Earth’s northernmost island, found by accident

Earth's northernmost island: Piles of rock and dirt surrounded by ice and water, distant mountains.
An Arctic expedition discovered a new and as yet unnamed island in Greenland. It’s now known as Earth’s northernmost island. Image via Morten Rasch/ University of Copenhagen.

Earth’s northernmost island

In July 2020, an Arctic expedition was collecting samples from northern Greenland, on what they thought was the world’s most northerly island, named Oodaaq. But after prompting by island hunting hobbyists on social media and checking their coordinates with the aid of experts, they realized that Oodaaq lay 2,560 feet (780 meters) south of them. That’s when they realized the land they stood upon was a previously unknown island and now the northernmost known island on Earth’s globe. They announced their discovery on August 27, 2021.

The newly discovered islet is made of small mounds of seabed mud and moraine. Moraine is the silt and gravel left behind by glaciers. Morten Rasch of the University of Copenhagen, one of the discoverers, suggests that the islet might be the result of a large storm that pushed together material from the seabed.

More gravel bar than island

The new islet is more gravel bar than island, he said (Oodaaq is mostly gravel and silt, too). Earth’s new northernmost island measures about 100 to 200 feet (30 to 60 meters) in size. It stands just 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) above sea level. Rasch said the island is probably in a category known as a short-lived islet. He explained:

No one knows how long it will remain. In principle, it could vanish as soon as a powerful new storm hits.

As mentioned, the unnamed island lies north of Oodaaq, Earth’s erstwhile northernmost island, which lies north of Cape Morris Jesup, the northernmost point of Greenland. The new island is considered part of Greenland, which is a territory of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Map of Greenland with red dot at top labeled Oodaaq.
This map shows the location of Oodaaq, north of the island of Greenland. The new island lies just to the north of Oodaaq. Image via Wikipedia.

Confirming the new island

Rasch relived the moment they realized the ground they stood on was farther north than the record holder:

We were convinced that we were standing on Oodaaq Island, which until then had been registered as the world’s northernmost island. 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.

These island hunters Rasch describes are hobbyists who seek out unknown islands. Their comments online prompted the expedition team to look further into their claims. Rasch and team contacted an expert at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU). Rasch continued:

Together with DTU, we realized that my GPS had erred, leading us to believe that we were on Oodaaq. In fact, we had just discovered a new island further north, a discovery that ever so slightly expands the Kingdom [of Denmark].

The helicopter used to reach the group on the new island confirmed their GPS coordinates.

Middle-aged man with sandy wavy hair, unsmiling.
Morten Rasch of the University of Copenhagen was one of the researchers to discover the northernmost island. Image via University of Copenhagen.

Bottom line: An Arctic expedition discovered the northernmost island on Earth in July. The still-unnamed island lies just north of the former title-holder, Oodaaq, which is just off the northernmost point of Greenland.

Via University of Copenhagen

September 1, 2021

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