Geography of Greenland

Greenland geography

Greenland is an autonomous region of Denmark, occupying the island of the same name and adjacent islands, off the northeast coast of North America, in the Arctic region and near the North Pole. Together with the Faroe Islands and Denmark itself, it forms the Commonwealth of the Kingdom of Denmark (Rigsfællesskabet). Although geographically belonging to North America, it is politically linked to Europe.

The gigantic island of Greenland is bathed by two great oceans: the Glacial Arctic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as several seas belonging to these oceans: the Greenland Sea, the Labrador Sea, the Norwegian Sea and Baffin Bay.

Thickness of the Greenland Ice Sheet
Thickness of the Greenland Ice Sheet

The nearest land is Ellesmere Island, the northernmost of the islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, from which it is separated by the Strait of Nares. Other nearby territories are: in the same archipelago as Canada, to the west, Devon Island and Baffin Island; to the southeast, Iceland; to the east, the island of Jan Mayen, and to the northeast the archipelago of Spitzbergen, both Norwegian possessions.

Greenland is the largest island in the world, with a surface area of ​​2,180,000 km² and a coastline of more than 44,000 km. It has a maximum length of 2,670 km and an average width of 1,060 km. 81% of Greenland is permanently covered by ice, making it the second largest ice reserve in the world, surpassed only by Antarctica.

The population is approximately 55,847 inhabitants, of which 89% are Inuit and 11% are Danes and other nationalities, inhabiting small towns along the coast of the island – with emphasis on Nuuk, Sisimiut, Ilulissat, Maniitsoq, Aasiaat and Qaqortoq, all located on the west coast.

Greenland map

Geografia física

Relief

The territory is generally uneven, with the Sierra de Gunnbjørns Fjeld (3 693 m) being the highest point. The coast is mostly rocky with cliffs. The northern end of the island is Cape Morris Jesup, discovered by Admiral Robert Peary in 1909.
A layer of gradually sloping ice covers some 81% of the island. Reaching 3000 m, this ice cap has an average thickness of 1500 m. A coastal strip equivalent to 16% of the territory does not have permanent ice.

Climate

Greenland has a polar climate, with great local variations due to the extent and rugged character of the terrain. A branch of the Gulf Stream passes off the west coast, softening the climate and normally allowing the absence of ice in the region. The Nuuk capital has average temperatures ranging between – 5 °C and +7 °C.

Vegetation

The vegetation is generally sparse, in the form of tundra and taiga. There is a small forested area in the municipality of Nanortalik in the far south, near Cape Farvel.

Fauna

On dry land abounds the hare, the ermine, the polar fox, the polar wolf, the reindeer, the musk ox and the polar bear. In coastal areas there are seals, whales and ‘toothed whales’. The Grenlandian dog is typical of the island.
Among the birds, there is the Escrideira-das-sneves, the crow, the white-tailed eagle and the snow owl. At sea there is a lot of cod and shrimp.

Natural resources

The main traditional natural resources are cod and shrimp – the basis of fishing, as well as seals and whales – the basis of hunting.
Mineral resources abound, such as zinc, lead, iron ore, coal, molybdenum, gold, platinum and uranium. The ongoing global warming process causes a successive melting of the ice cap covering Greenland. This implies a shift to the North of the shrimp, and the discovery and possibility of exploring minerals and precious stones.

Human geography

Population

Greenland has a population of around 56,000, of which 89% are Inuit and 11% are Danes and other groups. ¼ of these inhabitants live in the capital Nuuk. Most Greenlanders live in West Coast locations.

Cities

The capital of Greenland is Nuuk/Godthåb, a small town on the south west coast, with some 16 000 inhabitants. The second city is Sisimiut and the third Ilulissat. Altogether there are 18 locations with more than 500 inhabitants.

  • Nuuk
  • Sisimiut
  • Ilulissat
  • Maniitsoq
  • Aasiaat
  • Qaqortoq

Counties

Greenland is divided into 4 communes (kommune):

  • Kujalleq
  • Sermersooq
  • Qeqqata
  • Qaasuitsup
The municipalities of Greenland

Economy

Greenland’s traditional economy is mainly based on cod and shrimp fishing, seal and whale hunting. The new economy is based on the extraction of mineral resources (zinc, lead, iron ore, copper, molybdenum, aluminum, uranium, coal, gold, platinum). Tourism has some potential, but it still does not play an important role. Ilulissat Ice Fjord is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main economic partner is Denmark, followed by Norway.

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