Geography of Greenland

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Native name:
Kalaallit Nunaat
Greenland ice sheet AMSL thickness map-en.png
Outline map of Greenland with ice sheet depths. (Note that much of the area in green has permanent snow cover, but less than 10m (33ft) thick.)
LocationBetween the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean
Coordinates64°10′N 51°43′W / 64.167°N 51.717°W / 64.167; -51.717
Area2,166,086 km2 (836,330 sq mi)
Area rank1st
Coastline44,087 km (27,394.4 mi)
Highest elevation3,694 m (12,119 ft)
Highest pointGunnbjørn
Province Greenland
Largest settlementNuuk (Godthåb) (pop. 17,984)
Population55,877 (2018)
Pop. density0.028 /km2 (0.073 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups

Greenland is located between the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Canada and northwest of Iceland. The territory comprises the island of Greenland—the largest island in the world—and more than a hundred other smaller islands (see alphabetic list). As an island, Greenland has no land boundaries and 44,087 km of coastline. A sparse population is confined to small settlements along certain sectors of the coast. Greenland possesses the world's second largest ice sheet.

Greenland sits atop the Greenland plate, a subplate of the North American plate.[1][2] The Greenland craton is made up of some of the oldest rocks on the face of the earth. The Isua greenstone belt in southwestern Greenland contains the oldest known rocks on Earth, dated at 3.7–3.8 billion years old.[3]

The vegetation is generally sparse, with the only patch of forested land being found in Nanortalik Municipality in the extreme south near Cape Farewell.

The climate is arctic to subarctic, with cool summers and cold winters. The terrain is mostly a flat but gradually sloping icecap that covers all land except for a narrow, mountainous, barren, rocky coast. The lowest elevation is sea level and the highest elevation is the summit of Gunnbjørn Fjeld, the highest point in the Arctic at 3,694 meters (12,119 ft). The northernmost point of the island of Greenland is Cape Morris Jesup, discovered by Admiral Robert Peary in 1900. Natural resources include zinc, lead, iron ore, coal, molybdenum, gold, platinum, uranium, hydropower and fish.


Total area: 2,166,086 km²

Land area: 2,166,086 km² (410,449 km² ice-free, 1,755,637 km² ice-covered)

Maritime claims:

Territorial sea: 3 nautical miles (5.6 km; 3.5 mi)

Exclusive fishing zone: 200 nautical miles (370.4 km; 230.2 mi)

Land use[edit]

Arable land: approximately 6%; some land is used to grow silage.
Permanent crops: Approximately 0%
Other: 100% (2012 est.)

The total population comprises around 56,000 inhabitants, of whom approximately 18,000 live in the capital, Nuuk.

Natural hazards[edit]

Continuous ice sheet covers 84% of the country; the rest is permafrost.

Environment – current issues[edit]

Protection of the Arctic environment, climate change, pollution of the food chain, excessive hunting[4] of endangered species (walrus, polar bears, narwhal, beluga whale and several sea birds).


Greenland map of Köppen climate classification
Retreat of the Helheim Glacier, Greenland
Map of Greenland's rate of change in ice sheet height
Map of Greenland bedrock

The Greenland ice sheet is 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) thick and broad enough to blanket an area the size of Mexico. The ice is so massive that its weight presses the bedrock of Greenland below sea level and is so all-concealing that not until recently did scientists discover Greenland's Grand Canyon or the possibility that Greenland might actually be three islands.[5]

If the ice melted, the interior bedrock below sea level would be covered by water. It is not clear whether this water would be at sea level or a lake above sea level. If it would be at sea level it could connect to the sea at Ilulissat Icefjord, in Baffin Bay and near Nordostrundingen, creating three large islands.[6] But it is most likely that it would be a lake with one drain.

It is thought that before the Ice Age, Greenland had mountainous edges and a lowland (and probably very dry) center which drained to the sea via one big river flowing out westwards, past where Disko Island is now.

There is concern about sea level rise caused by ice loss (melt and glaciers falling into the sea) on Greenland. Between 1997 and 2003 ice loss was 68–92 km3/a (16–22 cu mi/a), compared to about 60 km3/a (14 cu mi/a) for 1993/4-1998/9. Half of the increase was from higher summer melting, with the rest caused by the movements of some glaciers exceeding the speeds needed to balance upstream snow accumulation.[7] A complete loss of ice on Greenland would cause a sea level rise of as much as 6.40 meters (21.0 ft).

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Kansas reported in February 2006 that the glaciers are melting twice as fast as they were five years ago. By 2005, Greenland was beginning to lose more ice volume than anyone expected – an annual loss of up to 52 cubic miles or 217 cubic kilometres per year, according to more recent satellite gravity measurements released by JPL. The increased ice loss may be partially offset by increased snow accumulation due to increased precipitation.

Between 1991 and 2006, monitoring of the weather at one location (Swiss Camp) found that the average winter temperature had risen almost 10 °F (5.6 °C).

Recently, Greenland's three largest outlet glaciers have started moving faster, satellite data show. These are the Jakobshavn Isbræ at Ilulissat on the western edge of Greenland, and the Kangerdlugssuaq and Helheim glaciers on the eastern edge of Greenland. The two latter accelerated greatly during the years 2004–2005, but returned to pre-2004 velocities in 2006.[8] The accelerating ice flow has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in seismic activity. In March 2006, researchers at Harvard University and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University reported that the glaciers now generate swarms of earthquakes up to magnitude 5.0.[5]

The retreat of Greenland's ice is revealing islands that were thought to be part of the mainland. In September 2005 Dennis Schmitt discovered an island 400 miles (644 km) north of the Arctic Circle in eastern Greenland which he named Uunartoq Qeqertaq, Inuit for "warming island".[9]

Future projections[edit]

In the Arctic, temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else in the world. Greenland is losing 200 billion tonnes of ice per year. Research suggests that this could increase the sea levels' rise by 30 centimeters by the end of the century. These projections have the possibility of changing as satellite data only dates back to 40 years ago. This means that researchers must view old photographs of glaciers and compare them to ones taken today to determine the future of Greenland's ice.[10]


Climate data for Greenland
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 14.2
Record low °C (°F) −66.1
[citation needed]


The ice sheet covering Greenland varies significantly in elevation across the landmass, rising dramatically between the coastline at sea level and the East-Central interior, where elevations reach 3,200 meters (10,500 ft).[11] The coastlines are rocky and predominantly barren with fjords.[12] Numerous small islands spread from the Central to Southern coastlines.[12]

Greenland's mountain ranges are partially or completely buried by ice. The highest mountains are in the Watkins Range, which runs along the eastern coast. Greenland's highest mountain is Gunnbjorn Fjeld with a height of 3,700 meters (12,139 ft).[12]

Scientists discovered an asteroid impact crater in the northwestern region of Greenland, buried underneath the ice sheet. At a size larger than Washington, D.C., it is the first impact crater found beneath one of Earth's ice sheets.[13]

Extreme points[edit]

This is a list of the extreme points of Greenland, the points that are farther north, south, east or west than any other location.

Territory of Greenland[edit]

Island of Greenland[edit]


Greenland has 18 towns – settlements with more than 500 inhabitants. Nuuk is the largest town – and the capital – with roughly one third of the country's urban population. Sisimiut with approximately 5,500 inhabitants is the second largest town, while Ilulissat is number three with around 5,000 inhabitants.

History of exploration[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Baffin Bay and Baffin Land" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ "BAFFIN BAY" (PDF). Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-13. Retrieved 2009-10-04. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ Appel, Peter W.U., Hugh R. Rollinson, and Jacques L.R. Touret. (2001) "Remnants of an Early Archaean (>3.75 Ga) sea-floor, hydrothermal system in the Isua Greenstone Belt." Precambrian Research, 112.1–2, 15 November, pp. 27–49.
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ a b "Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Slip-Sliding Away", Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2006
  6. ^ "Is the world's fastest-moving glacier set to speed up even more?". Center for Environmental Journalism. October 23, 2010. Archived from the original on December 3, 2011.
  7. ^ Krabill, W., et al., 2004, Greenland Ice Sheet: increased Coastal Thinning, Geophysical Research Letters, 31 L24402
  8. ^ Howat, Ian M.; Joughin, Ian R.; Scambos, Ted A. (8 February 2007). "Rapid Changes in Ice Discharge from Greenland Outlet Glaciers". Science. 315 (5818): 1559–61. Bibcode:2007Sci...315.1559H. CiteSeerX doi:10.1126/science.1138478. PMID 17289940.
  9. ^ "The Warming of Greenland", New York Times, January 16, 2007
  10. ^ "180,000 forgotten photos reveal the future of Greenland’s ice", Nature, July 27, 2016
  11. ^ "Topography of Greenland". 2004-12-26. Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  12. ^ a b c "Greenland Landforms and Land Statistics". Retrieved 2018-11-15.
  13. ^ "Ice Age Asteroid Crater Discovered Beneath Greenland Glacier". Retrieved 2018-11-15.

External links[edit]