Global warming ends Norwegian summit elevation debate

Glittertind summit

Photo: Stig Storheil, NVE
Glittertind, summer 2019.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Jotunheimen of Norway is as majestic as are famed mountain ranges elsewhere. Though their summit elevations are lower, their topographic prominence, a measure of height relative to that of their lowest surrounding terrain, rivals that of the Rocky Mountains as viewed from the western edge of the Great Plains of North America.

Glittertind summit

Photo: Anders Beer Wilse
Hand-colored print, 1910.

The two loftiest summits of Jotunheimen are Galdhøpiggen (2,468 meters, or 8,100 feet summit elevation) and Glittertind (2,465 meters or 8,087 feet summit elevation). Galdhøpiggen is the highest mountain in mainland Norway and Northern Europe. Despite that topographic fact, Glittertind long had a glacier on its summit, and including the glacier, it was slightly higher than Galdhøpiggen. That slight difference once triggered debate as to whether or not a glacier should be considered part of a mountain. But over 100 years, from 1917 to 2017, global warming melted the glacier and settled the debate:

In 1910, Oslo photographer Anders Beer Wilse (1865-1949) took what became the iconic photo of the summit with its glacier.

In 1917, the elevation of the summit with its glacier was marked 2,481 meters (8,137 feet) on a quadrangle map of Jotunheimen.

In 1931, a survey corroborated the elevation marked on the quadrangle map.

In 1965, a survey measured the elevation of the summit with its glacier was 2,472 meters (8,108 feet), which indicated that the glacier was melting.

In 2017, the glacier was gone, and a survey of the bare summit set its elevation at 2,465 meters (8,087 feet)

Further reading:

Isen smeltet diskusjonen (“Ice melted the debate”) by Ole Mathismoen, Oslo, Aftenposten, print edition Aug 29, 2019, pp. 16-17; online with title “Hvilken topp er Norges høyeste? Debatten er avlyst for alltid” (“Which summit is Norway’s highest? Debate abandoned forever”), link: https://www.aftenposten.no/norge/i/AdQGEE/hvilken-topp-er-norges-hoeyeste-debatten-er-avlyst-for-alltid (in Norwegian)

“Glittertind før og nå – glimt fra NVEs fotoarkiv” (“Glittertind past and present –glimpse from NVE’s photo archive”) by Stig Storheil, Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE), Sept. 23, 2019, link: https://museumsordningen.wordpress.com/2019/09/23/glittertind-for-og-na-glimt-fra-nves-fotoarkiv/ (in Norwegian).

This article originally appeared in the March 6, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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