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Iceland's Melting Glaciers

How long will Iceland's majestic glaciers be around?

|August 1, 2023
Gabija is passionate about traveling and writing. In her free time, she likes to read, try out different cuisines, or embark on outdoor adventures.

Glaciers cover over 10 percent of Iceland's surface, making them an iconic part of our landscapes. But that may change very soon. Studies show that between the years 2000 and 2019, Iceland lost around 750 square kilometers (290 square miles) or seven percent of the glacier surface. This is an area larger than Singapore!

Since 1890, the size of Iceland's glaciers decreased by almost 2,200 square kilometers (849 sq mi) or 18 percent of their surface. This is almost the size of the European country of Luxembourg.

Infographic about melting glaciers

Infographic about melting glaciers

What Do These Numbers Show Us?

Scientists from the University of Dundee state that "Iceland's glaciers are melting faster than they can recover". That means that the melting rate, which usually happens during the summer, is substantially higher than recovery during the winter months. In fact, as soon as 150 years from now there could be no glaciers left in Iceland. And climate change, of course, plays a critical role in this process.


The carbon dioxide levels have reached a new record high, despite the efforts of the Global Carbon Project, governments, and organizations. Temperatures everywhere are rising, with summers reaching warmer and warmer limits. The planet as it stands is in danger of droughts, food shortages, fires, storms, and other disasters that come hand in hand with the climate crisis.

Iceland is one of the countries where people can see the tragic consequences of climate change unfolding before their very eyes. Local people are noticing a huge difference in the appearance of glaciers from decade to decade. Ironically, the same melting glaciers are also a reason for over-tourism in Iceland, as many tourists from all over the world come to witness them before they're gone.

Fishing, the second-largest economic activity on the island, strongly depends on the well-being of nature. Right now, the ocean and its whole ecosystem are in jeopardy due to climate change.


Discovered by scientists soon after 2010, the so-called “blue blob” has played a huge part in slowing the glacial melt in Iceland. The blob is a mysterious area of water in the North Atlantic Ocean which is more than 1℃ cooler than the average ocean temperature. This cooling effect has been felt in the water and on land, which is estimated to have halved the rate of mass loss after 2010. Prior to its appearance, 1995 - 2010 saw a meter of surface thickness disappearing annually.

While this has slowed the melt considerably, predictions are still that Iceland’s glaciers will continue to melt until more drastic actions are taken to tackle climate change.


Special report: How Iceland is melting

What Is Iceland Doing to Fight the Global Warming Crisis?

As the glaciers are melting, the Icelandic government is forced to take action in order to preserve their country in its natural state.

In November 2021, the new Icelandic government released a new climate target to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by the year 2030 compared to 2005. Iceland also has joined Norway and other countries in achieving the reduction of greenhouse gases by 55% by the year 2030, compared to the 1990 level.

On top of that, Iceland relies 100% on renewable energy to generate heat and electricity. This is due to the incredible Icelandic nature, filled with self-heating geothermal water. 90% of Icelandic households are heated with this water via pipelines and the remaining 10% get its heat with electricity made from renewable sources. The example of Iceland's transition to renewable energy could be an example to other countries.

Geothermal Power Station in Iceland

Alternative green energy. Geothermal power station at Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland

Iceland is a groundbreaker not only in sustainable energy. "Sustainability is one of the national curriculum’s fundamental pillars of education, with climate change instruction an integral part of their national program," as this article claims. Icelanders know that their hydro and geothermal energy reserves, as well as pristine wilderness and unique landscapes, are their biggest asset, admired by tourists from all over the world.

Melting Glaciers in Iceland

Let’s set the record straight: All of Iceland's glaciers are melting. In August 2019, a funeral was held for a disappeared glacier. Even glaciers that still exist are shrinking year on year, and glacier guides will be able to point at the shrinkage on-site at many of Iceland’s most famous glaciers.


Vatnajökull Glacier

Vatnajökull Glacier is the largest ice cap in Iceland and the second largest in Europe. Since 1989, the Vatnajökull ice cap has lost around 150-200 cubic kilometers of ice, and the area covered by ice has been reduced by more than 400 square kilometers (154 sq. mi). Want to experience the glacier for yourself? Discover our Vatnajökull Glacier hiking trip, which offers visitors a sustainable way to experience this frozen wonder.

Drive way to Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier view from the distance in Iceland

Skaftafell Glacier

Skaftafell Glacier, located in southern Iceland, has also been touched by the hand of global warming. The glacier has been gradually retreating since the late 19th century, but for the past century, this process has accelerated.

Group walking on a glacier in Iceland

Guided glacier hiking tour at Skaftafell Glacier in Iceland

Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier

The famous Jökulsárlón Lagoon is a true testimony that global warming exists. It is filled with floating icebergs that come from the melting Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier nearby. Although this glittering lagoon may look stunning from a tourist's point of view, it actually sends a very alarming message that our planet is suffering from rising temperatures.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon nearby Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier in South Iceland

Icebergs calving from the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier into the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Iceland


As a leading tour operator in Iceland, we try to contribute as much as we can to protect our playground. And we do that not only by thinking but by taking action as well.

We are constantly extending our fleet with 100% electric cars in order to lower our carbon emissions. In 2019, we purchased three electric cars, and we aim to purchase more in the future.

Electric Van in Iceland

Arctic Adventures 100% electric car

We are promoting the "Leave No Trace" policy throughout our tours by informing tourists to respect nature. Our guides ensure that the campsites we stay in during our tours are left in the same (or better) condition than they were found.

We are constantly collaborating and supporting campaigns and organizations, dedicated to responsible travel. Our most recent collaborations are with Safetravel Iceland and the "The Icelandic Pledge" campaign, which offers tourists the chance to sign the pledge to promise that they'll respect nature while traveling in Iceland.

We invite you to read more about how we take action.

Iceland is one of the few countries to sense the outcomes of climate change firsthand. Being an Arctic country with 10 percent of its surface covered by glaciers and the economy mostly relying on tourism and fishing, its survival is closely connected with the well-being of its environment. You can also contribute to a better tomorrow by choosing sustainable tours.

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