Disko Island is a large coastal island located in the waters of Baffin Bay, off the western coast of Greenland, at a latitude of 70 ° North, and north of Disko Bay. It has an area of 8,578 km², being the second largest island in Greenland (after the main island of Greenland itself) and the 85th largest island in the world. The name Qeqertarsuaq means, in Greenlandic, “Big Island” (from “qeqertaq”, island).
The island has a length of about 160 km, its average height is 975 m and the maximum is 1,919 m. The main settlements on the island are the port of Qeqertarsuaq (also known as Godhavn), which is located on its southern coast, Diskofjord and Qullissat.
Its mineral deposits, fossiliferous areas and special geological formations make up an area of great interest. One of the interesting geological features is the natural iron found on the island. A 22-ton piece of a mixture of iron and cementite has been found, there are few places on earth where natural iron other than meteoric origin can be found.2 3 There are more than 2000 hot springs of the island.
Erik the Red was the first Westerner to visit Disko Island sometime between 982 and 985, and it is likely that Viking settlers used the island as a base during the summer hunting and fishing season.
The mountain ranges formed 55 to 65 million years ago are made of reddish basalt, the highest point is 1919 meters, the average height is 975 meters. The island’s permafrost only allows for tundra vegetation; there are no agricultural areas or trees. The interior of Disko Island covers a considerable part of the 918 km² Sermersuaq (ie “Great Glacier”). The Bræpasset ice cap extends over 254 km². Above Qeqertarsuaq lies the smaller Lyngmarks Glacier. A total of 19% of the island’s area is glaciated.
There are three large fjords on the west coast, from north to south:
- Nordfjord (Kangersooq)
- Mellemfjord (Akulliit)
- Diskofjord (Kangerluk).
The disco island is very sparsely populated, there are only two permanently inhabited places. The largest settlement is Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn) with 871 inhabitants (as of 2015) in the south. About 35 kilometers north of it is the still very original Inuit settlement Kangerluk with 21 inhabitants (as of 2015) who live from hunting and fishing. Until 1972 there was a coal mine in the north-east of the Qullissat miners’ settlement, which formed its own municipality under the name Vaigat. However, after the mine was closed, residents were relocated to Ilulissat and Qeqertarsuaq, and the area of Vaigat Municipality was incorporated into Qeqertarsuaq.
The Disco Island is interesting because of its geological formations interspersed with fossils. From a mineralogical point of view, the island is a celebrity as it is one of the few places where terrestrial solid iron can be found. A basalt on the island that has penetrated the tertiary brown coal seams contains the iron in the form of large masses down to small tinsel. The largest known mass of iron weighs around 25 tons.
Traces of the Paleo-Eskimos and the Dorset culture have been found near Qeqertarsuaq, but whether a permanent settlement already existed at that time is still a matter of dispute. In the immediate vicinity, near Ilulissat, the important settlement site Sermermiut of the Saqqaq culture was excavated. It is therefore very likely that Proto-Inuit peoples regularly visited Disco Island in prehistoric times.
Erik the Red is considered the first European to see Disco Island. North of the Arctic Circle there were no permanent settlements of the Greenlandic Vikings, but they did visit the area around Disko Bay in the summer months for hunting and named the region Norðrsetur.
In search of the legendary Northwest Passage, the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror of Sir John Franklin’s expedition anchored in the bay off Qeqertarsuaq on July 4, 1845 to take in fresh water again. Except for a brief sighting by a whaler on the high seas, just a few days later, this was the last time that the 138 expedition members were seen alive.
The Danish ARKTISK research station was established in 1906 as a scientific base station and has been part of the Natural Science Faculty of the University of Copenhagen since 1956. The Danish botanist Morten Pedersen Porsild was its first director until 1946.