Monday, May 20, 2024


Arctic: Russian Military Helicopters Discover New Island in Arctic Waters

During a routine mission in the Laptev Sea, two Russian helicopter pilots stumbled across a previously unknown island between the Port of Tiksi and the New Siberian Islands.

Yaya Island - Photo Courtesy of

Yaya Island – Photo Courtesy of

During a routine mission to transport military equipment unspecified equipment to the New Siberian Islands, two Russian helicopters made the discovery of a lifetime, stumbling across a previously unknown island within the icy waters of the Laptev Sea, some 250 km to the north of the harbor city of Tiksi.

Although the island was first sighted in September 2013, it is only recently that its discovery has been made public, due to difficulties in corroborating the geological information. According to an article published in the Russian edition of Popular Mechanics, the low-lying island has been christened “yaya,” which – roughly translated – means “me me” – an homage to the pilots who both claimed “it was me who found it.”

Yet as Russian geographer Sergey Rizhy explained to The Siberian Times, the island almost received a more exotic moniker. “The first idea was to name the island Bounty as, with its lagoon in the middle, it looks almost identical to Marlon Brando’s famous French Polynesian private island,” he explained. When we began discussing who was the first to notice the island, everyone began saying ‘Ya, ya!’ though. And so we named it Yaya.”

The discovery took place just south of the main shipping lanes used for the Northern Sea Route (under the coordinates 73°59′25″ N, 133°05′28 E, to be precise) and serves to highlight the extent to which the Arctic Ocean – particularly the region towards the north-east of Russia – is poorly mapped.

A manned expedition to the island took place on September 23rd 2014, almost one year after the island was first sighted. It is though that the discovery was only made possible because the pilots had the good fortune to fly over the region when Arctic sea ice was at its lowest level Had they flown over the region at another time of the year, it is likely that the low-lying islet would have gone unnoticed beneath the ice and snow.

With the exception of islands formed by volcanic activity (such as the infamous “Snoopy island” off the coast of Japan), it’s extremely rare to hear of new islands being discovered in the world. Indeed, the last notable example was Uunartoq Qeqertoq (The Warming Island), which – in a potent reminder of the effects of global warming – emerged from beneath a chunk of melted ice off the east coast of Greenland back in 2007.

Whilst the reasons for Yaya Island’s sudden appearance have not yet been confirmed, scientists estimate that the tiny island first emerged from the waters roughly half a century ago. After studying photos taken during a Hydrographic Expedition in 1913, however, it seems likely that Yaya Island emerged after a 15-metre high glacial island called Vasilyevsky melted – again, potentially a result of global warming.

Research carried out during the most recent manned expedition found the land mass to stand less than one metre high, and amounts to about just 500 square metres in size including the Tetiaroa-like lagoon in the centre. A research drill showed it to be made up primarily of sand but, despite its size and its unstable consistency, the experts predict the island could be around for years to come.

And despite its small size, the island has big implications for the Russian Federation. As per Section 2 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the addition of the island to Russian territory automatically extends the territorial seas of the country by 12 nautical miles – equating to a net gain of 452 square kilometers of sovereign area.

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