Greenlandic Icebergs Are Melting in London in Olafur Eliasson's Art Installation

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Thirty blocks of Greenland ice shipped to London for a short-lived art installation come equipped with an urgent environmental message. (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Several not-so-little pieces of Greenland have come to London ... and they're going fast.

The latest work of sobering brilliance from Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, "Ice Watch" is a pointedly ephemeral public art installation centered around 30 free-floating icebergs — yep, they're the real deal — that have been fished from Nuup Kangerlua fjord and then hauled in oversized refrigerated containers to the heart of the British capital.

Per the "Ice Watch" website, removing 30 massive frozen chunks of compressed snow didn't impact the overall quantity of ice in Greenland, where 10,000 similarly sized blocks are shed every second.

Twenty-four of the land-bound icebergs — each initially weighing 1.5 and 6 metric tons — are now situated along the River Thames opposite the Tate Modern. The remaining six can be found outside Bloomberg's shiny new London headquarters. (Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable arm of the privately owned financial tech and media company, provided financial support for the installation.)

Melting ice at Bloomberg's London HQ
A slippery sidewalk and a planet in peril: A hunk of Greenlandic ice melts outside Bloomberg's London offices. (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

The icebergs have been slowly melting in these two locales since Dec. 11 and will remain there until ... well, that all depends on local weather conditions.

If Britain happens to get a holiday-time arctic blast in the coming days, the frigid blocks could very well stick around longer than anticipated. If temps soar, their transformation into displaced Greenlandic puddles will be accelerated. (At the rate they've been thawing out since arriving in London, it's been estimated they'll last until Dec. 21.)

Previously staged on a much smaller scale in Copenhagen in 2014 and in Paris in 2015, "Ice Watch" is the latest artistic endeavor from Eliasson to provide commentary on pressing environmental and social themes.

Coinciding with the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) that recently concluded in Katowice, Poland, it's safe to say that the messaging behind "Ice Watch" — a work that transports actual melting icebergs to high-visibility areas in one of the world's most prominent cities — isn't subtle in its visual messaging. The urgency is the point.

a dog licks a melting iceberg in London
The dogs of London have taken special interest in the third and largest iteration of Olafur Eliasson's 'Ice Watch.'. (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

"Since 2015, the melting of ice in Greenland has raised global sea level by 2.5 mm. Since the discovery of the greenhouse effect in 1896, global temperatures have increased more than one degree Celsius. Earth is changing at an ever-increasing speed," explains Minik Rosing, a Greenlandic geologist who worked alongside Eliasson in conceiving and executing "Ice Watch," in a press statement.

"The foundation of human civilization withers away while Greenland melts. Everyone can observe it, most can understand it, and nobody can avoid it. Science and technology have made it possible for us to destabilize Earth's climate, but now that we understand the mechanisms behind these changes, we have the power to prevent them from growing."

Melting hunks of ice outside the Tate Modern, London
The environmental impact of transport-heavy 'Ice Watch' is monitored by London-based nonprofit, Julie's Bicycle. (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

A call for action in the heart of London

For the duration of "Ice Watch," the public is invited to interact with the icebergs (save, of course, from rolling in with a couple gallons of bubble gum-flavored shaved ice syrup). They can touch, smell and even taste the icebergs if so inclined. Mostly, however, the aim of the installation is for the public to think about the icebergs and the larger repercussions of a rapidly changing climate.

"By enabling people to experience and actually touch the blocks of ice in this project, I hope we will connect people to their surroundings in a deeper way and inspire radical change," says Eliasson of his first major public work staged in London. "We must recognise that together we have the power to take individual actions and to push for systemic change. Let's transform climate knowledge into climate action."

For those who don't have the opportunity to engage in-person with the transplanted icebergs, the engaging and ultra-informative Ice Watch website includes a real-time ice melt data tool that tracks the original mass and current mass of the ice, the melting rate and the ambient temperature.

Says Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire business magnate and former New York City mayor whose newest title — and he has many — is UN Special Envoy for Climate Action: "Ice Watch vividly captures the urgency of tackling climate change. We hope Olafur Eliasson's work of art will inspire bolder and more ambitious actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by governments, businesses, and communities."

Woman interacting with 'Ice Watch' in London
Says Eliasson: 'The blocks of glacial ice await your arrival. Put your hand on the ice, listen to it, smell it, look at it – and witness the ecological changes our world is undergoing.'. (Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

It's worth noting that Bloomberg Philanthropies is also a major supporter of Little Sun, a Berlin-headquartered nonprofit social business co-founded by Eliasson that distributes solar-powered LED lighting to rural communities throughout Africa via a buy-one-give-one model. For every portable solar lamp sold through Little Sun's retail arm, a unit is delivered to an electricity-less community at a locally affordable price. (Although currently a touch late for holiday shopping, the cheery-looking lamps make for a most excellent gift and educational tool for kids.)

Back in London, a major retrospective of Eliasson's impactful artistic output — stateside, he's best known for 2008's "The New York City Waterfalls" — is set to launch at the Tate Modern in July 2019 with a focus on his climate-themed work per the Guardian.