Geography of Greenland

Learn Ten Geographic Facts about Greenland

Greenland flag on tourist vessel, Greenland
Mint Images - Frans Lanting/Mint Images/Getty Images

Population: 57,600 (July 2009 estimate)
Capital: Nuuk
Area: 836,330 square miles (2,166,086 sq km)
Coastline: 27,394 miles (44,087 km)
Highest Point: Gunnbjorn at 12,139 feet (3,700 m)

Greenland is a located between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. It is technically a part of the North American continent but historically it has been more linked with European countries like Denmark and Norway. Today, Greenland is considered an independent territory within the Kingdom of Denmark.

As such, Greenland is dependent on Denmark for the majority of its gross domestic product.

By area, Greenland is distinctive in that it is the world's largest island with an area of 836,330 square miles (2,166,086 sq km). It is not, however, a continent. Due to its large area and small population of 57,600 people, Greenland is also the most sparsely populated country in the world.

The following is a list of ten interesting geographic facts about Greenland:

1) Greenland is thought to have been inhabited since prehistoric times by various Paleo-Eskimo groups; however, specific archaeological research does show the Inuit entering Greenland around 2500 B.C.E.

2) European settlement and exploration of Greenland did not occur until 986 C.E. when Norwegians and Icelanders settled on its west coast. These people were eventually known as the Norse Greenlanders and they were formally taken over by Norway in the 13th century.

In that same century, Norway entered into a union with Denmark which effectively started Greenland's relationship with that country as well.

3) In 1946, the United States offered to buy Greenland from Denmark but the country refused to sell the island. In 1953, Greenland officially became a part of the Kingdom of Denmark and in 1979 Denmark's Parliament gave the country powers of home rule.

In 2008, a referendum for greater independence on Greenland's part was approved and in 2009, Greenland took over the responsibility of its own government, laws, and natural resources. In addition, Greenland's citizens were recognized as a separate culture of people. Denmark still controls Greenland's defense and foreign affairs.

4) Greenland's current head of state is Denmark's queen, Margrethe II.

5) Because of its very high latitude, Greenland has an arctic to a subarctic climate with cool summers and very cold winters. For example its capital, Nuuk has an average January low temperature of 14°F (-10°C) and an average July high of just 50°F (9.9°C). Because of this, its citizens can practice very little agriculture and most of its products are forage crops, greenhouse vegetables, sheep, reindeer, and fish. Greenland mostly relies on imports from other countries.

6) Greenland's topography is mainly flat but there is a narrow mountainous coast. Most of Greenland's land area is covered by an ice sheet (map) and two-thirds of the country is subject to permafrost.

7) This massive ice sheet found in Greenland is important to climate change and has made the region popular among scientists who have worked to drill ice cores.

They have done this to understand how the Earth's climate has changed in the past. In addition, because the country is covered with so much ice, it has the potential to significantly raise sea levels if the ice were to melt with global warming.

8) Greenland's capital, Nuuk, is one of the world's smallest capital cities with a population of only 15,105 (July 2009 estimate).

9) All of Greenland's cities are built along the coast because it is the only area in the country that is ice-free. Most of these cities are also along Greenland's west coast because the northeastern side is comprised of the Northeast Greenland National Park.

10) Greenland's name originated with Scandinavian settlers, particularly Erik the Red when he was exiled from Iceland. It is believed he called the area Groenland (translated as "Greenland") to attract more settlers to the area.


Central Intelligence Agency. (2010, April 22). CIA - The World Factbook - Greenland. Retrieved from:

Wikipedia. (2010, April 26). Greenland - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: