Scientists Discover What May Be the World’s Northernmost Island

Researchers thought they had set foot on a known island, but island hunters pointed out that reported coordinates revealed a special find

An image of ice and snow on a Island located in northern Greenland.
The yet-to-be-named island was likely formed when ice bulldozed seabed mud up above the water's surface during a storm. Morten Rasch

While on an expedition to collect samples from northern Greenland, a team of Arctic researchers from Denmark fortuitously ended up on an uncharted island they say is the northernmost island in the world, the Associated Press reports. The tiny island off the coast of Greeland is a bit smaller than an American football field at 98 feet wide by 197 feet wide, and rises 10 to 13 feet above sea level, according to a statement.

"It was not our intention to discover a new island," Morten Rasch, a geomorphologist and expedition leader, told Reuters. "We just went there to collect samples."

At first, the expedition team thought they had reached Oodaaq, an island consisting of mostly gravel and silt, that was discovered in 1978 by a Danish survey team. Instead, the researchers were 2,560 feet north of Oodaaq, reports the Agence France-Presse. Only after Rasch shared photos of the island and its coordinates to social media did the team realize they were not on Oodaaq. Island hunters, or individuals who seek out unknown islands as a hobby, commented on Rasch's posts suggesting that based on the coordinates, they were not on Oodaaq, per a statement.

Upon seeing the comments, Rasch contacted an expert at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) to look at the coordinates, reports Yasemin Saplakoglu for Live Science.

Scientists stumble upon 'world's northernmost island'

"Together with DTU, we realized that my GPS had erred, leading us to believe that we were on Oodaaq. In fact, we had just discovered a new island further north, a discovery that ever so slightly expands the Kingdom," explained Rasch in a statement. Oodaaq was previously considered the northernmost island on the planet. Reuters reports that the scientists suggested naming the new island "Qeqertaq Avannarleq," which means "the northernmost island" in Greenlandic.

The yet-to-be-named island consists of small mounds of seabed mud and morainea mixture of soils and rocks left behind by glaciers. Islands such as this form when ice collides with the sea bottom, reports the AP.

"They develop by ice piling up along the shore during storms," Rasch told Gizmodo's, Rose Pastore. "Some of this ice might hit the sea-bottom and bulldoze it until it reaches the sea surface and beyond. This is probably a process that appears once in a while in the region."

Rene Forsberg, a geodynamics expert at Denmark's National Space Institute who was not part of this recent expedition, said to Reuters that the new island meets the criteria of an island and it's the world's northernmost territory, but it most likely would not change Denmark's territorial claim. "These small islands come and go," he commented to Reuters.

No plants or animals were seen on the island, but researchers took soil samples and suspect they may find bacteria or other microscopic life in them, Gizmodo reports. While the northernmost island still exists, the Arctic researchers don't expect it to stick around for long and suggest it be categorized as a short-lived islet. "No one knows how long it will remain. In principle, it could disappear as soon as a powerful new storm hits," Rasch said in a statement.

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