Russia’s military has formally confirmed the discovery of five new islands in the frosty Arctic waters off the north coast of Russia Arctic. The landmasses were exposed after a glacier in the region melted away. While such new discoveries typically bring celebration but these islands were only revealed due to the accelerated glacial melting from climate change.
A statement released by the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the islands were first found in 2016 by Marina Migunova, a college student analyzing satellite images while working on the Vizir hydrographic vessel of the Northern Fleet as part of an expedition in the Arctic Ocean. This is a remote region where researchers have been working with the Russian Navy for several years to study the changes to the coastlines of both Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya archipelago.
“A topographic survey has been conducted on the new islands,” the military said in the statement. “They’ve been described in detail and photographed.”
The new islands that emerged from under a glacier near the Nansen ice sheet, also known as the Vylka, stretching about 30 miles by 10 miles, range in size from 900 to 54,500 square meters.
The Arctic region is experiencing some of the sharpest increases in temperature worldwide, especially this year with record-breaking heat throughout much of the lower Arctic. In one particularly extreme incident, temperatures in a Swedish village in the Arctic Circle surged to 34.8°C (94.6°F) on July 26, 2019. Northwest Russia also saw an uncharacteristic temperature high of 29°C (84°F).
Such warming temperatures, unsurprisingly, cause thawing ice and melting glaciers. Major surface ice melt episodes have occurred in many parts of the Arctic this year, especially in Greenland were some 197 billion tonnes (217 billion tons) of ice melted only in the month of July. A 2018 study that analyzed the glaciers around the once frozen Franz Josef Land archipelago and found that ice mass loss had doubled from 2011 to 2015 as compared to previous timespans.
Simon Pendleton from the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, who was not involved in this new discovery, commented in January, “The Arctic is currently warming two to three times faster than the rest of the globe, so naturally, glaciers and ice caps are going to react faster”.
Aside from the discovery of these new landmasses, the dramatic climatic changes in the Arctic are having a devasting effect on the biodiversity and human settlements in the region.