Russia Discovers Five New Islands After Arctic Glacier Melts Away

Russia's military has announced the discovery of five new islands in the Arctic after a glacier in the region melted away, exposing the landmasses. The islands range in size from 9,600 all the way up to 580,000 square feet—about the same size of 10 football fields.

A statement released by the Defense Ministry said the islands were first found in 2016 by engineer Marina Migunova while working on the Vizir hydrographic vessel of the Northern Fleet as part of an expedition to the Franz Josef Land archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. This is a remote region where the Russian military has a base.

Researchers with the Russian Navy have been studying the area for several years, looking at changes to the coastlines of both Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya archipelago. The new islands are in the Vise Bay on the Kara coast of Novaya Zemlya. Migunova first found the islands by analyzing satellite images. "Topographic surveys were conducted on the new islands; they are described in detail and photographed," the statement said.

The islands emerged from under a glacier near the Nansen ice sheet—a frozen expanse stretching about 30 miles by 10 miles.

Commenting on the discovery, oceanographer Tom Rippeth, from the U.K.'s Bangor University, told Newsweek: "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. 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 C warmer in response to climate change.

Franz Josef Land
NASA image showing Franz Josef Land. The Russian Military has announced five new islands have been discovered in the region after melting at the Nansen glacier. NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

"The warming ocean is also likely to be an important influence here as this region is influenced by Atlantic water, which flows into the Arctic to the north of Norway and Svalbard. The warming of this inflowing water is already being recognized as a major contributor to the decline in sea ice in this region."

Scientists are predicting more glaciers will melt away as the planet warms. In January, researchers announced retreating glaciers in the Canadian Arctic had exposed land not seen for 40,000 years. "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," Simon Pendleton, lead author of the study published in Nature Communications, said in a statement at the time.

Rippeth said this year's sea ice minimum, which is expected in the middle of September, is predicted to match the previous record low, set in 2012. Last year's sea ice minimum saw levels drop to just 1.77 million square miles. This was the joint sixth-lowest ever recorded, tying with 2008 and 2010.

Russia has been expanding its military presence in the Arctic in recent years. An article in the Financial Times in April noted how climate change was causing more shipping lanes to open in the once frozen sea. It said that in response, the country has spent billions in upgrading and building military bases on Arctic islands in order to control travel through these waters.