Polar researchers from Denmark and Switzerland surprisingly discovered a small island during an expedition in North Greenland in July, which is now considered the northernmost island on Earth. The researchers had actually come to North Greenland to collect scientific samples and download data from existing monitoring stations, including one on the previously assumed northernmost island of Oodaaq. Only later did they realize that the coordinates determined on site did not match the location of Oodaaq.
In reality, the helicopter landed the researchers on an island 780 meters north of Oodaaq, according to the University of Copenhagen. The small islet, measuring 30 by 60 meters, was apparently exposed by the shifting of pack ice. This discovery increases the territory of Greenland and the Kingdom of Denmark, although insignificantly. According to Reuters, the team proposed to name the island “Qeqertaq Avannarleq”, which means “Northernmost Island” in Greenlandic.
“We were convinced that the island we were standing on was Oodaaq, which until then was registered as the world’s northernmost island. But when I posted photos of the island and its coordinates on social media, a number of American island hunters went crazy and said that it couldn’t be true,” explains expedition leader Morten Rasch from the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at the University of Copenhagen and head of Greenland’s Arctic Station research facility.
‘Island hunters’ are adventurers who have made it their hobby to discover unknown islands. Following their comments on social media, Rasch and his colleagues contacted an expert at the Technical University of Denmark. “Together with DTU, we were informed that there had been a error on my GPS which had led us to believe that we were standing on Oodaaq Island. In reality, we had discovered a new island further north, a discovery that just slightly expands the kingdom,” Rasch said. The helicopter’s GPS confirmed this.
“Everybody was happy that we found what we thought was Oodaaq island”, Swiss entrepreneur Christiane Leister, founder of the Leister Foundation that financed the expedition, told Reuters. “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.”
According to Rasch, the island consists of seabed mud and moraine – rock and soil left behind by glaciers – and has a maximum height of about three meters above sea level. Because it is not completely washed over at high tide, it meets all the criteria of an island, according to Rene Forsberg, professor and head of the Department of Geodynamics at Denmark’s National Space Institute. How long it will last, however, cannot be predicted. The researchers suspect that it is a ‘short-lived’ island that could disappear with the next strong storm. According to the researchers, the shifting of the pack ice is not directly related to climate change.
The discovery of new islands so close to the North Pole could make a difference in the Arctic nations’ fight for control of the North Pole, the seabed, fishing rights and shipping routes exposed by receding sea ice due to climate change. Forsberg, however, does not believe the discovery will change Denmark’s territorial claims. “These small islands come and go,” he says.
Julia Hager, PolarJournal