"We know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it."
On Sunday researchers and dignitaries gathered for a remarkable funeral, on top a mountain in west Iceland.

The elegy was inscribed on a plaque in memoriam for the icy victim, and presented in a somber ceremony overseen by the Icelandic prime mister. 700 years might sound like a good innings, but for a glacier the Okjökull flow's departure was untimely.

With unprecedented warming and an annual average temperature fare above average, the extinct ice flow is thought to be the first glacier to disappear.

"The symbolic death of a glacier is a warning to us, and we need action," said former Irish President Mary Robinson, speaking to the Associated Press.

Advertisement
Funeral procession: Mourners crossed kilometres once covered by the glacier. Photo /AP
Funeral procession: Mourners crossed kilometres once covered by the glacier. Photo /AP

In historic satellite imagery from 1986 an ice field can be seen, in places up to 50 metres thick. But today the mountain outside of Reykjavik is almost bare.

Moving at a predictably glacial pace, the ice flow was declared "dead" in 2014 and has finally receded to a point of no return. However, the slow extinction is building momentum with hundreds more at risk.

It is predicted to be the first of many.

Around 10 per cent of Iceland is covered by perennial ice sheets. However, with a warming average climate this covering of ice is melting, and this may have drastic consequences for more than the icy mountain tops of the sub arctic. Climate scientists predict that the reduction in surface ice could speed up dramatic weather events, due to glaciers' function of reflecting atmospheric heat and storing vast quantities of water in ice sheets.

According to the US Geological Survey around 70% of the earth's fresh water is held in glaciers.
The final death knell on the mountain of Ok is a sign that all is not okay, where members of the public attended the world's first funeral for a glacier.

They laid a plaque inscribed with a message in both English and Icelandic.

"In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and know what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it."

Not OK: The glacier on mount Ok pictured in 1986, left, and in terminal condition this year. Photo / AP, Nasa
Not OK: The glacier on mount Ok pictured in 1986, left, and in terminal condition this year. Photo / AP, Nasa

The dedication, written by author Andri Snaer Magnason includes a note of the current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide: about 415 parts per million, worldwide.
"You think in a different time scale when you're writing in copper rather than in paper," Magnason told the BBC from Iceland. "You start to think that someone actually is coming there in 300 years reading it.

Advertisement

"This is a big symbolic moment," he said. "Climate change doesn't have a beginning or end and I think the philosophy behind this plaque is to place this warning sign to remind ourselves that historical events are happening, and we should not normalise them. We should put our feet down and say, okay, this is gone, this is significant.

Elsewhere, the adjacent Atlantic island of Greenland recorded a "major melting event" losing billions of tons of ice from the ice shelf.

In the southern hemisphere, New Zealand's glaciers have been puzzling climate scientists. While glaciers around the world are receding, over the past 40 years Kiwi ice fields appear to have been growing.

No quick fix: The Ok Glacier was given the terminal diagnosis five years ago. Photo / AP
No quick fix: The Ok Glacier was given the terminal diagnosis five years ago. Photo / AP

Between 1983 and 2008, 58 glaciers were found to be advancing down the valleys at a greater rate.

However researchers from the Victoria University of Wellington said this was not a sign of the glaciers rallying against climate change, but a sign but an effect of a warmer climate with increased rainfall.

Sheet ice in Iceland is receeding at a ever faster rate. Photo / AP
Sheet ice in Iceland is receeding at a ever faster rate. Photo / AP

These runaway ice flows may be a sign of the end.

Over the last fifty years the southern alps have lost a third of its ice mass, and the glaciers stretch out and thin at altitude.

It may only be a matter of time before Aotearoa has its own 'funeral' for an icy victim of climate change.