Facts about the Greenland Ice Sheet
Greenland's Inland Ice Cap is the second-largest ice sheet in the world, only surpassed by the Antarctic ice sheet. The Ice Cap covers 80% of Greenland and measures a staggering 1,726,400 square kilometres. It contains 2.8 million cubic kilometres of ice. If it were to melt, sea levels would rise 7.2 metres, which would be really bad news to many low-lying countries.
The Ice Cap actually consists of two domes of ice with a dip between them running across Greenland. At its highest point, the Ice Cap is 3,200 metres above sea level, and its average thickness is approx. 2,135 metres – in fact, 65% of the ice surface is located more than 2,000 metres above sea level. About a third of the ice lies below sea level, and this means that, if the ice melted, Greenland would actually be a ring-shaped country with a large lake in the middle.
Video about the Greenland Ice Sheet
Due to the gravity, the Ice Cap produces glaciers along Greenland's entire coastline. Quite simply because the ice becomes so heavy it pushes itself outward. At the end of these glaciers, the ice calves and becomes icebergs. At the top of the Ice Cap, the landscape is rather flat but in the rim areas, the ice is terribly jagged and undulating – and quite dangerous due to the cracks, ravines, glacial lakes – which can cause spring tide – and the high number a rivers running both on the surface of and inside the ice. The age of the ice varies incredibly, and the icebergs range from 500 to 100,000 years of age. As a matter of fact, it has been discovered that the bottom layers of the ice are as old as 250,000 years.
The Ice Cap in Greenland - Photo: Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland
Kangerlussuaq Airport is the gateway to Greenland for most tourists, and from here it is fairly easy to get to the Ice Cap, as our subsidiary, World of Greenland Arctic Circle, offers excursions in there in large, cross-country vehicles. The Ice Cap is located approx. 25 kilometres from the airport and can be reached on two different excursions. Both of these will last approx. 4 hours, and one of the excursions will take you onto the Ice Cap itself, allowing you to walk around in a safe area. The other excursion leads to the Russell Glacier where you will face a tall wall of ice, measuring 60 metres, and see how the ice flows out into the surrounding landscape.
Both excursions offer completely unique photo opportunities, and they are also available in longer versions that include a barbecue. Moreover, you can rent bikes to bring in here, but do not think that it is anything like a light bike ride across the moor. The condition of the road leading in here is bad, and the terrain is undulating, so you have to set off quite a few hours for this endeavour. You can also try spending the night on the Ice Cap. This will take place in our tent camp, which is safely located upon the ice. A very special experience, indeed.
Russel Glacier in Kangerlussuaq in Greenland - Photo: Mads Pihl - Visit Greenland
For more information about your opportunities to experience the Ice Cap near Ilulissat, read about the Icefjord here and the Eqi glacier here.
Narsaq and Narsarsuaq
In Southern Greenland you can also get to experience the Ice Cap at close range. This can be done at both Narsarsuaq and Narsaq. Behind Narsarsuaq Airport you can walk to a glacial tongue located at a relatively high altitude. This is not an excursion for those with walking difficulties. Instead, you can take a boat trip to the Qooroq Icefjord near the harbour in Narsarsuaq. Narsaq is one of two towns in Greenland from which you can see the Ice Cap with the naked eye, and from Narsaq, you can set out across Narsaq Sound and Bredefjord to get close to the Ice Cap. Here are various options to experience the ice at close range.
Tent camp in Tasiilaq in Eastgreenland - Photo: Erwin Reinthaler
If you are in the mood for a good, long hike, you can head upwards on the island of Ammassalik, on which the town of Tasiilaq is located. From this high vantage point, you can look across the Sermilik fjord and see the Ice Cap on the other side of the fjord. The fjord itself also offers an excellent way to experience the Ice Cap as it carries giant icebergs from the glaciers at the base of the fjord into the sea.
Download Guide: The Big Arctic Five in Greenland
This guide is an introduction to “The Big Arctic Five” in Greenland, the most popular experiences in Greenland. Find out when and how to experience them.
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