Gabija is passionate about traveling and writing. In her free time, she likes to read, try out different cuisines, or embark on outdoor adventures.
Today’s interview location is truly extraordinary - we are standing on the top of Falljökull glacier, one of the many glaciers on the Vatnajökull ice cap. Before us, we see the glacier lagoon and the line of dark moss resembling where the glacier used to sit just a little over 30 years ago.
Our today’s guide is Erik Solie. Erik is a Senior Glacier Guide working for Arctic Adventures since Spring 2017. He shared his passion for his work and his thoughts on why sustainability should be the primary topic in public conversation.
Arctic Adventures glacier guide - Erik Solie
Can you tell us about how you came to be a glacier guide?
My outdoor guiding career started in 2013, and I’ve been doing various disciples since then. I’ve guided paddling, climbing, and skiing tours, but I’ve been mostly here in Iceland, guiding on a glacier over the past five years. It’s by far my favorite outdoor activity. I love the combination of grand natural landscapes and the opportunity to meet people from all over the world every single day.
Glacier guide hiking on Vatnajökull glacier, Iceland
What is the most memorable thing that happened to you during your guiding experience?
There are so many stories from the time I’ve been working here as a glacier guide. Honestly, I think these stories keep me coming back to work and loving it as much as I do. The range of experiences I have with all these different people is incredible. This job can get you anywhere from holding the hand of someone old enough to be your grandmother while walking across the glacier to someone proposing to their girlfriend during a tour.
Couple enjoying glacier hike on Vatnajökull glacier
I remember one story in particular. There was this newlywed couple on one of the glacier tours. The day was nice and sunny, and we were up on the glacier. Suddenly I turn around, and I notice that this couple has taken all of their clothes off. They wanted to take a wedding picture wearing red bathing suits only. So we took that picture, only from the thighs up because they still had their trousers just down to their ankles. Still, with crampons and climbing ropes on, they wore those really cool red bathing suits. It seemed ridiculous and amazing at the same time. That’s just one of the examples of what I see every day with lots of different personalities coming together in a beautiful space on a glacier.
Guided glacier hike on Vatnajökull glacier, Iceland
Have you noticed any changes in recent years?
Where we are standing here, on the lower crevasse field on Falljökull glacier overlooking the lagoon and the valley, we can see the evidence of the glacier’s retreat. Just 32 years ago, in 1990, the glacier would have stood where the end of the lagoon is now. You can also see a straight line in the moss behind the lagoon. This horizontal line is called a “trim line,” and it’s also where the glacier used to stand in 1990.
Arctic Adventures glacier guide showing how much the Vatnajökull glacier retreated
So, in a very short period of time, only 32 years, we have lost hundreds of meters of ice, and it also shrunk down significantly. If we had been here in 1990, the level of ice would have been over our heads at the moment. And it is, of course, concerning the warming of the planet. In the past 30 years, we’ve lost as much ice as we did in 100 years before that. Then, we can judge whether it is a tragic coincidence or is it happening due to the mass industrialization we adopted in our societies roughly 120 years ago.
In the past 30 years, we’ve lost as much ice as we did in 100 years before that.
- Eric Solie
Why is it important to speak about sustainability in respect of glaciers?
I feel that today, global warming and how it’s affecting the glaciers are generally missed out in public conversation. Glaciers are “freshwater banks” of the world - roughly 70 percent of all the fresh water on our planet is currently stored in ice. To survive as a species, we have to allow these glaciers to melt slowly during the summer to have plenty of drinking water and feed our lakes and rivers. Then, it has to replenish again in the winter when the snow falls to melt in the summer slowly. At the rate it is currently melting, there isn’t enough time to come back to its previous level during the winter. So, every year, the glaciers are shrinking more and more. If we melt all the ice, there might not be enough drinking water for us in the future.
Glacier guide in naturally formed ice cave at Vatnajökull glacier
We then continued exploring the incredible landscape of the glaciers, their crevasses, and ice caves. Seeing it for yourself is truly a memorable experience while in Iceland. Our glacier guides, such as Erik himself, are working hard to convey the reality and issues regarding glaciers and global warming to every person they meet. And when asked why they do it, the answer is clear - to be able to show glaciers in all their glory for future generations.