The explanation couldn’t be simpler, yet … It took several decades for scientists to finally unravel the mystery of the “ghost islands”. These territories, all located in the Arctic, seemed to appear and then disappear during polar expeditions.
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So, last year, a small piece of land thirty by sixty meters was discovered by a Swiss, Danish and Greenlandic team, and called “Qeqertaq Avannarleq“, ‘the northernmost island’ in the Inuktitut language of Greenland … before disappearing from the landscape, as if by magic.
A long series of mysterious apparitions and disappearances
And this is just the latest example in a long series of similar phenomena, recalls Professor Kevin Hamilton, researcher in atmospheric sciences at the University of Hawaii (United States), in The conversation. “Almost a century ago, a pioneering air expedition led to the redesign of maps depicting large tracts of the Barents Sea (Sea of the Arctic Ocean located north of Norway and Russia, ed) “, he says.
This pioneering expedition took place in 1931, at the initiative of the American William Randolph Hearst. The press mogul then decided to use the “Graf zeppelin”, at the time the largest airship in the world, to fly over the North Pole – where a submarine would later take over to navigate under the ice.
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If the initial project was abandoned due to technical difficulties, the idea was nevertheless taken up by an international scientific committee, in search of important discoveries on the geography, meteorology and magnetism of the Barents Sea: the American-German-Soviet expedition “Polarfahrt“(‘polar journey’ in German ‘) was born, Professor Hamilton traces.
Thanks to the wide-angle cameras it was equipped with, the airship made it possible to photograph the area in detail. Surprise: two islands, Albert Edward Land and Harmsworth Land, although present on all Arctic maps of the time, remained absolutely untraceable. So much so that the scientists aboard the Graf Zeppelin have concluded … a mirage of the previous explorers!
The secret of the ghost islands, finally revealed
Intrigued by these historical events as well as by the recent discovery of “Qeqertaq Avannarleq“, the researchers came together to lead the” Leister Go North “polar expedition during the summer of 2022. By laser scanning the thickness of the ice and seabed, scientists were – finally – able to deliver a clear answer to the mystery of the ghost islands.
“Our work shows unequivocally that all of these marked “islands” are flat icebergs“Professor Rene Forsberg, a researcher at the Department of Space Research and Space Technology (DTU Space) and member of this expedition, reveals in a statement.
These icebergs “they are generally 20 to 30 meters thick, with a thin surface layer of earth and pebbles“, Specifies the specialist in geodetic measurements (study of the size and shape of the Earth). Formed during the detachment of pieces of glaciers, or “birth”, they would have been covered by mud and rock fragments during landslides from the coast.
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These “ice islands“, to say “semi-stationary“, may persist for several years before melting. On board a helicopter, the researchers of this expedition have also identified new ghost islands, which are also destined to disappear soon.
And the real “northernmost island” is …
Therefore, experts say that the island of Kaffeklubben (Café club), or “Qeqertaat” in Inuktitut – officially discovered in 1921 and located north-east of Greenland – remains the northernmost point of land in the world. About 707 km from the North Pole, this island in the strict sense (and not an iceberg covered with mud and pebbles) is devoid of inhabitants.
A record that should never be questioned again!
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