[green-luhnd, -land]
Greenland, Green. Kalaallit Nunaat, Dan. Grønland, the largest island in the world (2005 est. pop. 56,000), 836,109 sq mi (2,166,086 sq km), self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark, lying largely within the Arctic Circle. It is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean in the north; the Greenland Sea in the east; the Denmark Strait in the southeast, which separates it from Iceland; the Atlantic Ocean in the south; and Davis Strait and Baffin Bay in the west, which separate it from Baffin Island, Canada. The capital is Nuuk (formerly Godthåb).

Land and People

Greenland is 1,659 mi (2,670 km) long from Cape Farewell (lat. 59°46'N) to Cape Morris Jesup (lat. 82°39'N) and has a maximum width of about 800 mi (1,290 km). Geologically, the island is part of the Canadian Shield and, therefore, of North America; more than 50% of its ice-free area consists of rocks of the Precambrian, mostly granites and gneisses. Mountain chains parallel Greenland's east and west coasts; Mt. Gunnbjørn (12,139 ft/3,700 m) and Mt. Forel (11,024 ft/3,360 m), both in SE Greenland, are the highest peaks. The entire coastline of Greenland is deeply indented by fjords. There are many offshore islands, of which Disko, in W Greenland, is the largest.

Except for about 158,430 sq mi (410,450 sq km) of coastland and coastal islands, an ice sheet and numerous minor ice caps and glaciers cover the island. The extreme northern peninsula (Peary Land) has no ice sheet but does have local ice caps. The thickness of the ice sheet reaches c.14,000 ft (4,300 m) in some places. Two drilling operations on the highest part of the ice sheet ("Summit" in N Greenland) in 1992 and 1993 both reached bottom, with the deepest core measuring 10,016 ft (3,053 m) from surface to bottom. Studies of the compositiom of the ice cores have permitted new insights into the climatic history of the last 200,000-300,000 years. The ice moves outward from the center, entering the sea in walls or debouching in glaciers, of which Humboldt Glacier is the largest and Jakobshavn Glacier the most calf-ice productive. These rapidly moving glaciers calve tremendous icebergs, notably into the Davis Strait, through which they frequently reach Atlantic shipping lanes. Surveys conducted from 1993 to 1998 showed the ice sheet in southern Greenland to be shrinking by about 2 cu mi (8 cu km) each year, but ice cores collected in the area suggested that such changes may be similar to those that occurred in the past. From 1996 to 2004, however, the amount of ice melting each year in Greenland increased by 21∕2 times, and melting and iceberg calving reduced Greenland's ice by increasing annual amounts in subsequent years, leading to concerns that the sea level could rise significantly during the 21st century.

Cold winds rush out from Greenland's interior, making the weather uncertain and foggy. A polar ocean current flows south along the entire east coast and around Cape Farewell, carrying immense ice floes that make the sea approach to E Greenland hazardous. The North Atlantic Drift gives the southwest coast of Greenland a warmer climate and heavy rainfall.

There are no forests in Greenland; dwarf trees are found in the southern coastal areas. Natural vegetation also includes mosses, lichens, grasses, and sedges. The polar bear, musk ox, polar wolf, lemming, Arctic hare, and reindeer are the chief land animals.

In addition to the capital, other important settlements are Sisimiut (Holsteinsborg), Aasiaat (Egedesminde), Qaqortoq (Julianehåb), Maniitsoq (Sukkertoppen), and Ilulissat (Jakobshavn). More than 90% of the island's population live along the west coast. About 88% of the people are Inuits or Greenland-born Caucasians; the balance are mainly Danish. The major religion is Evangelical Lutheran. Inuit dialects (Greenlandic), Danish, and English are spoken; Greenlandic and Danish are the official languages.


Fishing (shrimp, halibut, salmon, and cod) is the main industry, and dozens of processing plants have been constructed in the south and southwest. Some of the world's largest shrimp beds are in Disko Bay. In the north and east seals, foxes, and polar bears are hunted. Seabirds are hunted for their flesh, eggs, and down. Reindeer are herded and there is extensive sheep breeding in the southern area.

Gold, niobium, tantalite, uranium, iron, and diamonds are mined. Deposits of cryolite, zinc, and lead, which were important to Greenland's mining industry, have been largely worked out. Copper, coal, oil, and molybdenum deposits also exist but are difficult to extract. The country is gradually shifting its electricity production from fossil fuel to hydropower.

Greenland has gradually modernized its economy but still depends heavily on its fishing industry, and fish products are its largest export. The country must import most machinery and transportation equipment, manufactured goods, food, and petroleum products. Tourism is being developed. Significant financial support from Denmark, however, remains essential. Greenland has benefited from greatly improved air transportation and telecommunications in recent years.


A Danish colony until 1953, Greenland then became a county; it attained home rule in 1979 and began full self-government in 1981. Greenland has a 31-member unicameral parliament (Landsting) and a premier and sends two representatives to the Danish Folketing. It is divided into 18 municipalities. The nominal head of state is the Danish monarch, represented by a high commissioner.


The earliest Palaeo-Eskimo cultures had already arrived in Greenland from Canada by c.2,500 B.C. The Thule Eskimo culture first arrived in N Greenland c.A.D. 900 and in the following 1,000 years spread to both W and E Greenland. From Iceland, Greenland was discovered and S Greenland colonized (c.985) by Eric the Red, a Norseman, who named it Greenland in order to make it seem attractive to potential settlers. It was in sailing to Greenland (c.1000) that Leif Ericsson, the son of Eric the Red, probably reached North America. Greenland became a bishopric c.1110, and ruins of churches of that period remain. By the 12th cent. the population numbered some 10,000.

Greenland became self-governing, with its own Althing, but failed to achieve political stability. In 1261 the colony came under Norwegian rule, but in the 14th and 15th cent. it was neglected, and the colonists either died out or assimilated with the Eskimos. The British explorers Martin Frobisher and John Davis rediscovered Greenland in the 16th cent. but found no trace of Norsemen. Other explorers looking for the Northwest Passage subsequently charted much of the coast.

Modern colonization was begun (1721) by the Norwegian missionary Hans Egede. Danish trading posts were established shortly afterward, and colonization was furthered by deporting undesirable subjects to Greenland. Soon, the native Greenlanders began to suffer from European diseases; tuberculosis remained a problem into the 1960s. In 1814, with the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark retained Greenland and other Atlantic possessions when Norway was ceded to Sweden, which, for strategic reasons, was interested in control of the Scandinavian peninsula but not in overseas commitments of the outlying Norwegian possessions.

In the 19th and 20th cent., Greenland was explored and mapped by numerous arctic explorers. In World War II, after the German occupation (1940) of Denmark, the United States invoked the Monroe Doctrine for Greenland and reached an agreement (1941) with the Danish minister at Washington that permitted the establishment of U.S. military bases and meteorological stations. A Danish-American agreement for the common defense of Greenland was signed in 1951, and U.S. bases were retained, notably at Thule. Thule is now the sole remaining U.S. military base in Greenland.

Greenland joined the European Community (now the European Union [EU]) with Denmark in 1972 but withdrew in 1985 after a controversy over stringent fishing quotas. Since then, relations with the EU have been based on special agreements. Lars-Emil Johansen became premier in 1991; in 1995 he remained in power as head of a coalition that favored increased autonomy from Denmark and greater internal economic development.

Johansen retired in 1997 and was replaced by his coalition partner Jonathan Motzfeldt, who retained office after the 1999 elections. Following elections in 2002, Motzfeldt was replaced as premier by fellow party member Hans Enoksen. A political scandal involving misuse of funds forced an election in Nov., 2005; Enoksen remained prime minister of an expanded coalition. In 2008, Greenlanders approved a plan for increased autonomy, including increased control over natural resources; the changes, which were also supported by the Danish government, took effect in June, 2009. Elections in June, 2009, resulted in a victory for the left-wing Community of the People party; party leader Kuupik Kleist became prime minister of a coalition government.


See V. Stefansson, Greenland (1942); G. Jones, The Norse Atlantic Saga (1964); F. Gad, The History of Greenland From Earliest Times to 1700 (3 vol., 1971-83); E. Erngaard, Greenland Then and Now (1972); J. Malaurie, The Last Kings of Thule (1985); E. U. Lepthien, Greenland (1989).

Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat, meaning "Land of the Greenlanders"; Grønland) is a self-governing Danish province located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically and ethnically an Arctic island country and geographically a part of the continent of North America, politically and historically Greenland is associated with Europe, specifically Iceland, Norway, and Denmark. In 1978, Denmark granted home rule to Greenland, making it an equal member of the Rigsfællesskab. Greenland is, by area, the world's largest island, which is not a continent in its own right.


In prehistoric times, Greenland was home to a number of Paleo-Eskimo cultures. From AD 984 it was colonized by Norwegian settlers in two settlements on the west coast on the fjords near the very southwestern tip of the island. They thrived for a few centuries, but disappeared sometime in the 15th century.

Data from ice cores indicate that from AD 800 to 1300 the regions around the fjords of southern Greenland experienced a relatively mild climate. Trees and herbaceous plants grew there, and the climate initially allowed farming of livestock as in Norway. These remote communities thrived on farming, hunting and trade with Norway. When the Norwegian kings converted their domains to Christianity, a bishop was installed in Greenland, subordinate to the archdiocese of Nidaros. The settlements seem to have coexisted relatively peacefully with the Inuit, who had migrated south from the Arctic islands of North America around 1200. In 1261, Greenland became part of the Kingdom of Norway.

Around the 14th and 15th centuries, the Norwegian settlements vanished, likely due to famine and increasing conflicts with the Inuit. The condition of human bones from this period indicates the Norse population was malnourished. The main reasons appear to have been soil erosion due to destruction of the natural vegetation for farming, turf, and wood by the Norse, a decline in temperatures during the Little Ice Age, and armed conflicts with the Inuit. Jared Diamond suggests that cultural practices, such as rejecting fish as a source of food and reliance solely on livestock ill-adapted to Greenland's climate, caused by the mini-ice age, which resulted in recurring famines, with environmental degradation led to the abandonment of the colony. However, other research has suggested that fish were a major source of food for the Norse Greenlanders from the early 1300s onward.

The Kingdom of Denmark–Norway reasserted its latent claim to the colony in 1721. But ties with Norway were severed by the Treaty of Kiel of 1814, ceding Norway to the king of Sweden while Denmark retained the Norwegian overseas possessions: the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland, as well as Denmark-Norway's small territories in India (Tranquebar), West Africa (Danish Gold Coast), and the West Indies (Danish Virgin Islands).

Norway occupied and claimed parts of (then uninhabited) East Greenland also called Erik the Red's Land in July 1931, claiming that it constituted Terra nullius. Norway and Denmark agreed to settle the matter at the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1933, where Norway lost.

During World War II, Greenland's connection to Denmark was severed on April 9 1940 when Denmark was occupied by Germany. Greenland was able to buy goods from the United States and Canada, by selling cryolite from the mine in Ivigtût. During the war the system of government changed. Governor Eske Brun ruled the island via a 1925 law that allowed governors to take control under extreme circumstances. The other governor, Aksel Svane, was transferred to the US to lead the commission to supply Greenland. A sledge patrol (from 1952 Sirius Patrol), guarding the northeastern shores of Greenland using dog sleds, detected and alerted the US-troops who then destroyed several German weather stations, giving Denmark a better position in the postwar turmoil.

Greenland had been a protected and very isolated society until 1940. The Danish government, which governed its colony Greenland, had been convinced that the society would face exploitation from the outside world or even extinction if the country was opened up. But during World War II, Greenland developed a sense of self-reliance through its self-government and independent communication with the outside world.

However, a commission in 1946 (with the highest Greenlandic councils Landsrådene as participant) recommended patience and no radical reformation of the system. Two years later the first step towards changing the government was initiated when a grand commission was founded. In 1950 the report (G-50) was presented. Greenland was to be a modern welfare society with Denmark as the sponsor and example. In 1953, Greenland was made an equal part of the Danish Kingdom. Home rule was granted in 1979.


The name Greenland comes from Scandinavian settlers. In the Icelandic sagas, it is said that Norwegian-born Erik the Red was exiled from Iceland for murder. He, along with his extended family and thralls, set out in ships to find the land that was rumoured to be to the northwest. After settling there, he named the land Grænland ("Greenland"). Greenland was also called Gruntland ("Ground-land") and Engronelant (or Engroneland) on early maps. Whether green is an erroneous transcription of grunt ("ground"), which refers to shallow bays, or vice versa, is not known. It should also be noted, however, that the southern portion of Greenland (not covered by glacier) is indeed very green in the summer and was likely to have been even greener in Erik's time because of the Medieval Warm Period.


Norse Greenlanders submitted to Norwegian rule in the 13th century — and Norway entered in a personal union with Denmark in 1380 and from 1397 as a part of the Kalmar Union. From 1536, after Sweden had broken out of the union, Norway entered into a closer dependency with Denmark in the kingdom of Denmark-Norway which existed until 1814. At that time, Denmark-Norway found itself on the losing side of the Napoleonic Wars. In gratitude to Sweden for its assistance in defeating Napoleon (and as a consolation for the recent loss of Finland to Russia), mainland Norway and certain Norwegian territories were transferred to Sweden — thus, the personal union of Norway and Denmark ended. The dependencies of Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, however, remained part of the reorganised "Kingdom of Denmark".

In the early 20th century, the United States was believed to have claims made good by discovery and exploration of the Peary expeditions. In 1933, Norway attempted to claim eastern Greenland, but the Permanent Court of Arbitration decided that the entire island belonged to Denmark. During the Cold War, the United States developed a geopolitical interest in Greenland, and therefore in 1946, the United States offered to buy Greenland from Denmark for $100,000,000, but Denmark did not agree to sell.

Greenland became an integral part of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1953. It was granted home rule by the Folketing (Danish parliament) in 1979. The law went into effect on May 1 1979. The Queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, remains Greenland's Head of State. Greenlandic voters subsequently chose to leave the European Economic Community upon achieving self-rule, because they did not want to allow European fishing fleets in Greenlandic waters.

A referendum on further self-rule is scheduled for 25 November, 2008.


Greenland's Head of State is currently Margrethe II. The Queen's government in Denmark appoints a Rigsombudsmand (High commissioner) representing the Danish government and monarchy.

Greenland has an elected parliament of thirty-one members. The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is usually the leader of the majority party in Parliament. The current Prime Minister is Hans Enoksen.

In 1985, Greenland left the European Community (EC), unlike Denmark which remains a member. The EC later became the EU (European Union) when it was renamed and expanded in scope in 1992. Greenland retains some ties with the EU via Denmark.

Geography and climate

The Atlantic Ocean borders Greenland's southeast; the Greenland Sea is to the east; the Arctic Ocean is to the north; and Baffin Bay is to the west. The nearest countries are Iceland, east of Greenland in the Atlantic Ocean, and Canada, to the west and across Baffin Bay. Greenland is the world's largest island, and is the largest dependent territory by area in the world. It also contains the world's largest national park.

The total area of Greenland measures 2,166,086 km² (836,109 sq mi), of which the Greenland ice sheet covers 1,755,637 km² (677,676 sq mi) (81%) and has a volume of approximately 2.85 million km3. The coastline of Greenland is 39,330 km (24,430 miles) long, about the same length as the Earth's circumference at the Equator. The highest point on Greenland is Gunnbjørn at 3,694 metres (12,119 ft). However, the majority of Greenland is under 1,524 metres (5,000 ft) elevation.

The weight of the massive Greenlandic ice cap has depressed the central land area to form a basin lying more than 300 m (1,000 ft) below sea level. The ice flows generally to the coast from the center of the island.

All towns and settlements of Greenland are situated along the ice-free coast, with the population being concentrated along the Western coast. The northeastern part of Greenland, which includes sections of North Greenland and East Greenland, is not part of any municipality, but is the site of the world's largest national park, Northeast Greenland National Park.

At least four scientific expedition stations and camps had been established in the ice-covered central part of Greenland (indicated as pale blue in the map to the right), on the ice sheet: Eismitte, North Ice, North GRIP Camp and The Raven Skiway. Currently, there is a year-round station, Summit Camp, on the ice sheet, established in 1989. The radio station Jørgen Brøndlund Fjord was, until 1950, the northernmost permanent outpost in the world.

The extreme north of Greenland, Peary Land, is not covered by an ice sheet, because the air there is too dry to produce snow, which is essential in the production and maintenance of an ice sheet. If the Greenland ice sheet were to completely melt away, sea level would rise by more than 7 m (23 ft) and Greenland would most likely become an archipelago.

Between 1989 and 1993, U.S. and European climate researchers drilled into the summit of Greenland's ice sheet, obtaining a pair of 3 km (2 mi) long ice cores. Analysis of the layering and chemical composition of the cores has provided a revolutionary new record of climate change in the Northern Hemisphere going back about 100,000 years and illustrated that the world's weather and temperature have often shifted rapidly from one seemingly stable state to another, with worldwide consequences. The glaciers of Greenland are also contributing to global sea level rise at a faster rate than was previously believed. Between 1991 and 2004, monitoring of the weather at one location (Swiss Camp) found that the average winter temperature had risen almost 6 °C (approx. 10 °F). Other research has shown that higher snowfalls from the North Atlantic oscillation caused the interior of the ice cap to thicken by an average of 6 cm/yr between 1994 and 2005.

However, a recent study suggests a much warmer planet in relatively recent geological times:

Scientists who probed two kilometers (1.2 miles) through a Greenland glacier to recover the oldest plant DNA on record said the planet was far warmer hundreds of thousands of years ago than is generally believed. DNA of trees, plants and insects including butterflies and spiders from beneath the southern Greenland glacier was estimated to date to 450,000 to 900,000 years ago, according to the remnants retrieved from this long-vanished boreal forest. That view contrasts sharply with the prevailing one that a lush forest of this kind could only have existed in Greenland as recently as 2.4 million years ago. The existence of those DNA samples suggest the temperature probably reached 10 degrees C (50 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer and -17 °C (1 °F) in the winter. They also indicated that during the last interglacial period, 116,000–130,000 years ago, when temperatures were on average 5 °C (9 °F) higher than now, the glaciers on Greenland did not completely melt away.

In 1996, the American "Top of the World" expedition found the world's northernmost island off Greenland: ATOW1996. An even more northerly candidate was spotted during the return from the expedition, but its status is yet to be confirmed.

In 2007, the existence of a "new" island was announced. Named "Uunartoq Qeqertoq" (English: Warming Island), this island has always been present off the coast of Greenland, but was covered by an ice sheet. This ice sheet was discovered to be shrinking rapidly in 2002, and by 2007 had completely melted away, leaving the exposed island. This however was not the first occurrence of the island distinction. In Arctic Riviera, written by Ernst Hofer in 1957, in maps, and pictures, Ernst Hofer showed the distinct three fingered island separate from the mainland, during a warming event.


About 81 percent of Greenland's surface is covered by the Greenland ice sheet. The weight of the ice has depressed the central land area into a basin shape, whose base lies more than below the surrounding ocean. Elevations rise suddenly and steeply near the coast. Approximately one-twentieth of the world's ice and one-quarter of the earth's surface ice is found in Greenland.


Greenland today is critically dependent on fishing and fish exports; the shrimp fishing industry is by far the largest income earner. Despite resumption of several interesting hydrocarbon and mineral exploration activities, it will take several years before hydrocarbon production can materialize. The state oil company NUNAOIL was created in order to help develop the hydrocarbon industry in Greenland. The state company Nunamineral has been launched on the OMX20 Stock exchange of Copenhagen to raise more capital to increase the newly started gold production. Exploitation of ruby deposits have also begun, even though production is still in its dawn. Numerous other mineral prospects are growing increasingly interesting as prices are increasing; these include uranium, aluminium, nickel, platinum, tungsten, titanium, and copper. Tourism is the only sector offering any near-term potential and even this is limited due to a short season and high costs. The public sector, including publicly owned enterprises and the municipalities, plays the dominant role in Greenland's economy. About half the government revenues come from grants from the Danish Government, an important supplement to the gross domestic product (GDP). Gross domestic product per capita is equivalent to that of the weaker economies of Europe.

Greenland suffered an economic contraction in the early 1990s, but since 1993 the economy has improved. The Greenland Home Rule Government (GHRG) has pursued a tight fiscal policy since the late 1980s which has helped create surpluses in the public budget and low inflation. Since 1990, Greenland has registered a foreign trade deficit following the closure of the last remaining lead and zinc mine that year. More recenlty, new sources of Ruby in Greenland have been discovered promising to bring new industry and a new export to the country. (See Greenland Ruby).


The major airport is Kangerlussuaq Airport on the West coast at Kangerlussuaq. Intercontinental flights connect mainly to Copenhagen. As of May 2007, Air Greenland initiated a seasonal route to and from Baltimore in the United States. However, on March 10, 2008, the route was cancelled due to financial losses. Also new for summer 2007, Air Iceland plans to fly between Keflavík and Nuuk three times a week. In addition to these routes there are scheduled international flights between Narsarsuaq and Copenhagen and between Kulusuk on the East coast to Reykjavík. Kangerlussuaq is the hub for domestic flights within Greenland.


Greenland has a population of 56,344 (2007), of whom 88% are Inuit or mixed Danish and Inuit. The remaining 12% are of European descent, mainly Danish. The majority of the population is Evangelical Lutheran. Nearly all Greenlanders live along the fjords in the south-west of the main island, which have a relatively mild climate.


The official languages of Greenland are Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) and Danish, and most of the population speak both of the languages. Greenlandic is spoken by about 50,000 people, some of whom are monolingual. A minority of Danish migrants with no Inuit ancestry speak Danish as their first, or only, language. English is widely spoken as a third language.

The Greenlandic language is the most populous of the languages of the Eskimo-Aleut language family and it has as many speakers as all the other languages of the family combined. Within Greenland, three main dialects are recognized: the northern dialect Inuktun or Avanersuarmiutut spoken by around 1000 people in the region of Qaanaaq, Western Greenlandic or Kalaallisut which serves as the official standard language, and the Eastern dialect Tunumiit oraasiat or Tunumiutut spoken in eastern Greenland.


The culture of Greenland has much in common with Inuit tradition, as the majority of people are descended from Inuit. Many people still go ice-fishing and there are annual dog-sled races in which everyone with a team participates.

However, Greenland has now become somewhat of a tourist attraction. It holds contests to attract tourists such as dog racing, ice fishing, hiking, and cross country racing.


Association football is the national sport of Greenland, but Greenland is not a member of FIFA. In January 2007, Greenland took part in the World Men's Handball Championship in Germany, finishing 22nd in a field of 24 national teams.

Greenland competes in the bi-annual Island Games.

See also



  • Alley, Richard B. The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future. Princeton University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-691-00493-5.
  • CIA World Factbook, 2000.
  • Lund, S. 1959. The Marine Algae of East Greenland. 1. Taxonomical Part. Meddr Gronland. 156(1), pp.1-245.
  • Lund, S. 1959. The Marine Algae of East Greenland. 11. Geographic Distribution. Meddr Gronland. 156, pp.1-70.
  • Steffen, Konrad, N. Cullen, and R. Huff (2005). "Climate variability and trends along the western slope of the Greenland Ice Sheet during 1991-2004," Proceedings of the 85th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (San Diego).
  • Bardarson, I. (ed. Jónsson, F.) "Det gamle Grønlands beskrivelse af Ívar Bárðarson (Ivar Bårdssön)", (Copenhagen, 1930).

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