Press Release

New film charts “unprecedented” decline of Iceland’s glaciers

Published on 12 March 2021

The dramatic effects of climate change on Iceland’s glaciers have been highlighted as a part of a new documentary produced by a University of Dundee expert.

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Photograph of a drone in flight above Skálafellsjökull glacier

Drone in flight above Skálafellsjökull glacier

After Ice features images from the 1940s and 1980s that were painstakingly reconstructed in 3D and overlaid with current day drone footage to show how greenhouse gas emissions are causing glaciers to retreat by tens and sometimes hundreds of metres every year.

Dr Kieran Baxter, a lecturer in Communication Design at the University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, teamed up with counterparts at the University of Iceland for the four-year project, which shows the alarming rate at which glaciers in the country’s Hornafjörður region are disappearing.

The short film was made using digital photogrammetry methods to create 3D reconstructions of historic aerial photos, sourced from the archives of the National Land Survey of Iceland. Drones were then used to film the same landscapes in the current day, revealing the forlorn state of the glaciers.

Dr Baxter said that looking back in time provides a glimpse of how bleak the future is for these remarkable natural phenomena.

“I have been studying Iceland’s glaciers for several years now and the rate of their decline never fails to shock me,” he said. “With the After Ice project we hope that these new images can make visible the impact that greenhouse gas emissions are having on the natural world.

“These glaciers have grown and shrunk in the past but the anthropogenically accelerated melt that we are witnessing today is unprecedented. In Iceland, nature has been all-powerful for thousands of years but now, for the first time, we are seeing significant climate change impacts driven by human activity.  We can easily lose sight of the scale of these changes which is why we need visual evidence to demonstrate just how destructive global warming can be and why we urgently need to act to preserve our planet for generations to come.”

Dr Baxter has established himself as a leading expert in the visual communication of glacial retreat across Europe. As well as documenting how a century of global warming has caused vast levels of ice loss around Mont Blanc, he has published dramatic aerial photographs showing the disappearance of some of Iceland’s largest glaciers, working again in conjunction the University of Iceland and the National Land Survey of Iceland.

Dr Thorvardur Arnason, from the University of Iceland, said, “It has been hugely rewarding to collaborate with Dr. Baxter on After Ice and related projects. His novel, and highly innovative, approach to the visualisation of glacier downwasting over fairly long time periods is a milestone in climate crisis communication.

“I believe that we are now just seeing the ‘tip of the iceberg‘ with regard to the potential application of visualisation methods such as these to shed light on the reality of the climate crisis.“

Efforts to address climate change will ramp up this year as Glasgow prepares to host COP 26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference. The summit has taken on increased significance in recent weeks after US President Joe Biden returned one of the world’s leading polluters to the terms of the Paris Climate Accord, while the country’s climate envoy, John Kerry, described the event as “the last best chance” to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Glaciologist Dr M. Jackson, who wrote and narrated After Ice, said, “We have the ability to slow glacier change and live on a planet with ice. But only if we act now to decrease global emissions. I focus a great deal of my time today to advocacy and storytelling, to empowering people to fight for change so we can live on a healthy and glaciated planet.

“Climatic changes impact all aspects of our lived condition, of being human on this planet. If we want to have a healthy, liveable future, we need to research climatic changes and ways forward.”

Dr Baxter added, “We are living in unprecedented times and it has never been more important to listen to the experts who have the unenviable task of mapping future pathways through the climate crisis. As communicators we must make their knowledge visible because a collective effort is needed across all areas of knowledge and expertise if we are to move toward solutions.”

After Ice can be viewed online at climatevis.com/after-ice.

Notes to editors

The short film After Ice can be embedded from this Vimeo page.

Images and video clips from the project can be downloaded from this press pack folder. Visual material can be shared freely but must be credited according to the instructions below.

Drone flying in the region was carried out with special permission from Vatnajökull National park and the Icelandic Transport Authority.

Image/video clip credits:

All comparison images and videos including historical and current day imagery must be credited: ‘National Land Survey of Iceland/Dr Kieran Baxter, University of Dundee’

Behind-the-scenes photographs must be credited: ‘Dr Thorvardur Arnason, University of Iceland’; ‘Dr Kieran Baxter, University of Dundee’ or ‘Dr Alice Watterson, University of Dundee’ as specified in the image filenames.

Example 1980s survey photographs must be credited: ‘National Land Survey of Iceland’

Enquiries

Jonathan Watson

Media Relations Officer

+44 (0)1382 381489

j.s.watson@dundee.ac.uk