A walk on the ice sheet
The world's second largest ice sheet!
The Greenland Ice Sheet, the mythical and huge ice cap, has attracted adventurers for centuries. You can experience it up close several places in Greenland, not least at Kangerlussuaq, where you can get up and walk on it. Greenland’s 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 and is staggering 1,726,400 square kilometers.
The actual ice sheet
The ice sheet consists of two domes of ice with a lowering between them. At its peak, the Greenland Ice Sheet is 3,200 meters above sea level, and on average it is approx. 2,135 meters thick. In fact, 65 % of the surface of the ice is more than 2,000 meters above sea level. About one-third of the ice is below the surface of the sea, and it means that Greenland would be a ridge-shaped land with a large lake in the middle if the ice melted.
The Greenland Ice Sheet contains 2.8 million cubic kilometers of ice. It is so much ice that if it melted, the oceans would rise by 7.2 meters, which would be really bad news for many low-lying countries.
Due to gravity, the Greenland Ice Sheet forms glaciers all along the Greenland coast. It is simply because the ice becomes so heavy that it pushes itself outward. At the end of these glaciers, the ice breaks off and turns into icebergs. On the top of the ice cap, the surface is quite even, but in the peripheral areas, the ice is spiky, hilly and very dangerous because there are crevices, ravines, and meltwater lakes that can create spring floods. There are also many rivers both on the surface and inside the ice. The age of the ice varies greatly, and the icebergs are from 500 to 100,000 years old. Scientists have proven that the lower layers of the ice are up to 250,000 years old.
The Ice Sheet at Kangerlussuaq
To the vast majority of travelers, Kangerlussuaq Airport is the gateway to Greenland, and here you can easily get to the ice sheet on good excursions to the ice in large 4×4 off-road vehicles.
The ice sheet is approximately 25-37 kilometers away from Kangerlussuaq, and you can get there on two different trips. Both trips last approximately four hours and on one trip you reach the actual Ice Sheet, where you are allowed to walk around in a safe area. The other trip goes to Russell Glacier, and here you experience a 60-meter high wall of ice and see how the ice glides onto the surrounding landscape.
Both tours give you completely unique photo opportunities and are also available in longer versions where you get to do a barbecue. You can also rent mountain bikes and cycle to the Ice Sheet, but this is not an easy bike ride. The road to the ice is bad, and the terrain is hilly so you would have to spend many hours on this project. However, if you’re up for it, it’s great, and if you’re sporty, it’s worth considering. You can also try to stay overnight on the ice sheet! You do this in a tent camp that is placed well and securely on the ice. It is a very special experience because you also get to walk to places where others rarely go.
If you are in the mood for a good and long hike, you can go high up on Ammassalik Island, on which the town of Tasiilaq is located. From here you can look out over the Sermilik Fjord and to the Greenland Ice Sheet on the other side of the fjord. A boat trip on the fjord itself is also an excellent way for you to experience the ice cap because huge icebergs flow into the sea from the glaciers at the head of the fjord.
In South Greenland, there is also the opportunity to experience the Ice Sheet close by. In Narsarsuaq, Narsaq, and Qaqortoq, you also have the opportunity to get close.
Behind Narsarsuaq Airport you can hike to a glacier tongue that is relatively high up in the countryside. This is not an outing for the people with walking disabilities, but for those who don’t move so well, instead, you can go on a boat trip to the Qooroq Ice Fjord, which is located very close to the port of Narsarsuaq.
In Narsaq and Qaqortoq, you can also go on a boat trip to the Greenland Ice Sheet, which has glaciers at Bredefjord/Sermilik close to Narsaq. The town of Narsaq in the south and Qaanaaq all the way up north on the West Coast are the only towns in Greenland from where you have an actual view of the Greenland Ice Sheet.