Sounds of a Melting Glacier

Katie Paterson’s sound of Vatnajokull Glacier melting draws attention to climate change through the accelerated melting of glaciers. It specifically points to the overall warming of cooler climates, impacting the systems life depends on. Glaciers specifically impact how erosion occurs, how water is release in large watersheds in late summer and store lots of water. The reduction in the amount of glacial area impacts the rising sea levels which are impacting low lying places throughout the world.

Paterson’s work encourages and brings attention to the severity and speed at which glaciers are melting, rather than aesthetic. Although the sound is satisfying to listen to, that sound may only become more pronounced as the climate continues to change at the rate it is. Using the work, the discussion of how to address the changing climate and rising sea levels as a result comes up as a result of the role glaciers play in the global freshwater system. The sounds of the melting glacier remind me of the glacier that is closest to me. The glacier on Mt. Hood is the smallest it has ever been (October 2020) and losing it would impact the local areas in many ways. Its loss can result in an economic impact for the people that use the glacier in the summer months as a livelihood, as Timberline is the only ski area in North America that is open year-round, drawing professional skiers, and others from around the globe, and in turn contributing to the local economy. Another result is that it would impact the local watershed negatively, impacting salmon and steelhead runs, which are also economic drivers in the area. The forest below the glacier, in the water shed it feeds would also be impacted by little water coming from the glacier in late summer, potentially contributing to more intense wildfires.

The work does not call for action, as partial melting is a normal process for glaciers in summer months, but the conversation surrounding the sound leads to a call for action. As for the materials required for the piece, it requires electronics, most likely produced in China and energy to keep it up on servers so people have access to it. The major environmental impacts are just the shipping for the microphone and getting it to Iceland and the glacier, so it is not zero by any means. However, it creates a conversation that is invaluable for changing perspectives and education about glaciers and the role they play in the earth’s ecosystem.

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