A University of Dundee researcher has followed in the footsteps of his father to reveal a generation of dramatic change to Iceland’s glaciers.
More than three decades on, Dr Kieran Baxter has replicated images taken by his father, celebrated Scottish landscape photographer Colin Baxter, to demonstrate the devastating effects of climate change.
The pair worked together to replicate original images, taken by Colin on a family holiday in 1989, to show the retreat of several outlet glaciers of the Vatnajökull ice cap – Fláajökull, Heinabergsjökull, Hoffellsjokull, Hólarjökull, and Skaftafellsjökull – in the south east of the country.
Now they hope these new images can highlight the impact of climate change on some of the planet’s most fragile and beautiful landscapes
“While our work is quite different in some ways, here you can say I am quite literally following in my dad’s footsteps,” said Kieran, a lecturer in communication design at the university’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design.
“I grew up visiting these amazing places and inherited an understanding of the quiet power of these landscapes.
“It is personally devastating to see them change so drastically in the last few decades in a way that is not immediately obvious from a single visit.
“On surface appearances the extent of the climate crisis often remains largely invisible, but here we can clearly see the gravity of the situation that is affecting the entire globe.”
Dramatic loss of ice
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 also published dramatic aerial photographs showing the disappearance of some of Iceland’s largest glaciers.
In the three decades that have elapsed since 1989, Vatnajökull ice cap, the largest glacier in Europe, has lost 150–200 km³ of ice.
Its area has also been reduced by more than 400 km² according to the Icelandic Meteorological Office.
Kieran said: “To replicate the photographs we have to locate features in the foreground and background and then use trial and error to find the right location on the ground.
“It can take some time to correctly align the old and new photographs but in the end we can usually find the camera position to within a few metres of the original location.
“I was too young to remember the 1989 trip, but I can picture our later visits to Iceland as a family in the 1990s.
“It is a bittersweet experience to relive those memories and witness the glacial landscapes that we visited that have now changed so radically.”
Colin added: “Revisiting my pictures of Iceland in 1989 of course brought back many good memories of being there for the first time with our very young children.
“I remember being in absolute awe of the stunning natural landscape and overwhelmed by the beauty of the glaciers tumbling down from the icecap up there in the distance.
“Now in 2020 it is equally overwhelming, and extremely alarming, to see the disappearance of all that ice after only 30 years. We all have to take responsibility for that, myself included.
“We certainly owe that to the families of the future. I hope they can continue to enjoy these inspirational landscapes as we have done in previous decades.”