While the seventh episode of Art of Interference on “Ice” (S1E7) focuses on the use of the medium of ice as an archive for storing materials for future generations, ice—and glaciers in particular—are also being engaged as sites for mourning loss as an ongoing feature of a warming planet. Since 2019, funerals have been held for glaciers around the world that have or are in the process of melting due to rising global temperatures, with public ceremonies taking place in Iceland (2019), Switzerland (2019, 2021), Oregon (2020), and Mexico (2021). A glacier is considered “dead” when the ice is no longer thick enough to flow. Funerals serve as a ritual for grieving ecological loss and processing environmental guilt. Their corresponding media coverage helps to raise awareness and spur environmental action.
The first glacier funeral took place at Okjökull in Iceland in 2019. Organized by anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, the funeral included a hike to the dead glacier—attended by hundreds of people—as well as a ceremony with speeches, readings, and the placement of a memorial plaque at the site. The memorial is titled “A letter to the future,” which eerily echoes the name of Houston’s time capsule project. In this context, the letter is the memorial itself and the absence to which it attests. The plaque’s text, written by Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason, reads:
Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier.
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 what needs to be done.
Only you know if we did it.
For more on glacier death and funerals, see: