Researchers Accidentally Discover World's Northernmost Island Due to GPS Error

A team of Danish researchers thought they were traveling to the world’s northernmost island—they discovered an island even further north instead.
August 31, 2021, 1:00pm
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Image: Morten Rasch

A team of Danish researchers are claiming to have discovered the world’s northernmost island, more than a kilometer off the tip of Greenland. 

The discovery was a complete accident. In July, the researchers set out for the island of Oodaaq—up until now considered the world’s northernmost island—to collect samples, and ended up in the wrong place

“We came there by helicopter to collect scientific samples mainly to describe the bacteria community in such a strange environment,” Morten Rasch, the leader of the expedition and a geographer at the University of Copenhagen wrote in an email to Motherboard. “We had absolutely no intention of finding new islands. That was not part of the science purpose of the expedition.” 

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It was only a month later that Rasch and his team realized that the samples they collected weren’t from Oodaaq at all, but rather a newly discovered island about half a mile north. Rasch told Motherboard that he started to have doubts after so-called “island hunters” (people who try to find undiscovered islands) reached out to him after he posted a picture and set of coordinates of the island on Facebook. 

Later, Rasch and his team contacted a colleague at the Technical University of Denmark who determined that there had been a problem with Rasch’s GPS, which they cross-referenced with the GPS on the helicopter. 

The newly discovered island, which the researchers intend to name “Qeqertaq Avannarleq” (Greenlandic for “northernmost island”), is roughly 30 by 60 meters large and largely consists of moraine, gravel and marine mud. It may have been formed by a large storm that pressed these materials together, according to the press release, and could just as easily disappear in another one. 

Rasch described the discovery as a “surprise,” but that it ultimately made little significance when it came to the goal of the expedition. 

“Personally, I am not at all interested in new islands,” Rasch said. “We came there to collect scientific samples. With our scientific purpose it does not really matter whether the island was a new island or Oodaaq Island.” 

“However, it is still a funny feeling to know that you are a person standing on ground the closest to the North Pole, [few] people ever have done that,” he continued. “However, that would have been the case also if it had been Oodaaq Island we were standing on.”