Researchers have found five new islands in the frosty waters off the north coast of Russia. While new discoveries are typically something to celebrate, you should perhaps hold off the champagne for now – the islands were only revealed thanks to accelerated glacial melting from climate change.
The presence of new islands in the area was first suggested by a college student studying satellite images while she was writing her final paper in late 2016. The presence of at least five new islands has been confirmed this week by the Russian Ministry of Defense following a recent expedition by the Russian Navy research vessel Vizir.
“A topographic survey has been conducted on the new islands,” the military said in a statement. “They’ve been described in detail and photographed.”
The new islands, ranging in size from 900 to 54,500 square meters (9,600-586,600 square feet), can be found near Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land in the Arctic Ocean, two archipelagos of hundreds of islands solely inhabited by military personnel.
All of the islands were previously engulfed in ice by the Nansen glacier, also known as the Vylka, however, they were exposed by receding glacier ice from rising air and ocean temperatures.
The Arctic Circle is experiencing some of the sharpest increases in warmer weather worldwide, especially this past year which saw record-breaking heat throughout much of the lower Arctic. In one particularly jarring example, temperatures in a Swedish village in the Arctic Circle hit 34.8°C (94.6°F) on July 26, 2019. Northwest Russia also saw temperatures jump to 29°C (84°F).
With these warming temperatures, unsurprisingly, comes thawing ice and melting glaciers. Major surface melt episodes have occurred in many parts of the Arctic this year, most notably in Greenland where some 197 billion tonnes (217 billion tons) of ice melted in the month of July alone. A 2018 study analyzed the glaciers around the Franz Josef Land archipelago and found ice mass loss from 2011 to 2015 had doubled compared to previous timespans.
"The Arctic is currently warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, so naturally, glaciers and ice caps are going to react faster," Simon Pendleton from the University of Colorado at Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, who was not involved in this new discovery, commented in January.
Aside from the discovery of new lands, the dramatic changes in the Arctic are having a devasting effect on the biodiversity and human settlements in the area and beyond.