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The Greenland Ice Sheet

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The Greenland Ice Sheet - is the world's second largest ice cap. The Greenland Ice Sheet covers 80 % of Greenland. When in Greenland, make sure to take a trip to this enormous, inland ice cap. Walking on the Greenland Ice Sheet is a unique experience!

The Greenland Ice Sheet, this mythical ice cap, has attracted adventurers for centuries, and you can also experience it up close in several places in Greenland, not least at Kangerlussuaq, where you can get up and walk on top of it.

The Greenland Ice Sheet is the second largest ice cap in the world, only surpassed by the ice cap on the Antarctic. The ice cap covers 80 % of Greenland.

Big numbers

The Greenland Ice Sheet is the mother of most of the largest icebergs in the northern hemisphere, and the ice cap is indeed gigantic. From north to south, the ice sheet extends over 2,600 kilometers, as from Scotland to the Sahara Desert, or from Toronto to the Florida Keys. It is approximately 1,726,400 square kilometers large, and there are a couple of “smaller” ice caps, which are 76,000 square kilometers large, so the ice-free area in Greenland is only about 338,000 square kilometers (a little smaller than Germany or Japan).

The ice sheet itself consists of about 2,800,000 cubic kilometers of ice! Should the ice sheet melt, it would increase the water level with 7 meters (23 feet) in all the oceans of the world. The ice sheet is at its highest over three kilometers thick, and it is so heavy that approximately one-third of it lies below the surface of the sea, pressed down by its weight. If the ice melted, Greenland would be a ridge-shaped country, where a new sea would emerge in the middle.



“Sermeq” means glacier, and “suaq” means great. Sermersuaq – the great ice – is the Greenlandic name for the ice cap. This is the way you often form words in Greenlandic. With a noun and an ending. You can also see it in Kangerlussuaq (The Great Fjord) or Narsarsuaq (The Big Plain).

How to get there

You can experience the Greenland Ice Sheet in many places in Greenland but no place as easily as in Kangerlussuaq, where you can drive to the edge of the ice and even get up to walk on the mighty ice cap. The trip can be made by foot or bike, but it is in 25-37 kilometers of hilly terrain on dirt roads, so we recommend that you take a 4×4 bus excursion there.

One excursion goes to Point 660, where you get to walk on the ice. Also, near this point is Camp Ice Cap, where you can stay overnight in a tent on the Ice Sheet. Then there is the trip to Russell Glacier, which is also dome by 4×4 bus. Here you experience a high wall of ice, lying among rocks and green plains.

You can only see the Ice Sheet from two towns in Greenland: Narsaq in South Greenland and Qaanaaq in North Greenland. In other places, however, you are not far from the Ice Sheet, although it is not directly visible from the town. This is true, for example, in Ilulissat, Tasiilaq, Narsarsuaq, and Uummannaq. And then there are places where you can see other glaciers close by, such as in Kulusuk.


The Greenland Ice Sheet up close

The Ice Sheet is not just a giant white clump of ice. If you come close, you will experience ice with crevasses, holes, and lakes in many different shades of white, gray, blue, and even black. In the summer, in many of the fissures in the ice, rivers of meltwater flow. On the whole, the ice is like a living organism, which at its edge calves of ice into the sea and lakes.

When you visit the Ice Sheet, there is an important rule: Follow the marked routes. The Greenland Ice Sheet lives its own life, so do not do anything foolhardy. There are places like Point 660 in Kangerlussuaq, where you can get up on the ice without any hassle and danger but everywhere else you should follow the directions of your guide or the captains of the boats.

The melting ice

These years, there is a lot of focus on the Greenland Ice Sheet melting faster than before. In the face of ongoing global warming, the poles are warming faster than lower latitudes. The primary cause of this phenomenon is ice-albedo feedback, whereby melting ice uncovers darker land or ocean beneath, which then absorbs more sunlight, causing more heating. Pollution from Europe and elsewhere that places a dark layer on top of the ice is a factor too. Also, local winds blow sand onto the ice. It causes the ice to melt faster than if it were white.

The underside of the ice is also melting faster because many of the new freshwater lakes and rivers on top of the ice run through the crevices and run along the ground beneath the ice. It causes the ice to rise, and the extra friction under the ice also contributes to further melting. The bottom surface of the ice also becomes smoother due to these water currents, and it causes the ice to slide faster towards the sea.



Over the years, many researchers have been working on the Greenland Ice Sheet, and Danish researchers have drilled down into the ice and pulled up core samples from the last 125,000 years. In this way, the Greenland Ice Sheet works like the tree rings of a tree. Every year a new layer of ice and snow can tell the researchers about the climate in any given year. In this way, the researchers can see, for example, when Krakatau exploded on the other side of Earth. In the ice, they have also found fossils of old plants that grew in Greenland before the ice came.


Other ice sheets

In addition to Greenland’s ice cap, we have the enormous amounts of ice covering Antarctica. Antarctica is a continent where ice and snow made from freshwater settle on the ground. The Arctic ice at the North Pole, on the other hand, is frozen saltwater from the Arctic Sea, after which snow deposits on top of this ice create additional freshwater ice on top of the flat floes of sea ice.

During the last ice age, large parts of North America, Patagonia, and Europe were also covered by ice caps. If an ice area is over 50,000 square kilometers, it is referred to as an ice sheet. Therefore, Vatnajökull in Iceland is not referred to as Iceland’s ice sheet. Instead, it is called a large glacier.

The ice covering Greenland and Antarctica, respectively, are the only remains of the last ice age on the planet. The ice in Antarctica is approximately 1 million years old. Greenland’s oldest ice is approximately 150,000 years old and found on the ground of the rock basin under the middle of the ice cap.