At a time when everything not covered by water seems to have been mapped and studied both by humanity and by orbiting satellites, crossing an uncharted Arctic island is not something that you are waiting. In 2021, however, to the surprise of an Arctic research team from the University of Copenhagen, the unexpected suddenly welcomed them off the coast of Greenland.
Measuring just 100 by 200 feet and rising about nine feet above sea level, the alleged island was covered in mud, silt and gravel. It was initially believed to be Oodaaq, a gravel bar island discovered in 1978.
“But when I posted photos of the island and its coordinates on social media,” expedition leader Morten Rasch, of the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, said in a statement. university, “a number of American island hunters went crazy and said it couldn’t be true.”
It turned out that Oodaaq was actually some 2,500 feet to the southeast. Instead, the team suddenly believed they had discovered a new landmass exposed by the shifting pack ice. They proposed to call it “Qeqertaq Avannarleq”, which is Greenlandic for “northernmost island”.
“It’s a bit like the explorers of the past, who thought they had landed in a certain place but in fact found a totally different place,” said Christiane Leister, a Swiss entrepreneur and creator of the Leister Foundation which funded the project. dispatch, to the UK Guardian.
An icy twist
While the discovery of a potential new “northernmost island” record holder was celebrated after the 2021 expedition, a follow-up visit in the summer of 2022 came to a far different conclusion. After taking detailed measurements and laser scans, the expedition determined that the island was actually a large stranded iceberg covered in a layer of mud, pebbles and soil.
“Many of these ‘northernmost islands’ were discovered through the ages and then disappeared again,” said René Forsberg, expedition member and professor of geodesy and Earth observation at the University. technique from Denmark, in a press release. “Our new studies unequivocally show that all of these reported ‘islands’ are flat icebergs. This applies to both the recently discovered ‘Qeqertaq Avannarleq’ and the first ‘Oodaaq Ø’ discovered in 1978. meters. [66 to 98 feet] thick, with a thin surface layer of earth and pebbles.”
For now, Kaffeklubben Island (known more charmingly as Coffee Cup Island) remains the undisputed northernmost point of land on Earth.
The current hypothesis for small gravel bar islands like Oodaaq is that they are deposits left by glaciers (known as moraine deposits) that were pushed to the surface by sea ice. Expedition leaders believe these small phantom islands, which can be easily submerged after storms or covered in ice, were likely created by “floating glacier tongues” about 25 to 30 miles west of Cape Morris Jesup, at the northern end of Greenland.
The stranded iceberg islands, however, with their thick layers of mud and pebbles, are still a bit of a mystery. “They can be classified as semi-stationary islands of ice, which may well have a lifespan of up to several years,” Forsberg added.
One of the benefits of knowing a bit more about this freezing phenomenon is, according to the expedition, better maps.
“The fact that these are icebergs and not small islands will solve some of the mess that small islands have caused with regard to the cartography of Greenland, and also geopolitics, i.e. the actual size of the kingdom’s territory,” Morten Rasch said. “Now you can draw a map and be sure it will last for many years.”