Photos of Greenland

Introduction

Background

Greenland, the world's largest island, is about 80% ice-capped. Vikings reached the island in the 10th century from Iceland; Danish colonization began in the 18th century, and Greenland became an integral part of the Danish Realm in 1953. It joined the European Community (now the EU) with Denmark in 1973 but withdrew in 1985 over a dispute centered on stringent fishing quotas. Greenland remains a member of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association of the EU. Greenland was granted self-government in 1979 by the Danish parliament; the law went into effect the following year. Greenland voted in favor of increased self-rule in November 2008 and acquired greater responsibility for internal affairs when the Act on Greenland Self-Government was signed into law in June 2009. Denmark, however, continues to exercise control over several policy areas on behalf of Greenland, including foreign affairs, security, and financial policy in consultation with Greenland's Self-Rule Government.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Northern North America, island between the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean, northeast of Canada

Geographic coordinates

72 00 N, 40 00 W

Map references

Arctic Region

Area

total: 2,166,086 sq km

land: 2,166,086 sq km (approximately 1,710,000 sq km ice-covered)

country comparison to the world: 13

Area - comparative

slightly more than three times the size of Texas

Land boundaries

total: 0 km

Coastline

44,087 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 3 nm

continental shelf: 200 nm or agreed boundaries or median line

exclusive fishing zone: 200 nm or agreed boundaries or median line

Climate

arctic to subarctic; cool summers, cold winters

Terrain

flat to gradually sloping icecap covers all but a narrow, mountainous, barren, rocky coast

Elevation

mean elevation: 1,792 m

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m

highest point: Gunnbjorn Fjeld 3,694 m

Natural resources

coal, iron ore, lead, zinc, molybdenum, diamonds, gold, platinum, niobium, tantalite, uranium, fish, seals, whales, hydropower, possible oil and gas

Land use

agricultural land: 0.6% (2018 est.)

arable land: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 0% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0.6% (2018 est.)

forest: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 99.4% (2018 est.)

Population distribution

settlement concentrated on the southwest shoreline, with limited settlements scattered along the remaining coast; interior is uninhabited

Natural hazards

continuous permafrost over northern two-thirds of the island

Environment - current issues

especially vulnerable to climate change and disruption of the Arctic environment; preservation of the Inuit traditional way of life, including whaling and seal hunting

Geography - note

dominates North Atlantic Ocean between North America and Europe; sparse population confined to small settlements along coast; close to one-quarter of the population lives in the capital, Nuuk; world's second largest ice sheet after that of Antarctica covering an area of 1.71 million sq km (660,000 sq mi) or about 79% of the island, and containing 2.85 million cu km (684 thousand cu mi) of ice (this is almost 7% of all of the world's fresh water); if all this ice were converted to liquid water, one estimate is that it would be sufficient to raise the height of the world's oceans by 7.2 m (24 ft)

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Greenlander(s)

adjective: Greenlandic

Ethnic groups

Greenlandic 89.5%, Danish 7.5%, other Nordic peoples 1.1%, and other 1.9% (2020 est.)

note: data represent population by country of birth

Languages

Greenlandic (West Greenlandic or Kalaallisut is the official language), Danish, English

Religions

Evangelical Lutheran, traditional Inuit spiritual beliefs

Age structure

0-14 years: 20.82% (male 6,079/female 5,916)

15-24 years: 14.45% (male 4,186/female 4,137)

25-54 years: 39.72% (male 11,962/female 10,921)

55-64 years: 14.66% (male 4,561/female 3,886)

65 years and over: 10.36% (male 3,170/female 2,798) (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 34.3 years

male: 35.1 years

female: 33.4 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 92

Birth rate

13.88 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 133

Death rate

8.88 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 61

Net migration rate

-5.07 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 202

Population distribution

settlement concentrated on the southwest shoreline, with limited settlements scattered along the remaining coast; interior is uninhabited

Urbanization

urban population: 87.3% of total population (2020)

rate of urbanization: 0.42% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)

Major urban areas - population

18,000 NUUK (capital) (2018)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.01 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 1.1 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 1.17 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 1.13 male(s)/female

total population: 1.08 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Infant mortality rate

total: 8.9 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 10.43 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 7.28 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 145

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 73.71 years

male: 70.99 years

female: 76.56 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 145

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 100% of population

rural: 100% of population

total: 100% of population

unimproved: urban: 0% of population

rural: 0% of population

total: 0% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

1.87 physicians/1,000 population (2016)

Hospital bed density

14 beds/1,000 population (2016)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 100% of population

rural: 100% of population

total: 100% of population

unimproved: urban: 0% of population

rural: 0% of population

total: 0% of population (2017 est.)

Literacy

definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 100%

male: 100%

female: 100% (2015)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Greenland

local long form: none

local short form: Kalaallit Nunaat

note: named by Norwegian adventurer Erik THORVALDSSON (Erik the Red) in A.D. 985 in order to entice settlers to the island

Dependency status

part of the Kingdom of Denmark; self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark since 1979

Government type

parliamentary democracy (Parliament of Greenland or Inatsisartut)

Capital

name: Nuuk (Godthaab)

geographic coordinates: 64 11 N, 51 45 W

time difference: UTC-3 (2 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October

note: Greenland has four time zones

etymology: "nuuk" is the Inuit word for "cape" and refers to the city's position at the end of the Nuup Kangerlua fjord

Administrative divisions

5 municipalities (kommuner, singular kommune); Avannaata, Kujalleq, Qeqertalik, Qeqqata, Sermersooq

note: Northeast Greenland National Park (Kalaallit Nunaanni Nuna Eqqissisimatitaq) and the Thule Air Base in Pituffik (in northwest Greenland) are two unincorporated areas; the national park's 972,000 sq km - about 46% of the island - makes it the largest national park in the world and also the most northerly

Independence

none (extensive self-rule as part of the Kingdom of Denmark; foreign affairs is the responsibility of Denmark, but Greenland actively participates in international agreements relating to Greenland)

National holiday

National Day, June 21; note - marks the summer solstice and the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere

Constitution

history: previous 1953 (Greenland established as a constituency in the Danish constitution), 1979 (Greenland Home Rule Act); latest 21 June 2009 (Greenland Self-Government Act)

Legal system

the laws of Denmark apply where applicable and Greenlandic law applies to other areas

Citizenship

see Denmark

Suffrage

18 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: Queen MARGRETHE II of Denmark (since 14 January 1972), represented by High Commissioner Mikaela ENGELL (since April 2011)

head of government: Premier Kim KIELSEN (since 30 September 2014)

cabinet: Self-rule Government (Naalakkersuisut) elected by the Parliament (Inatsisartut) on the basis of the strength of parties

elections/appointments: the monarchy is hereditary; high commissioner appointed by the monarch; premier indirectly elected by Parliament for a 4-year term

election results: Kim KIELSEN elected premier; Parliament vote - Kim KIELSEN (S) 27.2%, Sara OLSVIG (IA) 25.5%, Randi Vestergaard EVALDSEN (D) 19.5%, other 27.8%

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Parliament or Inatsisartut (31 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote to serve 4-year terms)
Greenland elects 2 members to the Danish Parliament to serve 4-year terms

elections: Greenland Parliament - last held on 24 April 2018 (next - a snap election - to be held on 6 April 2021)
Greenland members to Danish Parliament -  last held on 5 June 2019 (next to be held by 4 June 2023)

election results: Greenland Parliament percent of vote by party - S 27.2%, IA 25.5%, D 19.5%, PN 13.4%, A 5.9%, SA 4.1%, NQ 3.4% other 1%; seats by party - S 9, IA 8, D 6, PN 4, A 2, SA 1, NQ 1; composition - men 19, women 12, percent of women 38.7%

Greenland members in Danish Parliament - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - IA 1, S 1; composition - 2 women

Judicial branch

highest courts: High Court of Greenland (consists of the presiding professional judge and 2 lay assessors); note - appeals beyond the High Court of Greenland can be heard by the Supreme Court (in Copenhagen)

judge selection and term of office: judges appointed by the monarch upon the recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Council, a 6-member independent body of judges and lawyers; judges appointed for life with retirement at age 70

subordinate courts: Court of Greenland; 18 district or magistrates' courts

Political parties and leaders

Cooperation Party (Suleqatigiissitsisut or Samarbejdspartiet) or SA [Michael ROSING]
Democrats Party (Demokraatit) or D [Niels THOMSEN]
Forward Party (Siumut) or S [Kim KIELSEN]
Inuit Community (Inuit Ataqatigiit) or IA [Sara OLSVIG]
Our Country's Future (Nunatta Qitornai) or NQ [Vittus QUJAUKITSOQ]
Signpost Party (Partii Naleraq) or PN [Hans ENOKSEN]
Fellowship Party (Atassut) or A [Siverth Karl HEILMANN]

International organization participation

Arctic Council, ICC, NC, NIB, UPU

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: none (self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark); note - Greenland has an office in the Danish Embassy in the US; it also has offices in the Danish consulates in Chicago and New York

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none (self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark)

Flag description

two equal horizontal bands of white (top) and red with a large disk slightly to the hoist side of center - the top half of the disk is red, the bottom half is white; the design represents the sun reflecting off a field of ice; the colors are the same as those of the Danish flag and symbolize Greenland's links to the Kingdom of Denmark

National symbol(s)

polar bear; national colors: red, white

National anthem

name: "Nunarput utoqqarsuanngoravit" ("Our Country, Who's Become So Old" also translated as "You Our Ancient Land")

lyrics/music: Henrik LUND/Jonathan PETERSEN

note: adopted 1916; the government also recognizes "Nuna asiilasooq" as a secondary anthem

Economy

Economic overview

Greenland’s economy depends on exports of shrimp and fish, and on a substantial subsidy from the Danish Government. Fish account for over 90% of its exports, subjecting the economy to price fluctuations. The subsidy from the Danish Government is budgeted to be about $535 million in 2017, more than 50% of government revenues, and 25% of GDP.

The economy is expanding after a period of decline. The economy contracted between 2012 and 2014, grew by 1.7% in 2015 and by 7.7%in 2016. The expansion has been driven by larger quotas for shrimp, the predominant Greenlandic export, and also by increased activity in the construction sector, especially in Nuuk, the capital. Private consumption and tourism also are contributing to GDP growth more than in previous years. Tourism in Greenland grew annually around 20% in 2015 and 2016, largely a result of increasing numbers of cruise lines now operating in Greenland's western and southern waters during the peak summer tourism season.

The public sector, including publicly owned enterprises and the municipalities, plays a dominant role in Greenland's economy. During the last decade the Greenland Self Rule Government pursued conservative fiscal and monetary policies, but public pressure has increased for better schools, health care, and retirement systems. The budget was in deficit in 2014 and 2016, but public debt remains low at about 5% of GDP. The government plans a balanced budget for the 2017–20 period.

Significant challenges face the island, including low levels of qualified labor, geographic dispersion, lack of industry diversification, the long-term sustainability of the public budget, and a declining population due to emigration. Hydrocarbon exploration has ceased with declining oil prices. The island has potential for natural resource exploitation with rare-earth, uranium, and iron ore mineral projects proposed, but a lack of infrastructure hinders development.

Real GDP growth rate

7.7% (2016 est.)

1.7% (2015 est.)

-0.8% (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 10

Inflation rate (consumer prices)

0.3% (January 2017 est.)

1.2% (January 2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 32

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$2.413 billion (2015 est.)

$2.24 billion (2014 est.)

$2.203 billion (2013 est.)

note: data are in 2015 US dollars

country comparison to the world: 195

GDP (official exchange rate)

$2.221 billion (2015 est.)

Real GDP per capita

$41,800 (2015 est.)

$38,800 (2014 est.)

$38,500 (2013 est.)

country comparison to the world: 43

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 15.9% (2015 est.)

industry: 10.1% (2015 est.)

services: 73.9% (2015)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: 68.1% (2015 est.)

government consumption: 28% (2015 est.)

investment in fixed capital: 14.3% (2015 est.)

investment in inventories: -13.9% (2015 est.)

exports of goods and services: 18.2% (2015 est.)

imports of goods and services: -28.6% (2015 est.)

Agricultural products

sheep, cattle, reindeer, fish, shellfish

Industries

fish processing (mainly shrimp and Greenland halibut); anorthosite and ruby mining; handicrafts, hides and skins, small shipyards

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 15.9%

industry: 10.1%

services: 73.9% (2015 est.)

Budget

revenues: 1.719 billion (2016 est.)

expenditures: 1.594 billion (2016 est.)

Fiscal year

calendar year

Exports

$407.1 million (2015 est.)

$599.7 million (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 182

Exports - partners

Denmark 82.5%, Iceland 4.4% (2017)

Exports - commodities

fish and fish products 91% (2015 est.)

Imports

$783.5 million (2015 est.)

$866.1 million (2014 est.)

country comparison to the world: 192

Imports - partners

Denmark 69.7%, Sweden 10.6% (2017)

Imports - commodities

machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, food, petroleum products

Debt - external

$36.4 million (2010)

$58 million (2009)

country comparison to the world: 197

Exchange rates

Danish kroner (DKK) per US dollar -

6.586 (2017 est.)

6.7309 (2016 est.)

6.7309 (2015 est.)

6.7326 (2014 est.)

5.6125 (2013 est.)

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2020)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 7,259

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 12.59 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 197

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 66,009

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 114.48 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 202

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: adequate domestic and international service provided by satellite, cables, and microwave radio relay; the fundamental telecommunications infrastructure consists of a digital radio link from Nanortalik in south Greenland to Uummannaq in north Greenland; satellites cover north and east Greenland for domestic and foreign telecommunications; a marine cable connects south and west Greenland to the rest of the world, extending from Nuuk and Qaqortoq to Canada and Iceland (2018)

domestic: 13 per 100 for fixed-line subscriptions and 115 per 100 for mobile-cellular (2019)

international: country code - 299; landing points for Greenland Connect, Greenland Connect North, Nunavut Undersea Fiber System submarine cables to Greenland, Iceland, and Canada; satellite earth stations - 15 (12 Intelsat, 1 Eutelsat, 2 Americom GE-2 (all Atlantic Ocean)) (2019)

note: the COVID-19 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

Broadcast media

the Greenland Broadcasting Company provides public radio and TV services throughout the island with a broadcast station and a series of repeaters; a few private local TV and radio stations; Danish public radio rebroadcasts are available (2019)

Internet users

total: 40,084

percent of population: 69.48% (July 2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 201

Broadband - fixed subscriptions

total: 13,192

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 23 (2018 est.)

country comparison to the world: 164

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (registered in Denmark) (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 8 (registered in Denmark)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 10 (2019)

2,438 to 3,047 m: 2

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1

914 to 1,523 m: 1

under 914 m: 6

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 5 (2013)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2013)

under 914 m: 2 (2013)

Roadways

note: although there are short roads in towns, there are no roads between towns; inter-urban transport is either by sea or by air

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Sisimiut

Military and Security

Military and security forces

no regular military forces or conscription. (2019)

Military - note

The Danish military’s Joint Arctic Command in Nuuk is responsible for territorial defense of Greenland (2019)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

managed dispute between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island in the Kennedy Channel between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland; Denmark (Greenland) and Norway have made submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and Russia is collecting additional data to augment its 2001 CLCS submission