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Five new islands discovered as the Arctic ice melts

A Russian naval expedition has discovered five Arctic islands as climate change melts glaciers and reveals landforms previously hidden under ice.

Ranging in size from 900 to 54,500 square metres, the five tiny islands are located in the cove of Vize off the northeastern shore of Novaya Zemlya, which divides the Barents and Kara seas in the Arctic ocean, a defence ministry statement said.

A student Marina Migunova first spotted the islands in 2016 while analysing satellite imagery for her final coursework at a naval university. But new geographic points are added to maps and other navigational documents only after specialists visit them and perform a topographic survey, the defence ministry said.
The islands were previously concealed under the Nansen glacier, also known as the Vylka, which is part of Europe’s largest ice cap covering much of Novaya Zemlya’s northern island.

Arctic islands

The retreat of Arctic ice amid rising air and ocean temperatures has been unveiling unknown landforms. In 2015-18, the hydrographic service observed more than 30 islands, capes and bays near Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land for the first time through satellite monitoring. More are expected to be found.

A US study last year concluded that the ice loss by glaciers on Franz Josef Land had doubled between 2011 and 2015.

Melting ice has increasingly stranded polar bears on land, contributing to incidents like the “polar bear invasion” of a military town on Novaya Zemlya this year.

Coastal erosion is also speeding up as permafrost soil thaws and summertime wave action increases.

President Vladimir Putin said at an Arctic conference in April that Russian data showed the region was warming not two but four times faster than the rest of the world.

In response, his country has been expanding its presence in the Arctic, opening military bases and building nuclear icebreakers to promote shipping along the northern sea route.