World’s Northernmost Island Uncovered by Shifting Arctic Sea Ice

Image: Christine Zenino from Chicago, US via Wikimedia Commons

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Scientists have discovered the world’s northernmost island in the Arctic Ocean, north of Greenland. The island, just 30 meters across, was revealed by shifting sea ice and is comprised of seabed mud and sediment left behind by moving glaciers. Although the scientists say that climate change may not have played a direct role in the emergence of this island, its discovery highlights the rapidly changing landscape of the Arctic and a looming international competition over fishing rights and shipping routes in quickly warming waters.

Why This Matters: The Arctic is warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, and Greenland’s ice sheet is no exception. Already, Greenland’s melting ice sheets have contributed to 14mm of global sea-level rise and, if melted completely, could raise global sea levels by 23 feet. That melting may also reveal massive untapped stores of oil and natural gas, but Greenland has committed to ending all oil exploration in favor of a green energy economy. Still, the continuously changing landscape of the Arctic highlights the need for climate action and for every nation to set ambitious goals as the COP26 summit in Glasgow quickly approaches.

Arctic Pioneers

Everybody was happy that we found what we thought was Oodaaq island,” said Swiss entrepreneur Christiane Leister, creator of the Leister Foundation, which financed the expedition. Only after leaving the island did the team realize they had landed on an island 780 meters northwest of Oodaaq island. “It’s a bit like explorers in the past, who thought they’d landed in a certain place but actually found a totally different place.” The team has recommended a new name for the island: “Qeqertaq Avannarleq,” meaning “the northernmost island” in Greenlandic.

Although the expedition found the island by mistake, trips seeking northern islands have occurred for decades. Arctic veteran Dennis Schmitt discovered a similar island near the newly discovered one in 2007. Rene Forsberg, professor and head of geodynamics at Denmark’s National Space Institute, was on the expedition to discover Oodaaq Island in 1978. After decades in Arctic exploration, Forsberg says he has seen climate change in the region first hand, noting that summer sea ice around Oodaaq Island was four meters thick in 1978. Now, it’s only two to three meters thick.

Forsberg says that although the new island fits the official criteria of one, “these small islands come and go.” Still, one thing is sure: without swift action to halt rapid temperature rise and protect the arctic, climate change is here to stay.

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