An 'Island' With a Warming-Induced Identity Crisis Global warming's impact on the map has rarely been as straightforward as the case of Warming Island. The "island" was thought to be part of Greenland, but glacial melt shows it's not connected to the peninsula at all.
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An 'Island' With a Warming-Induced Identity Crisis

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An 'Island' With a Warming-Induced Identity Crisis

An 'Island' With a Warming-Induced Identity Crisis

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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There's a spit of ice on the coast of Greenland that was thought to be a peninsula but global warming is revealing it as an island. It's now called Warming Island, and the Oxford Atlas of the World has chosen it as the first place of the year. Earlier I spoke with the editor of the atlas, Ben Keene.

Ben Keene, you call this place Warming Island, but in fact it has a - well, it has a native name in Greenland. What is that?

Mr. BEN KEENE (Atlas Editor): Well, I wish that I was more fluent in Inuit. It's rather difficult to pronounce. And I'm sure that I won't get it right, but it's Uunartoq Qeqertoq, or something to that effect.

CHADWICK: Well, Warming Island is a lot easier. Tell us how you went about selecting this as your first place of the year.

Mr. KEENE: I was actually thinking over the weekend about this quite a bit, and a lot of different locations popped into my head, and I thought about all sorts of places around the globe. But I think that my impulse was to find someplace that would really get people talking and really resonated with as many people as possible.

So I thought, you know, this island was actually discovered just about two years ago, I'd say. But as everyone is trying to figure out, you know, what their carbon footprint is and thinking perhaps more carefully about their own impact on the climate and the environment, it just seemed to be very timely.

CHADWICK: So this was the tip of what had been a peninsula.

Mr. KEENE: Yeah, the ice sheet that covers about 80 percent of Greenland is the second largest on the planet after Antarctica. And so it's not necessarily a new island formation, as you might have somewhere else where an island emerges, you know, through volcanic processes or something like that. So that it was always an island. We just sort of misjudged it, I guess.

CHADWICK: How big is it?

Mr. KEENE: It's not very big. It's only a couple of miles long. It's about 400 or so miles north of the Arctic Circle.

CHADWICK: Does anything live there?

Mr. KEENE: I think that there are probably Arctic foxes and, you know, there may be some birds and wildlife, but there are no people that live there. In fact, I think the population of all of Greenland is less than 60,000, so it's quite remote. There are utterly no signs of civilization or inhabitation.

CHADWICK: And you say this is going to be happening in more and more places, the Northwest Passage, for instance, as these ice bridges kind of disappear and you realize that's not a peninsula, that's another piece of land.

Mr. KEENE: Exactly. Yeah. This is a very visible, noticeable example of global warming here. And my assumption would be that we as cartographers and mapmakers will probably have the ability to announce new islands with more and more regularity, were we so inclined.

CHADWICK: Ben Keene is editor of the Atlas of the World from Oxford University Press.

Ben, thank you.

Mr. KEENE: Thank you very much, Alex.

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