It is the world’s largest island, with a total area of around 1.37 million square miles (2.2 million square kilometers), but only approx. 254,762 square miles (410,000 square kilometers) are not covered by ice.
The northernmost extremity, Cape Morris Jesup, is the northernmost land area in the world, just 459.8 miles (740 kilometers) from the North Pole. Cape Farewell, Greenland’s southernmost point, is situated approx. 1,659 miles (2,670 kilometers) to the south, at the latitude of the Nordic capitals of Oslo and Helsinki.
Measured west-east, Greenland is 652.44 miles (1,050 kilometers) wide at its broadest point.
Such a great expanse results in wide climatic variations in Greenland. In addition, the ice cap has a distinctive influence everywhere. With the exception of a few sheltered valleys in South Greenland, the climate is Arctic, with an average temperature during the warmest month of the year of less than 10°C!
The Sea Ice
The east coast is dominated by the East Greenland polar current, covering it with a sheet of ice over three feet (or a meter) thick during the six winter months. During the summer, large ice masses slowly drift from the polar basin down along the coast and south of Cape Farewell.
Along the southern part of the west coast, a relatively warm current keeps the coast clear of sea ice all year round. Navigation is only impeded at the southernmost point during the spring and summer months by the ice drifting down from the polar basin.
From Disko Bay northwards, the sea is covered by ice during the six winter months, but fully or partly navigable during the six summer months. The further north you get, the shorter the navigable period.
The Arctic Ocean and the North Pole have long been regarded as an area of limited economic interest with ‘shallower’ waters easily three miles (4 km) deep and significant ice cover in constant movement determined by the prevalent marine current. This has resulted in limited access to the area. However, the ice is increasingly melting as a result of the ocean getting warmer and this creates completely new opportunities, partly in terms of navigation and partly in terms on hunting and fishing as well as the exploitation of the resources which are believed to exist in the area, such as large quantities of oil and natural gas.
This raises the issue of owner ship of the resources. From a Greenlandic and therefore also Danish perspective, it is a question of whether there is a natural connnection between the Greenlandic continental shelf and the long, narrow, submarine Lomonosov mountain range.
Extensive geological and geophysical investigations of the geographic structures in the area are therefore underway. If such a connection is established, Greenland/Denmark will have the disposal of energy reserves, which are thought to be the largest in the world.