As Iceland mourns a departed glacier – Five glaciers to visit before they disappear

As Iceland mourns a departed glacier – Five glaciers to visit before they disappear

Iceland has marked the passing of its first glacier lost to climate change with an official ceremony, and a bronze plaque warning of the damage to come.

Around 100 people, including Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, gathered at what used to be the Okjokull Glacier to memorialise the formerly 16 square kilometre ice cap – now reduced to scattered remnants of ‘dead ice’.

The world’s glaciers are in dire straights – here are five of best you should know about before they disappear…

1. Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

The action star of the glacier world, Perito Moreno is about as dynamic as glaciers get. A rapidly advancing ice field ending in a 5km wide cliff face of cerulean blue, Perito Moreno sheds building-sized chunks on a daily basis, which hit the ocean with a thud that reverberates for miles around.

Watch the carnage unfold from nearby viewing platforms, hike the shelf with poles and crampons, or hop in a kayak and paddle in parallel.

The word glacial literally means slow-moving. We can only assume that whoever decides these things had never visited Perito Moreno.

2. Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland

(iStock/PA)
(iStock/PA)

One of the largest glaciers in Europe, covering a tasty 8% of the Icelandic land mass, and in places over a kilometre deep, Vatnajökull is very, very large.

With its size comes variety – the surrounding national park hosts a plethora of glacial rivers, staggeringly picturesque landscapes, and Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon, home to Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall.

A go-to for barren, frost-bitten beauty, the park has provided filming locations for James Bond, Lara Croft, Batman, and Game of Thrones. For visitors, the bucket list item is the ice caves – angular tunnels of shimmering azure that can be toured during the winter months.

3. Jostedalsbreen, Norway

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Mainland Europe’s largest ice cap, this classic of the genre dominates nearly 500 square kilometres of mountain, its 50-odd arms spreading across the landscape like a many-headed snake.

Screensaver site Briksdalsbreen attracts the most visitors – approximately 300,000 a year – but with so many offshoots, it shouldn’t be difficult to get a patch of glacier to yourself.

Jostedalsbreen’s colossal bulk had long bucked the glacial trend, defiantly advancing while most of the world’s glaciers beat a hasty retreat. Now, even this icy giant has entered a state of speedy remission.

4. Athabasca Glacier, Canada

(iStock/PA)
(iStock/PA)

Not as dramatic, perhaps, as Perito Moreno, nor quite as breathtakingly beautiful as Vatnajökull, but Athabasca Glacier in the Canadian Rockies comes up trumps for accessibility.

The 6km ice field is a manageable walk from the road, though we recommend hopping on a designated snow coach – all-terrain, high-chassis vehicles that look suspiciously like space buggies.

The glacier itself is eminently walkable, but do not attempt to go it alone, as the many hidden crevasses have claimed several lives. Athabasca Glacier Icewalks have guided guests across the glacier for 35 years, and will give you the required kit and knowledge to see you safely through the snow.

5. Franz Josef & Fox Glaciers, New Zealand

(iStock/PA)
(iStock/PA)

Descending from these magnificent ice fields is like entering the Lost World. Still frozen at around 900 ft, the glaciers immediately give way to lush, sub-tropical rainforest populated by parrots and kiwi birds.

Best seen by helicopter, these steep glaciers plummet steeply into the verdant valley below, while intrepid hikers can explore ice-covered caverns and enjoy panoramic views across the Southern Alps.

The glaciers are beautiful, certainly, but most of all they’re disconcertingly surreal.

- Press Association

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