“Glaciers in Iceland are retreating, and have been since about 1985,” says Throstur Thorsteinsson, an environmental scientist with the University of Iceland’s Institute of Earth Sciences, the premier research organization studying glacial processes and climate change in Iceland. Sólheimajökull, the setting of ELLE’s photo shoot—a nearly seven-mile-long outlet glacier that flows from the south part of Mýrdalsjökull—is particularly vulnerable to a warming climate due to its location and shape. Thorsteinsson says that scientific models predict the country’s characteristic glaciers will disappear within one to two centuries, but even that estimate is likely too conservative. In Iceland, where snow and ice have always been part of the rugged, elemental landscape, climate change is not a polarizing subject—a 2017 poll shows that 97 percent of the population believes that humans are responsible for rising global temperatures. Melting glaciers, unusual weather events, and some of the hottest temperatures on record have pushed the issue to the forefront of Icelanders’ consciousness. “Pretty much everyone believes” climate change is happening, Thorsteinsson says.
Iceland is a world leader when it comes to embracing renewable energy sources such as geothermal energy and hydropower, but it can’t do it alone. Here on the glacier, the evidence is clear that Sólheimajökull is shrinking fast: A combination of stream erosion and ice melt is causing the glacier to retreat at the same time it is thinning. Last year’s measurements showed that it had retreated about 500 feet since the previous year—adding up to a total loss of nearly a mile since 1930, when scientists began monitoring the glacier. Accelerating glacial melt means drastic changes for our planet as a whole, including a worldwide rise in sea level, which threatens life along the coasts for over a hundred million people.
Hair by Mustafa Yanaz for Matrix; makeup by Ciara O’Shea for Kevyn Aucoin Beauty;
model: Estella Boersma at Elite; produced by Pétur Sigurõsson at Truenorth. Inspired
by Iceland is the project of Visit Iceland, the official destination marketing office for Iceland, which aims to attract responsible tourism to Iceland and to support the promotion of Icelandic culture abroad.