to happen
as the world’s ice melts? Embedded in that question
is what can we do? So, that’s why I work along this whole south coast of Iceland region. The largest ice cap in Iceland and all of Europe,
Vatnajökull, is right here. Hundreds of years ago,
when say, I don’t know, the Taj Mahal was being
built, it was snowing here. And that snow was
turning into glacial ice. Okay, so when you’re licking this, what you’re licking is snow that fell hundreds of years ago. And then town of Höfn is located where all of these glaciers drain down and so we can see the town right here and then you have all of
these different glaciers that are draining down into
the lagoons that surround Höfn. And what we see here is
that is a lot of complex physical impacts of glacier melt, and that there’s a lot of
social impacts of glacier melt. Whenever we want to
visualize sea level rise and glacier melt, often times we are removing all the variables and we are just visualizing if all the oceans rose 10
feet, 100 feet, 200 feet. And the way that usually
looks is it’s uniform. But that doesn’t take
into account geography, places where the land is
maybe subsiding into the ocean or places that are marshes, or a really important one for anywhere that there are glaciers,
land that is rising up. It’s rebounding. We see a huge change
happening in the harbor. So if you imagine in your hand a sponge and you press that sponge down, when you take your hand away that sponge is just gonna spring right on back up. That is what is happening here. All of this ice that’s here, it pressed the Earth’s crust down, it pressed the island of Iceland down. And so today as that ice is melting away, the land is springing back up. This is called isostatic
rebound, glacial rebound. These little islands
that are springing up, that’s really great for the town. They pop a house right on
there, town got bigger. But what about the fishing? Fishing’s a huge part
of the Icelandic economy but there’s just this one
harbor in this whole area. It’s getting shallower, and shallower, and shallower. Boats have to sit outside of the harbor and wait for high tide. What’s gonna happen to
the fish-packing plant? What’s gonna happen to the biggest industry in this town? Tourism is the second growing industry. There used to be no real
glacier tours in here and suddenly people
from all over the world, they’re coming to see the
glaciers before they’re gone, but also they’re coming to
be inside these ice caves. Icelanders didn’t really have
a business in the winter. They now have jobs in the winter, they have guiding into these ice caves. They’re making livings and
livelihoods with these. But the hard bit about this is that a lot of these ice caves are made because glaciers are melting quicker. That’s the paradox. I look at all of of
that physical geography aspects of ice and I add
all the social aspects. We put it together, we get a whole picture of what’s happening. The oceans are so, so vast, but they are often controlled
and shaped by glaciers. So if you are standing,
looking at your coastline, during our last ice age the ocean was about 400 feet lower than it is today. That’s because those glaciers, they held more of that
water in the form of ice. The flip side of that is today. Those glaciers, they’re melting and they’re releasing. Whoa It is the nature of a glacier to melt. Glaciers are always melting, they’ve always melted throughout history, but what is so different
today is the rate of melt. Never in human history have we ever seen glaciers as quick as
they are melting today. And that’s gonna make the sea levels rise. So, how do you get
connected to these glaciers? If you are living, say, in New Jersey, or you’re living in Florida,
or Washington state, there’s going to be more precipitation, which means in some places, more snow. Or in other places, more rain, which means more volume in our rivers and our lakes and our marshes. The more I started to study glaciers, the more people would ask me questions that placed that glacier
in a context of people. I started to have to have
conversations about fish. I started to have to have
conversations about forests. And sheep. I had to have conversations
about rivers shifting. I can look at how people understand what is happening here with the ice today and I’m able then to understand how do people respond to change. So many of the young people
that I work with, they are yes, climate change is happening, yes, the glaciers are melting, and yes, individually have the power to affect a positive change out of that. It excites me. I will totally be honest with you. It really, really does excite me. Climate change is really, really hard. So I work with young people
and it re-energizes me and it makes me excited
and I can stomp back into the field re-energized. I love, I love being out on the glaciers. I really do think that if we lose our ice, we lose
something of our humanity. We’re gonna lose a part of who we are if we take away those places where we say, wow, where we say, whoa,
or more importantly, where we don’t say anything at all because we’re just so blown away. (slow piano music)
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