Walking on shrinking ice: Seeing the effects of climate change in Iceland

To see the effects of climate change in action, one needs to walk on ice – literally.

Melting glaciers are one of the most conspicuous signs of climate change. With Antarctica bidding a sombre farewell to a landmass almost twice the size of Luxembourg last year, it is a hard-hitting reality of the effects of climate change. To see the lifetime effects of climate change, take a look towards Iceland.

Iceland and climate change

Roughly 11 billion tons of glacial ice melts every year due to the effects of global warming in Iceland. To put it in perspective, Iceland consists of 269 glaciers of all types which represent 11% of Iceland’s surface. The other terrifying effects of Iceland’s melting glaciers is that it releases pressure from underlying rocks which can consequently lead to a higher frequency in volcanic eruptions in the future.

Iceland’s glaciers appear to be melting away right before our very eyes. The popular adventure tourist attraction, the Sólheimajökull glacier has been rapidly shrinking over the last 20 years. Located a few hours east of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, Sólheimajökull’s glacial tongue (sprouting from the Myrdalsjokull ice cap) is popular with tourists to walk across and explore its ice tunnels and “crevasses”. Sadly, the glacier is retreating at a rate of 100 metres per year – the size of two Olympic swimming pools.

Over the last few years, tour operators have been forced to move their car park after the millions of cubic metres of water lost per year has formed a large lagoon below. This has also restricted access on to the glacier.

Climate change in Iceland

Trekking the Sólheimajökull glacier

While we still can, we can live out our Frozen fantasies by exploring Sólheimajökull‘s winter wonderland with glacial equipment. With crampons, an ice axe in tow and layered up with warm clothes aplenty, I decided to be Ice Queen for the day and explore the ever-changing ice sculptures, water cauldrons, ridges, and deep crevasses of this retreating glacier.

Climate change in Iceland

Little did I know with the Sólheimajökull glacier melting so fast, tour guides are forced to adapt their tours to the fast-changing landscape constantly. Just getting on top of the glacier is not as easy as walking straight onto the ice. The fissures that can be seen forming alongside the flow of the glacier demonstrates that the glacier is thinning out as it continues to flow forward slowly. The emergence of new fractures along the surface has forced guides to frequently find new routes for people to walk along the glacier with ease – even chopping the ice if need be.

Daily maintenance

The glaciers almost require daily maintenance, as the sun is steadily melting it away and altering the landscape on a daily basis. Planned routes are essential for keeping tourists away from the dangers of loose ice and hidden crevasses.After walking along the volcanic sand that stands shoulder to shoulder with Sólheimajökull, I was finally walking on glacial ice. A walk along the glacier lasts for a few hours. Some of the dangers are not imminent, but it is imperative that you follow the guide to not to find yourself caught on the ice.

Climate change in Iceland

Once on the glacier itself, it is a remarkable (and scary) sight. Scary in the sense that you are face to face with the effects of climate change. The hard-hitting fact was that if I were to do the trek again the week after, the landscape would be different. A year later, unrecognisable.

Will the glacier even be there in 50 years time?

The time is now

Iceland’s ice sheets are still vast to have glaciers for tourists to walk across. Iceland is also looking into alternatives as to what other activities it can offer tourists – from kayaking to helicopter tours. One thing is for sure, the time is now to see Sólheimajökull as this is Iceland’s disappearing landmark.

Climate change in Iceland


Kex Hostel – Is it a hostel or hotel? Forget the typical hostel setup because if there was a five-star rating system for hostels, this is peaking beyond to a six. It has a gastropub in the middle and sea views so what is there to complain about?! Not only was it a budget-friendly option when staying in downtown Reykjavik, but it is also clean, comfortable and is certified cool. There are both private room and dorm rooms with a 10-bed dorm stay starting from KR. 4,600 (roughly €35 per person a night).

Tip: Make sure when you stay at this former biscuit factory is that you stock up at its breakfast buffet before you combat the ice cap climb.


Climb the Sólheimajökull glacier while you still can with Icelandic Mountain Guides. Tour prices start from KR. 18,900 for a full day trip tour (roughly €144) that will also take you to the Skógafoss waterfall and south coast attractions

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Icelandic Mountain Guides trekking the Sólheimajökull glacier. They were nothing short of amazing and the tour was conducted in such a fun, professional and adventurous manner. This tour was a personal highlight for me because it really impacted on how quick climate change is happening.

Have you been ice climbing in Iceland? Share below!


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