Greenland, vast, remote, and far off the beaten path, could be the unique destination you’re looking for. Small ship expeditions are able to travel deep into the fjords and valleys to explore this fascinating Arctic wilderness. Get ready for your trip with this list of interesting and sometimes funny facts about Greenland.
Many of the islands around the world are countries. Technically, Australia is an island because it isn’t connected to any other body of land. But Australia is considered to be a continent or continental landmass. This leaves Greenland with the title of “World’s Largest Island” at 836,330 sq miles (2,166,086 sq km) in size.
The big island has a 24,430 mile-long coastline (39,330 km). This is roughly equivalent to the circumference of Earth’s equator. About 56,000 people live on the island in the 20 percent that isn’t covered by ice and snow.
The average temperatures in Greenland don’t exceed 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) in the summer except in the southern part where temps may reach as much as 68 F (20 C) in June, July, and August. Because of the Arctic climate, most people live in settlements and cities on the coast. In fact, there is only one town in Greenland that isn’t a coastal town. The only farming that takes place is sheep farming in the extreme south.
The trade-off of an Arctic climate is some of the world’s best air quality, thanks to Greenland’s geographical position to the high north. And because the humidity is so low, you can see at distances much farther than in other places. That’s important to keep in mind if you’re hiking.
More than 85 percent of Greenland’s residents are Inuit people. The word means “men” in the Inuit language. They descended from subsistence hunters who lived primarily from products from whales, seals, polar bears, caribou, walrus, and musk oxen.
There are three major Inuit groups: Tunumiit, Inughuit, and Kalaallit. About 10 percent of the Inuit live in very remote regions and speak their own language. The rest of the population is mainly Danish.
The few ice-free areas in Greenland are almost treeless except for some mountain ash, gray leaf willow, alder scrub, and dwarf birch. These tree species manage to survive and grow in southern Greenland’s sheltered valleys. Because of Greenland’s isolated position, it’s difficult for heavily seeded plants like conifers to grow.
When it comes to transportation in Greenland, nature rules. There are no railways and roads are limited, essentially stopping on the outskirts of each of the towns. Deep fjords, rugged terrain, the Greenland ice sheet, and a small population are the main reasons for the limited road system. Altogether, there are 93 miles (150 km) of roads, and only 37 miles (60 km) are paved.
The whole country only has two traffic lights both of which are in the town of Nuuk, population 17,000. To travel from one town to the next, Greenlanders travel by boat in summer and snowmobile or dogsled in winter.
If you like to “get away from it all” by hiking, Greenland is the place to do so. For a multi-day hike, the almost 100-mile (160 km) Arctic Circle Trail runs from Kangerlussuaq to Sisimiut. Even though the trail has become very popular, it’s still never crowded. Even during peak season, you may walk for hours without seeing anyone.
There is nowhere to buy things or restock supplies along the way, so you must take everything with you. The trail has nine tiny huts spaced around a day apart.
Greenland has some impressive phenomena. Since there is very little light pollution and 24 hours of darkness during the winter, it’s the best place in the world to see the aurora borealis or Northern Lights. The dancing pink, green, yellow, blue, and violet swirls can be seen from anywhere on the island, even in Nuuk. Kangerlussuaq is one of the best places to see them. The area experiences 300 or more days each year of clear sky.
As in Norway, the “Land of the Midnight Sun,” it never gets completely dark above the Arctic Circle in Greenland. The phenomenon occurs roughly between May 25 and July 25. The dark nights are replaced by an eternal twilight. In winter, the opposite occurs for a phenomenon known as Polar Darkness. During this time, the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon.
Ever wondered why Greenland isn’t called Whiteland or Snowland? According to “The Saga of Erik the Red” compiled between the 13th and 15th centuries, the name “Greenland” was a marketing ploy. The murderous Norse explorer was exiled from Iceland around circa 980. When he reached the primarily ice-covered island in the 10th century, he decided to name it Greenland to encourage more potential settlers with the promise of rich fields and lush forests.
Greenland plays an important role in the global climate system. The great ice sheet, which covers 80 percent of the country, reflects much of the sun’s energy into space, helping to moderate temperatures. This is known as the “albedo effect.” Additionally, Greenland’s strategic location in the North Atlantic Ocean allows its meltwater to temper the ocean’s circulation patterns.
But Greenland is particularly vulnerable to climate change. Arctic air temperatures are now rising at twice the global average rate. New records for “the wettest”, “the driest,” “the warmest” are set frequently. The ice sheet lost an enormous amount of mass (around 269 gigatons) between 2002 and 2016. For perspective, a gigaton is one billion tons, and the average car weighs around one ton.
During the melt season of 2012, 97 percent of the ice sheet showed surface melt. And in April of 2016, the island had its earliest melt event ever when in one day more than 10 percent of the ice sheet had 1mm or more of surface melt.
According to an international team of researchers, the infamous Eric the Red’s ploy to lure settlers to Greenland may be appropriate in the distant future. It’s ironic that the 45th President of the United States, a real estate mogul who was not a proponent of climate change, is said to have shown interest in buying the autonomous nation.
When Denmark proclaimed that “Greenland was not for sale,” he canceled his trip to meet with the Danish prime minister. As climate change converts frozen tracts into places that are potentially hospitable for growing shrubs and trees, scientists think a few seeds could blow in and turn the rugged terrain into forestland. They predict that the island could look more like western Canada or Alaska. Of course, it would take centuries, and might not be so great for the rest of us.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.