It was not their intention to discover the northernmost island in the world. “It was a coincidence,” says Danish physical geographer Morten Rasch. On the phone he tells about the expedition that started on the east coast of Greenland on July 18 and went all the way up the coast. “On August 31, we will end in Qaanaaq, in northwestern Greenland.” The aim of the expedition is to get a better picture of the coastline and to take soil samples. “Sometimes you find special bacteria that can survive here in the extreme conditions. It can be very cold, dry and windy,” said Rasch, who is scientific director of the Arctic Station, a research facility in Greenland owned by the University of Copenhagen.
Three Danish and three Swiss researchers were involved in the expedition, he says. They had a plane and a helicopter. On July 27, they flew in the helicopter off the northern coast and set foot on what they believed to be Oodaaq, the up to that time most northerly island in the world. But afterwards it turned out that his GPS had made a mistake. They had been 780 meters north of Oodaaq. And so: on a new island.
Rasch explains how the island could have suddenly come about. The sea north of Greenland is relatively shallow. When pieces of sea ice are pushed towards the coast in heavy weather, they sometimes rub against each other and the sea floor. They crawl up mud and stones. “Like a bulldozer.”
No long life
Rasch does not know exactly how big the island is. “There is snow and ice everywhere. It’s hard to see.” Based on drone photos that also include the 11-meter-long helicopter, he estimates the island “80 to 100 meters by 50 to 60 meters”.
The question is whether it can be called an island. Rasch expects it to be short lived. “In a new storm, it can just disappear again.” That’s why it falls into the category short lived island, an island that probably won’t last very long. The researchers have already proposed a name for it: Qeqertaq Avannarleq. Which is Greenlandic to ‘the northernmost island’.