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Iceland's Melting Glaciers

How Does Climate Change Affect the Icelandic Landscape?

|March 10, 2022
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. But that can 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 four times bigger than a district of Columbia!

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. And climate change, of course, plays a vital role in this process.

How Does Global Warming Affect Icelandic Nature?

It's 2019. The carbon dioxide levels have reached a new record high, despite the efforts of the Global Carbon Project, governments, and organizations. The planet stands in danger for 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 eyes. Local people notice 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.


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% till 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

To get a record straight: All of 300 of Iceland's glaciers are melting. In August 2019, a funeral was held for a disappeared glacier. Here we will discuss briefly some of the glaciers that are still standing.


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).

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 is 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.

Floating Icebergs at Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

Icebergs calving from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier into the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Iceland

How Are We Doing Our Part as a Company?

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 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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