There’s a new northernmost island, and it was discovered quite by accident in the icy waters above Greenland last month. The little strip of land has no vegetation, but researchers are hoping to find life in the samples they collected there.
A scientific expedition led by Morten Rasch, a geomorphologist at the University of Copenhagen, was in the area doing sampling when they spotted the small island, which they estimate measures roughly 165 feet wide (50 meters) and 260 feet (80 meters) long. Sitting in the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland, this new island is even farther north than the previous record-holder, a small strip of land called Oodaaq, Reuters reports.
According to Rasch, such islands “come and go” and can form when ice collides with the sea bottom.
“They develop by ice piling up along the shore during storms,” he wrote in an email. “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.”
As to why no one had documented the island before, Rasch noted that “the area is pretty remote—in fact, we were the only expedition this summer.”
While no plants or animals were visible on the island, the researchers took samples and believe they will find bacteria and other microscopic life.
“We wanted to take samples from the island, because the environment out there is very unusual (tough),” Rasch said. “We therefore wanted to describe what kind of bacteria and other microorganisms that could live there.”
The expedition was in the area conducting research mainly on climate change, but Rasch explained that the appearance of this island likely has no connection to global warming. “We saw many other effects of climate change during the expedition, but the island was not one of them,” he said.
The Arctic, though, is undergoing major shifts due to rising carbon pollution. That includes the rapid disappearance of sea ice, explosive wildfires, temperatures increasing at nearly three times the rate of the rest of the globe, and permafrost thawing in ways that are wreaking havoc with infrastructure. Land ice is also disappearing, including a recent major meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet following unprecedented rains earlier this month.