Swiss-backed expedition finds ‘northernmost island’

The island consists primarily of small mounds of silt and gravel, the University of Copenhagen says Morten Rasch/University of Copenhagen

A Danish-Swiss scientific expedition team say they have found the world’s most northerly island.

This content was published on August 29, 2021 - 12:40
NZZ am Sonntag/University of Copenhagen/Keystone-SDA/ilj

It was found by chance off the coast of Greenland, several Swiss newspapers highlighted on Sunday. The expedition had financial backing from Swiss entrepreneur Christiane Leister, through her Leister Foundation.

The scientists initially thought they had arrived at Oodaaq, an island discovered by a Danish survey team in 1978, a University of Copenhagen statementExternal link released on Friday said. Only later, when checking the exact location, they realised that they had in fact visited another island 780 metres northwest.

They had been in northern Greenland to collect samples from the very extreme and remote environment found along its periphery. The newly discovered and unnamed island is around 30 by 60 metres in size and is around three to four metres above sea level.

'Like explorers'

"We felt like those explorers who in the past, perhaps drifted by the wind, landed in a completely different place than they thought," Leister, who was on the expedition, told the NZZ am Sonntag.External link

Leister is chairperson of the board of Leister AG, a family business and technology group based in Obwalden in central Switzerland, and figures in the Bilanz magazine list of 300 richest people in Switzerland. She also sits on the ETH Board, which governs the ETH domain that includes the country’s top-ranked Federal Institutes of Technology and four leading research institutes.

According to the NZZ am Sonntag, she has long been interested in the Artic and helped finance and organise the July expedition through her foundation. It involved two years of preparation and researchers from Switzerland and Denmark: geologists, climatologists and biologists.

Morten Rasch of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management said that the island was mostly made up of small mounds of silt and gravel. It could have arisen after a major storm that, with the help of the sea, gradually pushed material from the seabed together until an island formed. The island therefore probably falls under a category known as "short-lived islets", the university statement said.

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