Greenland: a remote, mysterious island five times the size of California but with a population of just 56,000. The ice sheet that covers it is 700 miles wide and 1,500 miles long, and is composed of nearly three quadrillion tons of ice.
This map shows some locations and images on Greenland from The Ice at the End of the World.
The Greenland Ice sheet is about 1,500 miles long and 700 miles wide. In its center, the ice is approximately two miles thick. If the entire ice sheet were to melt, NASA scientists have calculated that it would raise global sea levels by more than 24 feet.
Located at the tip of Ellesmere Island, Cape Sheridan lies across a narrow channel from Greenland. This area and the surrounding land was visited by Robert Peary and Knud Rasmussen. Nearby is the small settlement of Alert—the northernmost inhabited location in the world and the site of a Canadian communications and military outpost.
Today, Thule is the site of a large U.S. Air Force Base and radar station, but the presence of outsiders in this region dates back to the days of Robert Peary, Knud Rasmussen, and Peter Freuchen. In 1910, Rasumussen and Freuchen set up a settlement and small business here, trading the local Inuit tools and food in exchange for valuable fox pelts.
In the remote and uninhabited northeast region of Greenland, Station Nord comprises a weather and scientific station funded and run by the Danish government. It generally has a staff of five people, and hosts researchers from around the world.
Once known as Sondre Stromfjord, and now known as Kangerlussuaq, this site was built by American armed forces during World War II. It is now home to a small village of about 500 and is the location of Greenland’s international airport. Kangerlussuaq is the point of embarkation for much of the summer science work done on the ice sheet.
Greenland’s east coast is more frozen and formidable than the west coast—characterized by sharp mountains, brutal weather, and ice locked shores. While most of the island’s population is in the west, the east is home to several small villages, some with tongue-twisting names (such as Ittoqqortoormiit). Nansen began his crossing of Greenland’s ice in the east, as did Wegener in 1912.
At the center of Greenland’s ice sheet, the highest point has historically offered ideal sites to drill down and retrieve ice cores that hold a record of more than 100,000 years of earth’s climate. In the early 1990s, the central location was the site for an American science experiment known as GISP-2 and a Danish-led endeavor known as GRIP.
For the last 150 years, explorers and scientists have sought to understand Greenland—at first hoping that it would serve as a gateway to the North Pole, and later coming to realize that it contained essential information about our climate. Locked within this vast and frozen white desert are some of the most profound secrets about our planet and its future. Greenland’s ice doesn’t just tell us where we’ve been. More urgently, it tells us where we’re headed.
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