Höfn to Klaustur
This trip starts in Höfn and ends in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. On the way we will see clear signs of how the climate change is affecting the glaciers and landscape. We will make several stops along the way, with the 4 highlights listed below.
Where is Waldo? (Meeh)
Nature’s best thermometer, perhaps its most sensitive and unambiguous indicator of climate change, is ice… Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses the threshold from solid to liquid. It just melts.
I think every Icelander has at some point asked themselves why they live in Iceland, which is borderline habitable. Some say it is the gateway to the North Pole, where it lies in the North Atlantic, just south of the Arctic Circle. The climate is classified as cold-temperate, as the country is at the border where two main climate zones, the polar and the temperate, meet. The winters are mild and windy, while the summers are cool and moist.
During the Little Ice Age, from 1450-1900, was the coldest climate in Iceland. During that time, the glaciers in southeast Iceland expanded to an unprecedented size since historical times. This same area has shown to be one of the most affected by the climate fluctuations of the last few hundred years. The high amounts of rainfall in the south to southeast coast of the country, caused primarily by the southerly winds, control the location of the main glaciers.
Clear signs of global warming are indisputable. Researches from the middle of last century reveal unprecedented change which has not been seen for thousands of years. The atmosphere and ocean waters have warmed, sea level risen, strength of greenhouse gases increased and glaciers have receded.
Since the industrial revolution, the pH level in the sea waters has dropped by 0.1 pH point, showing visible results on its ecosystem. The acidification is caused by the rapid increase of carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities.
The effects of climate change are most extensive and noticeable in nature. Unfortunately, researches show more negative than positive impact on cultivation. In recent years, some extremes in weather conditions have been noted, such as heat waves, drought, floods, hurricanes and forest fires, which negatively affect vulnerable ecosystems and also many social systems.
If nothing is done to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it will continue to affect the ecosystems.
Here in Iceland studies show long-term temperament change of 4°C over the last ten thousand years, which is much more than the global changes at the same time. Over the last thousand years, the climate in Iceland has shifted between warmer and colder periods. The 11th and 12th centuries were warm, with the coldest period since the ice-age began in the 15th century and finished about 100 years ago.
More recently, Icelandic glaciers were largest by the end of the 19th century. Since then they have decreased by nearly 2000 km2. Major changes have been impacting the glacier drainage routes in their rivers. These changes have been on the margins, where new lagoons have formed, older lagoons disappeared, or merged with new ones.
When I was young, I was fortunate enough to be sent to relatives during the summers to live and work on their farm here in the Hornafjörður region. The first years I would travel by plane, then by bus when the bridge on Skeiðarársandur was built in 1974. The scenic landscape on the way has always been my favorite in the whole country. After settling with my family in South Iceland, I didn’t get a chance to drive this road until the summer of 2013. I have to say that I was genuinely shocked to see the changes in this ever beautiful landscape. The shoreline by the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is now almost all the way to the bridge, Hornafjarðarfljót runs mostly west of Skógey, so where there used to be endless shallow water is now dry land which has managed to heal and is being used by farmers today.
Hope you enjoy the trip on this bright and beautiful day! I know I will.