Greenland expedition discovers the “world’s smallest island”


Scientists last month set foot on a tiny island off the coast of Greenland that they said is the northernmost point of land in the world and was uncovered by shifting ice.

The discovery comes at a time of a looming battle between Arctic nations – the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway – for control of the North Pole, some 700 km to the north, and the surrounding seabed, fishing rights and shipping lanes exposed by melting ice due to climate change.

“It was not our intention to discover a new island,” according to polar explorer and head of the Arctic research station in Greenland, Morten Rasch. “We just went there to collect samples.”

At first, the scientists thought they had reached Oodaaq, an island discovered by a Danish survey team in 1978. Only later, when they checked the exact location, did they realize they had visited another island 780 meters to the northwest.

“Everyone was delighted to have found what we thought was the island of Oodaaq,” said Swiss businesswoman Christiane Leister, creator of the Leister Foundation that funded the expedition.

“It’s a bit like the explorers of the past, who thought they had landed in a certain place but actually found a totally different place.”

The small island, about 30 meters in diameter with a peak of about three meters, is made up of seafloor mud and moraine – soil and rock left behind by moving glaciers. The team said it would recommend calling it “Qeqertaq Avannarleq,” which means “the northernmost island” in Greenlandic.

Several U.S. expeditions in the area have searched for the world’s northernmost island in recent decades. In 2007, Arctic veteran Dennis Schmitt discovered a similar island nearby.

Although it was exposed by the shifting ice sheet, scientists said the island’s appearance now is not a direct consequence of global warming, which has been reducing Greenland’s ice cover.

René Forsberg, professor and head of geodynamics at Denmark’s National Space Institute, said the area north of Greenland has some of the thickest polar sea ice, although he added that it is now 2 to 3 meters thick in summer, compared with 4 meters when he first visited as part of the expedition that discovered Oodaaq in 1978.

Any hope of expanding territorial claims in the Arctic depends on whether it is in fact an island or a shoal that may disappear again. An island has to remain above sea level at high tide.

“It meets the criteria of an island,” Forsberg said. “It is currently the northernmost land in the world.”

But Forsberg, an adviser to the Danish government, said it was unlikely to change Denmark’s territorial claim north of Greenland. “These small islands come and go,” he said.

Source Reuters gCaptain

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