Some destinations in the world are home to the most active volcano or the largest coral reef, but Greenland has something of a totally different nature as its claim to fame – the Greenland Ice Sheet. This coast-to-coast ice cap has almost single-handedly formed the world’s perceptions of our large northern country, and for the many populations who have lived in Greenland throughout the millennia, it has all but defined the entire way of life.
Historically, the ice cap was rather deserted as Greenlanders opted instead to stay on sea ice with access to fertile waters below. Now, thanks to aircraft, boats, and most importantly, wanderlust, the Greenland Ice Sheet has since become a sought-after spot for travelers in search of unmistakable Arctic adventure.
“I have been on many glaciers, like in the Himalayas. But Greenland is another world! Vast and a totally different view!”
“I like the feeling of being at a place that is millions of years old. It brings me down to earth. It is just a good feeling to be at a place where nothing is changing. And to feel so small because everything is so big! It is a really nice feeling!”
Take a look at any map and one might imagine that the white island at the top of the world is nothing but uncharted territory. Even flying high in the Greenland airspace, the ice cap still appears to be just one blinding expanse. But in fact, the Greenland Ice Sheet is full of surprises.
At close range, the Greenland Ice Sheet reveals its true palette of blues and greens and comes to life as a jagged accumulation of centuries-old ice fragments. It has deep cracks whose walls look like ocean waves frozen in space, and during summer, those same dormant tunnels can fill with fast-moving glacial rivers. No two edges are alike on the Greenland Ice Sheet so let your curiosity run wild as you explore this icy wilderness.
THE ROAD TO THE ICE CAP
The Greenland Ice sheet is visible from most towns in Greenland, but merely looking at the ice cap is like running a marathon and not crossing the finish line. Kangerlussuaq is the proud home of the only road to the Greenland Ice Sheet, and though it is a bit bumpy around the edges, it delivers you literally to the ice edge. Stepping off of solid ground and onto ice that moves undetected beneath your feet will give you new appreciation for the natural environment.
80% of Greenland’s land area (more than 1.7 million km2) is covered by glacier, called the Greenland Ice Cap or more accurately, the Greenland Ice Sheet. It is one of only two ice sheets in the world, and it has been present for 18 million years.
- Currently, the Greenland Ice Sheet reaches a thickness of 3 km and is over 100,000 years old.
The Ice Sheet is accessible from towns in every region in Greenland. One can experience the Ice Sheet by flying overhead in helicopters or in Air Zafari’s small airplanes, hiking or camping at the glacier’s edge, and dog sledding.
From Kangerlussuaq, a 25 km dirt road leads directly to the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet, passing several viewpoints of glacier tongues along the way.
The Russell Glacier in Kangerlussuaq and the Eqip Sermia and Sermeq Kujalleq glaciers in Ilulissat are fine places to see calving events.
- Those with the strong wills, great physical condition, and a government permit can lead expeditions into Greenland Ice Sheet territory.
Did you know that you can also experience the Greenland Ice Sheet from the water? Boat trips into deep fjords wind between icebergs that were once embedded in the ice cap and lead you directly to the glaciers that form a living bridge between ice cap and sea. The Ilulissat Ice Fjord is the greatest collection of floating sculptures from the Greenland Ice Sheet, but other towns, like Nuuk and Uummannaq, have their own versions of an ice fjord to discover by sea.
After seeing the ice cap at close distance, zoom out and get a bird’s eye view of the frozen, yet very much alive, Greenland Ice Sheet. A helicopter or small fixed-wing airplane can fly you high enough to see hundreds of kilometers over the ice cap yet stay low enough to detect the ridges and cracks that give evidence of its motion. With so many ways to experience the ice cap, getting there is fairly easy. It is leaving again that is the hard part!
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