Geology in Real Time: Even Newer Islands


Qeqertaq Avannarleq; note helicopter and people for scale (Photo credit: Reuters)

Back in June 2015, WC wrote:

Most geological processes happen too slowly for brief human life spans. The Rocky Mountains will erode down to a plain eventually, but not while we are watching. As a result, geology is largely a matter of inference. There are exceptions. There are geological processes that happen at speeds humans can appreciate. Volcanoes, earthquakes and flooding, to name three. The first two have acted to create two of the newest islands on our planet, Sholan Island and Jadid Island, in the Red Sea.

They’re not the newest islands any longer. The distinction now belongs to a newly discovered island that has the distinction of being closest to the North Pole. And it was discovered by accident.

Qeqertaq Avannarleq is about half a mile north of Oodaaq, the former northernmost island. And about 435 miles from the North Pole. Qeqertaq Avannarleq – it’s not official yet – is Greenlandic for “the northernmost island.”

The Global Positioning System – GPS – doesn’t work with high accuracy at very high latitudes. Scientists thought they had landed by helicopter on Oodaaq for the purposes of obtaining soil samples. Oops. They discovered the new island by mistake. The ocean immediately north of Greenland itself is shallow, and it appears that sea ice recently scraped up Qeqertaq Avannarleq from the sea bottom, pushing the former glacial moraine and mud up above sea level. It wasn’t until the error ranges of the GPS coordinates were examined, weeks later, that the error was discovered and the new island confirmed.

The new island isn’t very big. It measures about 30 meters across and a has a peak height of about three meters. A major storm might well wash it away. But for now, it’s the newest island. Geology in real time.