Ghost islands suddenly disappearing in the Arctic: scientists solve their mystery

Dmitry IvancheskulLife
The northernmost island on Earth turned out to be a dirty iceberg

The island found in the Arctic near Greenland in 2021, which was considered the northernmost on planet Earth, turned out to be just a "dirty iceberg", but it gave scientists a clue to the mystery of the Arctic ghost islands that suddenly disappear.

The small island, measuring about 30 by 60 metres, was discovered in 2021 by an expedition involving researchers from Swiss, Danish and Greenlandic institutions, The Conversation writes. At the time, they named it "Qeqertaq Avannarleq", which means "the northernmost island" in Greenlandic.

"(The island) was small and gravelly, and it was declared a contender for the title of the northernmost known land mass in the world," wrote Kevin Hamilton, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Hawaii.

He noted that the island was not the first to be found in the region in recent decades, but the fate of previous finds had stumped scientists as they simply disappeared.

The first such ghost island was found in 1978, followed by the discovery of several other similar islands that at some point simply disappeared. Having studied the phenomenon, the researchers suggested that the discoverers were not dealing with islands, but with rocky shores at the bottom of the sea that were pushed to the surface by sea ice.

But when a group of Swiss and Danish surveyors travelled north to investigate the ghost islands, they discovered something completely different. In September 2022, they announced their findings: these elusive islands are actually large icebergs that have sunk to the seabed. Most likely, they came from a nearby glacier, where surveyors found other similarly dirty icebergs ready to set sail at any moment.

After the discovery, scientists will have to revise the updated maps to clear them of what were thought to be newly discovered islands.

It should be noted that this is not the first time that scientists have had to change the maps of the Arctic. The most famous case occurred in 1931, when a joint expedition of German, Soviet and American scientists and researchers explored the Arctic for five days aboard the Graf Zeppelin airship.

"Our first goal was an island called Albert Edward Land. But this was easier said than done, as Albert Edward Land had the disadvantage that it did not exist. It could be found on any map of the Arctic, but not in the Arctic itself," wrote the expedition's chronicler, journalist Arthur Koestler.

Next, the scientists had to explore Harmsworth's Land, but it turned out to be non-existent as well.

"Where it was supposed to be, there was nothing but the black polar sea and the reflection of the white Zeppelin. Only heaven knows whether the explorer who mapped these islands (I believe it was Payer) was a victim of a mirage, mistaking some icebergs for land," Koestler wrote.

The 1931 expedition also discovered six new islands and clarified the outlines of many others. Here is an archival video of that journey.

As OBOZREVATEL previously reported, scientists have said that the Thwaites Glacier, also called the Doomsday Glacier, is likely to collapse much earlier than expected. Its destruction may also threaten Ukraine.

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