An Unlikely Funeral: Iceland Lays to Rest a Deceased Glacier

The glacier's funeral is a wake-up call to protect the Earth. 

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Aug. 19 2019, Updated 11:52 a.m. ET

Source: istock

Glaciers, ice, and snow are melting at troubling rates in arctic locations all over the world — but none have gotten as much recognition as the Okjökull glacier in Iceland. This weekend, Icelanders held a funeral for the deceased glacier at the top of the Ok volcano, where Okjökull was once an enormous icy mass. The funeral's goal? To raise awareness for the climate crisis and how it's affecting our planet.

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As reported by the AP, Oddur Sigurðsson, an Iceland-based geologist, first declared Okjökull dead a few years ago. On Sunday, Sigurðsson unveiled a death certificate and a memorial plaque in honor of the former glacier at a funeral on top of the volcano. Around 100 people attended the funeral, all of whom had to hike for about two hours up the volcano.

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On the plaque, the glacier is simply referred to as Ok, and not Okjökull. Since jökull is actually Icelandic for glacier, those six letters were dropped from the name, since it is no longer a glacier.

Icelandic writer and author Andri Snaer Magnason wrote a poignant inscription for the plaque, as reported by BuzzFeed. “A letter to the future: Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier," the plaque read, in both Icelandic and English. "In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and know what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it."

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In the 1980s, Okjökull measured 6 square miles in size — and now, all that remains are a few small ice patches, according to NASA. The central cause of this melting? Rising global temperatures over the past few decades, which are a result of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which are a result of burning fossil fuels, animal agriculture, deforestation, and more. Melting glaciers also have a slew of negative impacts on the planet; for example, they contribute to rising sea levels; they also cause more global warming, and therefore more melting ice, in a process known as feedback, according to UCAR.

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Rice University anthropology professors Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer co-led the hike up Ok volcano. "By memorializing a fallen glacier, we want to emphasize what is being lost – or dying – the world over, and also draw attention to the fact that this is something that humans have ’accomplished’, although it is not something we should be proud of," Howe said in a statement about the impetus behind the funeral, according to The Guardian.

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Iceland's prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir attended Ok's funeral, and she addressed the severity of our changing climate when speaking to the crowd. “We see the consequences of the climate crisis,” Jakobsdóttir said at the funeral, according to the AP. “We have no time to lose." The day before her trek up Ok volcano, Jakobsdóttir penned an op-ed for the New York Times to discuss the climate crisis, and declare her commitment to Iceland's action plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040.

Hopefully images from Ok's funeral will inspire the people of Iceland — and people all around the world, for that matter — to start taking the climate crisis more seriously.

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