The Greenland Ice Cap. And it is melting . . .


Greenland is the closest land mass to the North Pole. However, there is a relatively small amount of "land" to be seen. Greenland is approximately 86% covered with ice, with average ice thickness about 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), but the northern dome has a depth of up to 11,000 feet (3,400 meters).

Greenland map

Here is a cross section view of the ice cap and land from Thule, on the west coast, to the eastern shore line. Notice that the weight of the ice cap has pushed the land down below sea level. (NOTE: Height scale larger than width scale.)

Arctic ice cap thickness

Around the edges of the icecap are the only areas of land that can support life in these extreme weather conditions. Most of that land is frozen solid, except for the top couple inches that thaws for the few months of summer. However, you will see in my pictures, in later chapters, how unique and beautiful some of that life is.

The sea provides much of the food for the approximately 55,000 people who live there. Eighty percent of these people are Inuit, with cultural linkage to the other inhabitants in Arctic Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.

The Viking, Eric-the-Red, discovered and named Greenland over 1000 years ago. Denmark claimed it in 1605 and attempted to make it into a productive colony. In 1979, the Greenlanders were granted Home Rule. See the list of Greenland Resources for more details.

Thule Air Base was built by the U.S. from 1951 to 1953 and has had a variety of both wartime and peacetime missions. The support of research and exploration in the Arctic has always been one of the main functions of the base.

Thule Air Base as seen from Mt Dundas.

Thule AB from Mt Dundas

This narrow strip of land that Thule AB rests on is 1600 feet thick permafrost. In the background about 10 to 15 miles away (16 -24 km) is the great icecap. The vertical edge along most of the ice cap seen here is over 100 feet high. A common mistake made by new-comers to this area is to misjudge distance. Everything looks much closer than it really is because the air is so clear and there are few landmarks on the flat, barren land. Once a group of us was going to hike to a glacier we could see clearly from the base and planned a 4 or 5-hour hike there and back. It took us twice that long and we never even made it all the way to the glacier.

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Below is a NASA Space-shuttle photograph of southern Greenland. All land areas are snow covered in this mid-winter scene. The interior ice sheet is smooth, and coastal mountains appeared rugged and covered in snow and ice. Deep glacier-carved fjord valleys cut through the coastal mountain ranges. (Thanks, NASA Johnson Space Center, Imagery Services, STS027-32-17).

Arctic thule greenland

Ice cap melting The ice cap is melting faster than predicted in recent years, apparently due to the global warming trend.

This may surprise you to see how large Greenland is compared to Europe.

Greenland compared to Europe's size

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© Copyright 1999, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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