Curiously Polar

The Arctic and the Antarctic are privileged locations for observers interested in understanding how our world is shaped by the forces of nature and the workings of history. These areas have inspired countless humans to undertake epic expeditions of discovery and have witnessed both great triumphs and miserable defeats. As a planetary litmus paper it is at the poles we can detect the effects of natural oscillations and human activities on the global ecosystems.

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105 New islands in the Arctic


Video version of this episode

While the Arctic warms up to six times faster than the rest of the world according to the latest findings, the melting of glaciers leads to the discovery and/or formation of new islands. In 2019, Norwegian researchers discovered on satellite images that with the melting of the Bragebreen and Gimlebreen glaciers the previous Brageneset headland on the southwestern tip of Nordaustlandet has turned out to be an island of approximately 10km2. Similar cases emerged already in the Russian High Arctic where research vessels of the Russian Navy discovered new islands in the archipelagos Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land. The largest of the five new islands is 54,500 km2. In 2015-2018, more than 30 new islands, bays, capes and straits were found. And that is not the end of the story. Polish researchers have discovered changes to the map of Norway, which could result in the country’s largest Arctic island splitting in two. Radar soundings by Polish researchers show that Spitsbergen could split in two as the Hornbreen and Hambergbreen glaciers on the island retreat every year. This would create a new channel of water between the seas on either side of the island – effectively splitting the island. “The conclusion coming from the surveys is that the glacier bed is below sea level and no obstacles have been identified that might prevent connection of the Barents Sea and the Greenland Sea when glaciers have retreated,” Polish researcher Mariusz Grabiec says.The northern parts of the Barents Sea and Spitsbergen are among the places with the fastest temperature rise on our planet. Svalbard, the fastest-heating place on earth, is a live laboratory for everyone studying the dramatic effects of the climate crisis. While world leaders travel to New York on September 23 for the UN Climate Action Summit to find ways to limit the global temperature to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, temperatures on Svalbard have already risen by 4 °C. At Spitsbergen, the largest island on the archipelago, both permafrost and glacier are melting in a speed nobody could predict a few years ago. It will likely be not the last new islands to appear in the Arctic.


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 2020-07-28  25m