Polar bears can be found roaming Greenland’s coastline and swimming in the surrounding waters.
Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, Greenland is the world’s largest island. The island—a territory of Denmark—is more than three times the size of the state of Texas. Its nearest neighbor is Canada’s Ellesmere Island, which is located 16 miles (26 kilometers) to the north of Greenland. Iceland is its nearest European neighbor, and is located about 200 miles (about 321 kilometers) to the southeast.
Two-thirds of Greenland lies above the Arctic Circle, creating frigid climate year-round. Greenlanders experience 24 hours of sunlight in the summer, with temperatures only reaching about 40°F (about 4°C), and almost complete darkness in the winter, when temperatures dip as low as minus 30°F (about minus 34°C).
The Arctic climate sustains the island’s massive ice sheet, or large mass of glacier ice, which covers about 80 percent of the island. The Greenland Ice Sheet is the second largest in the world after the Antarctic Ice Sheet—it stretches over 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) from north to south and is nearly 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) thick in many places. That means the ice sheet is almost one mile thick in some spots!
The unfrozen parts of Greenland are covered by tundra, which is a flat, treeless landscape with whipping winds. But even the tundra has some ice: Permafrost, or frozen soil, sits beneath much of the Greenland’s tundra. The island’s coastline is mostly rocky—and there’s a lot of it. If it stretched out like a string, the coastline would measure 24,430 miles (39,330 kilometers), which is almost long enough to stretch around the Earth at the Equator.
Greenland’s natural environment is shaped by the extreme Arctic climate. Most of the vegetation on the island exists on the tundra, away from the ice sheets. Low-growing plants like dwarf birch and whortleberry, as well as mosses and lichens, can be found throughout the tundra.
Many marine mammals live in the seas around the island, including seals, walruses, and whales. Polar bears, arctic foxes, wolves, reindeer, and musk oxen can be found roaming the island’s ice sheets. The coastal area also attracts some 230 bird species, including sea eagles, that feed on saltwater fish like salmon, flounder, and halibut.
Nearly half of Greenland is protected as the National Park of Greenland—Greenland’s only national park, and the world’s largest national park. At 375,000 square miles (971,245 kilometers), the park covers most of the northeastern section of the island. The few people who regularly access the park are sealers and whalers from Ittoqqortoormiit, a remote town in eastern Greenland, plus a few scientific researchers and military personnel.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Nine out of 10 Greenlanders are of Inuit descent, and the remainder of the population are Danish or European. The majority of people in the territory live in one of the island’s 18 cities, including the its capital, Nuuk, located on the southwest coast.
Greenlandic culture is influenced by Inuit traditions. Hunting and fishing remain a way of life on the island, and many Greenlanders still use traditional tools and hunting methods, such as the qajaq (a sea kayak) and ulo (a curved knife used to carve seal meat). They also often travel by dogsled.
Traditional Inuit cultural activities like soapstone carving and drum dancing are still popular on the island, as are sports. Soccer is one of the most popular sports in Greenland, along with volleyball, table tennis, and skiing.