Kebnekaise has long reigned as Sweden’s highest peak, though at a relatively modest 6,952 feet above sea level. Normally, once the highest peak in a country, always the highest peak, but Kebnekaise has been knocked from its perch. The culprit—global warming, which has eroded the glaciated peak substantially in recent years.
Kebnekaise is a double-peaked mountain, with the southern peak historically standing slightly higher than the rocky, ice-free northern peak. So, okay, technically, Kebnekaise still boasts the highest point in Sweden, it’s just that that point was only the second-highest until very recently. Now, the northern peak takes the crown.
Last year, Swedish geographers suspected this flipping of peak status was nearing, but they didn’t expect it to happen so soon. That is until this summer’s heat wave boiled most of Europe, shrinking glaciers across the continent. But this recent dip in Kebnekaise’s glacial peak is just a blip in an alarming decades-long shortening. Over the past 50 years, Kebnekaise’s southern peak has dropped 24 meters as its ice has melted away. It is now four feet shorter than the rocky northern peak.
“What’s happening a Kebnekaise’s southern peak is representative for all the glaciers in Scandinavia right now,” said Gunhild Ninis Rosqvist, a Stockholm University geography professor. “It’s a symbol for glacier melt. They’re all melting very rapidly.”
It’s possible that winter snows will reestablish the southern peak as the most prominent in Sweden once again, but, barring a serious shift in temperature and climate patterns, it will likely drop to second fiddle again next summer when those snows too melt.
“I just had a colleague who hasn’t been here for 10 years and he was in shock,” said Ninis Rosqvist. “The rate is faster than I anticipated. Maybe we don’t need so many symbols because we know that it’s getting warmer. But maybe this will help people realize that we need to do something about it.”