The island that had until recently been unknown was always covered with a thick layer of ice, which has now largely disappeared due to the warming of the area.
The island is located in Pine Island Bay, which is again part of the Amundsen Sea, located off the coast of West Antarctica. This bay includes the infamous Pine Island and Thwaites Glacier. Both glaciers have been in the news lately due to the rapid changes they are undergoing. For example, the Pine Island glacier regularly releases large chunks of ice and the large, rapidly melting Thwaites glacier is already responsible for about 4% of global sea level rise.
International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration
Scientists are keeping a close eye on the latter glacier – not least because it can cause sea level rise of about 65 centimetres on its own– closely monitored. And an expedition was even set up that revolves all around this glacier and its surroundings. The International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration is currently conducting research on the stability of the glacier and the contribution this glacier and environment can make to global sea level. For example, deep holes were drilled into the glacier late last and early this year, leading to the discovery of warm water affecting the ice from below and thus likely contributing to the accelerated melting of the glacier that can roughly measure itself in terms of surface with Great Britain.
New island discovered In the Antartica
Scientists taking part in this important research expedition had no doubt expected to witness major and rapid changes in the area, judging by what we know about the Thwaites Glacier. But that they would come across a brand new island. No one would have seen that coming.
The researchers have christened the island ‘Sif Island’. “Our project (which falls under the banner of the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration, ed.) is called THwaites Offshore Research, or Thor for short,” researcher Julia Wellner, from Antarctica, told on a report. “Thor is a Norse God and his wife Sif is the goddess of the earth. Her name seemed to fit well with a piece of land that we discovered during our project.” Wellner intends to officially submit the name – after returning to the inhabited world – and hopes that it will be embraced by authorities authorized to name the island. “I hope Sif sticks around.”
Of course, shortly after the discovery of the island, the researchers put down their work to visit the islet. This makes them not only the discoverers of the island, but probably also the first people to have visited the island. “The island was covered in the past by an ice shelf: glacial ice that flowed towards the ocean and floated on the water,” wellner says. The island was always above sea level, but we never saw it because it was under the ice. However, the ice shelf has withdrawn in recent years, exposing the island.”
On-site research shows that the island now only houses a few scraps of that ice shelf. It’s all very likely to be traced back to global warming, wellner said. “The Thwaites Glacier is the fastest-changing ice mass in West Antarctica and the reason we’re here. So we already knew the ice is retreating here. That’s no surprise. But the island is.”
Island found in Antartica
And the discovery of the island may prove to be very valuable to the mission of Wellner and colleagues. They are hopeful that the island can tell more about what the area looked like in the past and has changed over time. That’s why they have already collected some stones on the island, which can be analysed extensively later. “One of the most important things we will do is date back to the period when the rocks were exposed. We want to find out if they have been ice-free in the last 100 or 10,000 years and learn more about how the ice has behaved in the past.”
It’s not every day that researchers discover a new island. But Wellner doesn’t rule out the fact that it will happen more often in the future. “It is certainly possible that as the ice retreats faster and faster, more new islands will be discovered.”