Ghost Island Thought To Be Northernmost in Arctic Found To Be Dirty Iceberg

A "ghost island" in the Arctic previously thought to be the most northernmost piece of land in the world has been found to be a "dirty iceberg."

The apparent island, which measures around 100 feet by 200 feet, was discovered in 2021 off the northern coast of Greenland by an expedition involving researchers from Swiss, Danish and Greenlandic institutions.

At the time, they named it "Qeqertaq Avannarleq," which is Greenlandic for "the northernmost island."

"[The island] was small and gravelly, and it was declared a contender for the title of the most northerly known land mass in the world," Kevin Hamilton, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Hawaii, wrote for The Conversation.

"But there was a mystery afoot in the region. Just north of Cape Morris Jesup, several other small islands had been discovered over the decades, and then disappeared."

Cape Morris Jesup lies at the northernmost extremity of Greenland—the world's largest island—located around 440 miles from the North Pole.

The ghost island Qeqertaq Avannarleq
The ghost island known as Qeqertaq Avannarleq, located north of Greenland. Research has revealed that this "island" is a dirty iceberg. Martin Nissen

The first of these small, disappearing islands to be discovered in the polar ice cap off the cape was one known as "Oodaaq Ø," identified in 1978. Since then, various expeditions spotted several more of these "ghost islands," which some researchers hypothesized were rocky banks on the underlying seabed that had been pushed to the surface by sea ice.

These small strips of land typically measure around 65 to 100 feet in thickness and have a thin, surface layer of soil, pebbles and mud, according to Rene Forsberg, a researcher from the Technical University of Denmark, who was part of an expedition that investigated this phenomenon in 2022.

The expedition visited several of the small islands in the area, including Qeqertaq Avannarleq, collecting GPS data and using laser scanning techniques to measure ice thickness and sea depths.

Sea depths had never been measured in the area before due to the semi-stationary sea ice that measured between around 6.5 and 10 feet thick. The research revealed that the islands are not islands at all, but instead large icebergs that have become stuck on the bottom of the sea.

The findings of these measurements "unequivocally confirmed that the reported small islands are flat-topped icebergs with an unusual cover of soil and pebbles, which have run aground in the area," Forsberg said in a press release.

"They can be categorized as semi-stationary ice islands, which may well have a lifespan of up to several years."

This includes Qeqertaq Avannarleq, meaning that a true island named "Inuit Qeqertaat," or "Coffee Club Island," remains the northernmost undisputed piece of land on Earth.

The expedition researchers said the ghost islands most likely came from a nearby glacier located around 25-30 miles west of Cape Morris Jesup.