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Iceland holds funeral for its melted glacier and leaves a letter to the future

Seth Borenstein and Frank Jordans, August 20, 2019 6:45PM AP

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This combination of 1986, left, and 2019 photos provided by NASA shows the shrinking of the Okjokull glacier on the Ok volcano in west-central Iceland. A geological map from 1901 estimated Okjokull spanned an area of about 38 square kilometres. In 1978, aerial photography showed the glacier was 3 square kilometres. In 2019, less than 1 square kilometre remains. Picture: NASA via AP media_cameraThis combination of 1986, left, and 2019 photos provided by NASA shows the shrinking of the Okjokull glacier on the Ok volcano in west-central Iceland. A geological map from 1901 estimated Okjokull spanned an area of about 38 square kilometres. In 1978, aerial photography showed the glacier was 3 square kilometres. In 2019, less than 1 square kilometre remains. Picture: NASA via AP

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Iceland has held a funeral for a glacier.

With poetry, moments of silence and political speeches about the urgent need to fight climate change, Iceland’s prime minister, activists*, scientists and others bade* goodbye to what once was a glacier.

Icelandic geologist Oddur Sigurdsson pronounced the Okjokull glacier extinct about 10 years ago.

But on Sunday he brought a death certificate* to the memorial* service.

Monument unveiled at site of Okjokull, Iceland's first glacier lost to climate change media_cameraPeople attend a monument unveiling at the site of Okjokull, Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change. Picture: AFP

After about 100 people made a two-hour hike up a volcano, children installed a memorial plaque to the glacier, now called just “Ok,” minus the Icelandic word “jokull”, for glacier.

The glacier used to stretch 15 square kilometres, Sigurdsson said.

Residents reminisced* about drinking pure water thousands of years old from Ok.

“The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action,” former Irish president and former United Nations human rights commissioner* Mary Robinson said.

This was Iceland’s first glacier to disappear. But Sigurdsson said all of the nation’s ice masses will be gone in 200 years.

“We see the consequences of the climate crisis,” Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said. “We have no time to lose.”

Monument unveiled at site of Okjokull, Iceland's first glacier lost to climate change media_cameraPeople hold up signs calling for action on climate change where the glacier once was. Picture: AFP

Jakobsdottir said she will make climate change a priority when Nordic* leaders and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in Reykjavik on Tuesday.

“I know my grandchildren will ask me how this day was and why I didn’t do enough,” said Gunnhildur Hallgrimsdottir, 17.

Monument unveiled at site of Okjokull, Iceland's first glacier lost to climate change media_cameraA monument is unveiled at site of Okjokull, Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change in the west of Iceland on August 18, 2019. Picture: AFP

The plaque, which notes the level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere measured last May, also bears a message in Icelandic and English, titled “A letter to the future”.

The letter reads:

“Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier.
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 what needs to be done.
Only you know if we did it.”

media_cameraA man stops on his way to the top of what once was the Okjokull glacier but is now exposed rock. Picture: AP

HOT JULY
The ceremony for the glacier came only days after the announcement by scientists that July was the hottest month measured on Earth since records began in 1880.

It’s the latest in a series of peaks that scientists say backs up predictions for man-made climate change.

The previous hottest month on record was July 2016, which was 0.03C cooler, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The results had been expected after several European countries including France, Belgium and Germany reported that July smashed previous national temperature records. The Swedish town of Markusvinsa recorded 34.8C, the highest ever temperature measured north of the Arctic Circle.

The July peaks came hot on the heels of a sizzling June, which was the hottest June recorded over the past 140 years.

The year to date is also 0.95C above the long-term average, still slightly behind 2016 and on a par* with 2017, NOAA said.

Meteorologists* expect 2019 won’t beat the current record for warmest year, set in 2016.

Monument unveiled at site of Okjokull, Iceland's first glacier lost to climate change media_cameraAn Icelandic girl holds a sign calling for action on climate change at the site of the former glacier called Okjokull, Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change. Picture: AFP

GLOSSARY

  • activists: people who campaign to bring about change
  • bade: past tense of bid
  • death certificate: official document issued when someone dies
  • memorial: a ceremony, statue or plaque to remember someone or something by
  • reminisced: talked about or thought about something enjoyable in the past
  • commissioner: a person appointed to be in charge of something
  • Nordic: relating to Scandinavia, Finland Norway
  • on a par: equal to
  • meteorologists: climate and weather scientists

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What were the Icelanders reminiscing about?
  2. Who is Katrín Jakobsdóttir and why was she at the funeral?
  3. In the letter, it suggests all the Icelandic glaciers will melt. In what time period?
  4. When did official records for weather and temperatures begin to be kept?
  5. What is the hottest year on record and is 2019 likely to be hotter?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Time capsule

The plaque left at the extinct Ok glacier acknowledges to the future generations that we know what’s going on (with climate change), and only the people reading this in 200 years will know if we did enough about it to stop all the glaciers from disappearing.

Rule a line across a page, halfway down. Divide the top half into four boxes. Now label and complete this chart that could be buried in a time capsule in your school, letting future generations know what you knew and planned to do about climate change. This will allow future generations to know what children in 2019 were thinking and feeling and what they tried to do to help stop climate change.

  • Title: Climate Change in the Future: A perspective of a primary school student in 2019
  • Box 1: What do I know about climate change
  • Box 2: What is the Australian Government and leaders doing to address this issue?
  • Box 3: How I am trying to help the Earth
  • Box 4: What my concerns are for climate change in the future

Complete your page by drawing a picture in the space on the bottom half. Label this: My illustration of what the Earth looks like now compared to in 100 years

Time: allow 45 minutes to complete this activity

Curriculum Links: English, Science, Personal and social, Critical and creative thinking

2. Extension
Complete an Acrostic Poem titled ‘OK GLACIER’ using facts and information about why this glacier is extinct and climate change in general to write a sentence for each letter.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
A letter to the future
The plaque, which notes the level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, also bears a message in Icelandic and English, titled “A letter to the future”.  The letter reads: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. 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 what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

What does the last line mean?

Why do you think they wrote it?

Write a letter to a student sitting in your seat of your classroom in 10 years. Tell them about some of the things you see in your classroom, some technologies you use, or some older equipment. Are there things they should know about your classroom or school? Tell them where you think you will be in 10 years. How much do you think will change, how much will stay the same?

Don’t give them any clues!

HAVE YOUR SAY: If you lived in Iceland, would you go to the funeral for the glacier? What is one thing you would put in a letter to the future?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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