Life-forms have already colonised the young islands, with algae, plant life, and birds, in addition to evidence of larger land animals in the fledgling ecosystem.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on October 24, 2019

Five new islands have been discovered as an ice glacier melts in the Arctic.

The new islands are in Vize Bay off the mountainous Novaya Zemlya archipelago and were first discovered in 2016, the Russian defence ministry said.

Student engineer Marina Migunova observed unknown land masses in satellite imagery while working on a research paper and the Russian navy has confirmed their existence at a press conference marking the completion of a naval expedition that sailed as far as Franz Josef Land, one of the remotest places on earth.

Vylki (Nansen) glacier

Vice Admiral Alexander Moiseyev of Russia’s Northern Fleet said the five islands were caused by the melting of the Vylki (Nansen) glacier.

“We thought they were (part of) the main glacier (Vylki, aka Nansen). Melting, collapse, and temperature changes led to these islands being uncovered,” he said.

In the expedition undertaken in August and September, naval researchers surveyed the topography of the five islands and believe they emerged around 2014.

In size, the islands range from very small to very large. Two are very small (measuring only 30 metres by 30 metres approximately), but the largest covers a region of 54,500 square metres.

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As for the long-term stability of the newly revealed land masses, it’s too early to say, since receding glaciers are known to destabilise the land that exists underneath them, as it loses a fortifying ice layer on top, Science Alert reported.

“Today, it is difficult to reach any conclusions about their importance and life span,” Captain First Class Alexei Kornis, the head of the Northern Fleet Hydrographic Service, told the Russian site Arctic, noting that a glaciologist on the expedition suggested the islands might only last a decade or less.

Life-forms have already colonised the young islands, with Kornis saying he had seen algae, plant life, and birds, in addition to evidence of larger land animals in the fledgling ecosystem.

“We’ve found the remains of a seal torn up by a bear,” Kornis said. “So, if all of this manages to take root, the islands will survive.”

The Russian naval expedition – in waters that not long ago were too icy to navigate – found a sixth previously known land mass.

The land mass was found in a newly formed strait within the Franz Josef Land archipelago. A new island that had previously been mistaken as part of the existing peninsula on Hall Island.

The Russian navy state at least a dozen new islands have emerged in the Arctic region in the past few years.

The confirmation of the five new islands follows a similar find in January, when glaciers in the Canadian Arctic melted enough to reveal land that had been hidden for at least 40,000 years.

A United Nations report on global warming last month said glacier loss in the Arctic in the period from 2015 to 2019 was more than in any other five-year period on record.

“The discovery of islands as the Nansen glacier retreats is not a surprise as a glacier is simply a river of ice transporting compacted snow and ice from the higher grounds to the sea,” oceanographer Tom Rippeth from Bangor University in Wales told Newsweek.

“As the climate warms, the glaciers shrink and expose the land below. This is yet another symptom of the enhanced warming being experienced in the Arctic – in this region the average temperature is some 5 to 6 degrees Celsius warmer in response to climate change.”