Greenland and the Danish Commonwealth just got a teeny bit bigger. Scientists say they accidentally discovered the northernmost island on the planet.
Measuring a mere 30-by-60 meters (98-by-197 feet), the yet-to-be-named island is 780 meters (2,559 feet) north of Oodaaq, an island far-northern Greenland discovered by a Danish survey team in 1978. The discovery of this small but mighty island first came about when an expedition from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark recently headed to the northern stretches of Greenland to collect samples where they landed on Oodaaq Island — or so they thought.
"We were convinced that we were standing on Oodaaq Island,” Morten Rasch, expedition leader from the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, said in a statement. “But when I posted photos and the island’s coordinates on social media, a number of American island hunters went crazy and said that it couldn’t be true," explained Rasch.
Off the back of these comments on social media, the team consulted a colleague working at the Technical University of Denmark. Together, they used GPS on the helicopter that had traveled to the island to conclude that this was not Oodaaq and, in fact, a newly discovered island.
While the South Pole in Antarctica lies on land, the North Pole is found in the Arctic Ocean in waters that are almost permanently covered with shifting sea ice. Oodaaq Island was previously held to be the closest landmass to the North Pole, at a distance of 705 kilometers (438 miles), making it the most northerly point of land on Earth by some definitions. However, it appears this newly found island now takes the lead by less than half a mile
However, it’s uncertain how long this island might stick around. The island is formed out of seabed mud and moraine, a rocky soil material left behind by a moving glacier. The team suspects it emerged relatively recently after a storm and choppy waves gradually pulled up the materials from the sea, forming a mound.
Unfortunately, it’s easy come, easy go for newly formed islands. Given its shaky geology, it’s possible that the island could be wiped out fairly easily by a stormy wave. For now, however, Greenland and the Danish Commonwealth are ever-so-slightly larger than previously.
"No one knows how long it will remain. In principle, it could vanish as soon as a powerful new storm hits," added Rasch.