The New York Times reports on “a newly revealed island 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle in eastern Greenland.”
“Despite its remote location,” the Times explains, “the island would almost certainly have been discovered, named and mapped almost a century ago when explorers like Jean-Baptiste Charcot and Philippe, Duke of Orléans, charted these coastlines” – except that, until recently, the island was “bound to the coast by glacial ice.”
In other words, climate change – melting ice and rising sea levels – has turned a peninsula into an island.
“With 27,555 miles of coastline and thousands of fjords, inlets, bays and straits,” we read, “Greenland has always been hard to map. Now its geography is becoming obsolete almost as soon as new maps are created.” I’m tempted to say that that last sentence should be reversed, however: that the maps are becoming obsolete as soon as new geography is created.
For instance, there are the nunataks – or lonely mountains, in Inuit – which stick out from beneath the matrix of glacial ice. These features are now “being freed of their age-old bonds, exposing a new chain of islands, and a new opportunity for Arctic explorers to write their names on the landscape.”
From the New York Times:
“We are already in a new era of geography,” said the Arctic explorer Will Steger. “This phenomenon – of an island all of a sudden appearing out of nowhere and the ice melting around it – is a real common phenomenon now.” In August, Mr. Steger discovered his own new island off the coast of the Norwegian island of Svalbard, high in the polar basin. Glaciers that had surrounded it when his ship passed through only two years earlier were gone this year, leaving only a small island alone in the open ocean.
That image, of course, is both horrific and exhilarating – literally sublime: the discovery of terra nova, right here on a planet that once seemed topographically claimed. Surely our era is due for a new Jules Verne?
Meanwhile, as Arctic temperatures continue to rise, and as the Greenlandic ice cap continues to liquefy, we’ll see more and more spectacular – if catastrophic – shifts in global geography. (Whole new continents!)
And this won’t be limited to the Arctic: “Over the long term,” we read, “much larger sea-level rises would render the world’s coastlines unrecognizable, creating a whole new series of islands.”
In any case, I was fascinated to learn that “summertime ‘glacial earthquakes’ have been detected within the ice sheet” of Greenland. I can hardly imagine such a strange and haunting sound – like bells shattering – of pure ice heaving beneath your feet, as mile after mile of blue caves and tunnels shift their chambers to realign.
Is it possible, then, to drill contact microphones into the surface of Greenland and listen to this terrestrial baritone, the earth a reverberatory, to eavesdrop on breaking glaciers from within?