Five new Russian islands have emerged from the mass melting of glaciers and sea ice in the Arctic region. The islands were first spotted in 2016 by the Russian Navy via satellite imagery and were recently confirmed and mapped during an expedition this past August and September. Frequency of ice melt glaringly warns of climate impacts that are hitting harder and sooner than anticipated.

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Temperature changes stemming from global warming have adversely affected the Arctic. According to a September United Nations report, glaciers, snow, ice and permafrost are diminishing “and will continue to do so.” Similarly, Arctic sea ice has declined every month, “and it is getting thinner.” If greenhouse gas emissions levels continue to rise, the UN anticipates that around 70 percent of permafrost could be lost by 2100.

Related: IPCC landmark report warns about the state of the oceans, polar ice content and the climate crisis

Of the five yet unnamed islands, the smallest measures 900 square meters, and the largest measures 54,500 square meters. Their emergence highlights the UN’s warning that the period from 2015 to 2019 registered the most glacier loss of any five-year timespan.

“Mainly this is, of course, caused by changes to the ice situation,” confirmed Vice Admiral Alexander Moiseyev, who was the expedition leader. “Before, these were glaciers; we thought they were part of the main glacier. Melting, collapse and temperature changes led to these islands being uncovered.”

The new islands are located in proximity to the Vylki glacier, off the coast of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, just northwest of the Russian mainland. Video footage provided by the Russian expedition revealed seabirds, walruses and polar bears already populating the islands’ shores.

Interestingly, the shrinking northern ice cap has opened up sea lanes in the Arctic, making them more navigable. The discovery of these five new islands amidst the accelerated receding of the ice caps will therefore have geopolitical and consequent environmental implications, since the Arctic may well become, in the future, a much-contested highway and natural resource center of oil, natural gas, mineral deposits and even immense fisheries.


Image via Christopher Michel