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Icebergs | Facts about Icebergs & Glaciers in Greenland

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Icebergs and Glaciers in Greenland

Due to the fact that 80 % of Greenland is covered by ice, and 100 % is covered by snow and ice for most parts of the year, you do not need a degree in rocket science to realise how significantly ice influences life on the world's biggest island.

In fact, it comes as a surprise to some people that Greenland is inhabited at all. They only regard the country as a giant white lump at the top of their world map, which is not that strange. After all, you never feel crowded in Greenland. With a population of 56,000 people, there is plenty of space for everyone. But the majority of that space is occupied the Ice Cap.

The Greenland Ice Sheet

The Ice Cap it the largest ice sheet in the northern hemisphere. It measures approx. 1,726,400 square metres in addition to a couple of 'smaller' ice sheets measuring 76,000 square metres. This leaves just 338,000 ice-free square metres in Greenland. In other terms, the Ice Cap is one serious ice cube. If it were to melt, not only would it cause the glass to spill its contents, but it would also cause the sea levels to rise more than 7 metres. 'That's a whole lotta ice', as the Americans would put it.

At its thickest, the Ice Cap is more than three kilometres thick, and it is so heavy that about a third of it is placed below sea level, pushed down by its own weight. If it were to eventually melt, Greenland would actually be a ring-shaped country.

Many places is Greenland allow you to experience the Ice Cap, but doing so from Kangerlussuaq requires the least effort, as you are able to drive to the rim of the ice and even walk on top of the vast ice sheet.

Only two towns in Greenland directly overlook the Ice Cap: Narsaq in the south and Qaanaaq in the north. Other destinations located near the Ice Cap include Ilulissat, Tasiilaq, Narsarsuaq and Uummannaq. Moreover, there are places allowing you to get close to other glaciers, such as Kulusuk.
Greenland has a wealth of glaciers where the ice is pushed out into the sea. This is the birthplace of the famous icebergs as they calve from the Ice Cap.

The Ice Cap in Kangerlussuaq in Greenland
The Ice Cap in Kangerlussuaq in Greenland - Photo: Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland

The icefiords with icebergs

The Ilulissat Icefjord is a remarkable natural phenomenon, which has been listed as UNESCO world heritage. The incredible fjord with its icy water and the giant glacier at its base has been thoroughly described by numerous other sources, so you are almost guaranteed to have heard about it already.
Looking across the incredible Icefjord is simply outstanding. It is vital, however, that you keep a safe distance to the edge of the Icefjord, as it can be connected with great danger to get too close. Sudden waves can wash up quite far, and it has happened more than once that people have been pulled into the freezing water.

There are other icefjords in Greenland just as spectacular as the Ilulissat Icefjord, but the one in Ilulissat is unique due to the speed with which it moves, and it is easy to reach. Other beautiful icefjords include:

Sermilik on the west side of the island of Ammassalik
The icefjords near Paamiut and Nuuk
Qoorooq near Narsarsuaq
Bredefjord near Narsaq 
The stunning Eternity Fjord near Maniitsoq.

Ilulissat Icefiord in Greenland
Ilulissat Icefiord in Greenland

The pack ice

Pack ice is a tangible phenomenon – especially in Eastern and Southern Greenland. Pack ice occurs during spring and summer when the ice on the Norwegian Sea breaks up, and gigantic flat icebergs float southward along the east coast. Rounding the southern point of Greenland, Cape Farewell, they will head toward Southern Greenland where it will eventually either melt or drift to sea in the Baffin Bay. The pack ice – or drift ice – is frozen sea ice of saltwater unlike the freshwater ice of the Ice Cap. It packs tightly wherever it gets to, and it can be highly dangerous to navigate around it.

We cannot stress enough that it is dangerous to get too close to ice – whether it is the Ice Cap or giant icebergs in the water. Please be careful, as there are unpredictable natural powers at large here. That being said, when you watch it all – at a safe distance – you will never forget the sight!

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