Focus on Greenland

About Greenland

Greenland is the world’s largest island, with around 56,000 people living there. It has one of the smallest capitals in the world – Nuuk – with a population of around 16,500 people. In the Greenlandic language (Kalaallisut) the name for Greenland is Kalaallit Nunaat which means “The Land of the People”. The Greenland flag and Coat of Arms are pictured to the right.

It is a country of contrasting landscapes and diverse climates – rugged mountains, Arctic desert, lush sheep farms and of course the enormous Greenland Ice Sheet at the center. In the summer, it is the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’, while in winter the Northern Lights (also known as Aurora Borealis) put on their spectacular display.

Did you know?

  • The country is 82% ice cap with a small strip of inhabitable land along the shorelines.
  • The land mass makes Greenland the world’s 12th largest country, but it is one of the most sparsely populated places on the planet.
  • About 90% of the population is Greenlandic, while 10% are immigrants, mostly from Denmark, but increasingly from other parts of the world.
  • The first language is Greenlandic (Kalaallisut) and Danish is the official second language. Walking down the street however you could hear Thai, Norwegian, Icelandic, Filipino, English, and other languages!

Explore the interactive map below to find out more about this amazing country…

The People of Greenland

Most of the people who live in Greenland are Inuit. Greenland has a distinct culture that shapes the way people live. The old and the new combine together – traditional hunting and fishing sit alongside wireless internet; dogsledding and skateboarding exist side by side and fishermen and academics come from the same families.

Greenlandic belongs to the Eskimo family of languages. It is a ‘polysynthetic’ language, which means that a Greenlandic word can be very long and can mean the same as a whole sentence in other languages.

In the past, Inuits wore clothes made from animal hides or skins. These were warm – they could cope with the Arctic’s freezing winter temperatures – and lasted a long time. Men’s clothing was also made so that it would keep the men dry when hunting by kayak.

Europeans brought new types of material and glass beads to Greenland in the 17th and 18th centuries which gradually became part of the Inuits’ dress, particularly for celebrations. For men, hide trousers were replaced with a thick woollen material called ‘holmensklæde’ (island cloth), and for women the anorak was sewn in silk. The glass beads became a feature of the Greenlandic national costume, which is worn today on festive occasions such as Greenland’s National Day.

Photo of traditional dress courtesy of greenland.com.

Photo of a typical Greenland house taken during the Polar Ocean Challenge.

Animals and plants (fauna and flora)

Animals

The polar bear is the biggest predator (hunter) and features on Greenland’s national coat of arms. Greenland is also home to other distinctive animals such as the musk ox, the narwhal and the walrus. Reindeers, wolves, arctic foxes, mountain hares and other small land mammals are also found and around 60 species of bird breed in Greenland, including the white-tailed eagle.

Whales can be seen all over Greenland, particularly during summer. Fin whales, humpback whales and minke whales are the most common, however bowhead whales, blue whales and sperm whales also visit the waters off Greenland.

Animals have traditionally been an important source of food, clothes and income for Greenlanders and played a key role in their way of life. However, today hunting is an important source of income for only a few Greenlanders.

Trees, plants and flowers

Greenland is much greener than you think! More than 500 species of flowering plants grow in Greenland, half which are found on Disko Island. Colourful flowers, lush meadows and hardy plants thrive in the mild summer. Greyleaf willow grows at the base of fjords and can often grown to the height of a person, and five types of orchid flower in Greenland. Small trees even grow in the innermost fjords in Southern Greenland.

Climate Change in Greenland

When scientists and others talk about the impact of global warming, they often mention that the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting. Greenland also acts as an important indicator of how healthy our global climate is. Climate change is therefore an important topic to explore when understanding more about this unique country.

Read more about the impacts of melting ice on the world in this infographic from greenland.com.

Melting ice

Ten percent (10%) of all the fresh water in the world is found in Greenland in the form of ice – millions of cubic meters of frozen fresh water. The rise in global temperatures is causing this ice to melt at an alarming rate. Sealers and whalers at Qaanaaq say that the sea ice is 1 metre (3 feet) thinner today than previously.

In certain areas of the country glaciers are retreating year after year. The UNESCO-protected ice fjord near Ilulissat, has pulled back almost 10km (6 miles) between 2001 and 2004.

Why does this matter?

Recent studies suggest that the ice in Greenland is melting faster than it can be created again. As temperatures continue to rise at the current rate or faster, the ice will melt too quickly and cause the levels of the sea to rise. If the world’s oceans rise by just 44 centimeters, 100 million people will be affected.

Global warming and the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet will have a big impact on the people, nature and wildlife in the Arctic and the rest of the world.