Greenland (Denmark)

Flag and maps courtesy of the CIA World Factbook.

Area north of 60 latitude:
Estimated at 99% of its total area (2,175,600 sq. km.). Only 1% of the country is meadow and pastures-99% is bare rock, snow and ice.

Ethnic Mix:
Of a population of 56,352, the majority are Greenlanders (a mixture of Inuit and European immigrants), 13% are Danish and others

Principal industries:
Greenland depends on an annual subsidy from the Danish government; fishing is the most important industry; with some mining of lead and zinc.

Currency: Danish krone (DKr) = 100 oere

Aboriginal peoples: The language is Greenlandic – the Inuit language with some Danish words added.

Did you know?
Greenland’s icecap on the central plateau is up to 3.5 kilometres thick at its deepest spot. It is left over from the last ice age which ended about 10,000 years ago. The great weight of the ice presses the earth’s crust down and bends it. As a result, the land beneath the ice in central Greenland has sunk to a depth of 365 metres below sea level. If the icecap ever melts, the land beneath it would rise to about 900 metres above sea level and the level of all the oceans in the world would rise by about 6 metres.

The first recorded crossing of the icecap was by Fridtjof Nansen in 1888, who did it on skis. Today it is crossed several times each year, often between Kangerlussuaq and Ammassalik. The average temperature is 0° Celsius, and the average temperature during the warmest month of the year does not exceed 10°C.

Learn more:

Canadian Global Almanac 2003
The Northern Circumpolar World by Bob MacQuarrie (Reidmore Books)


Greenland is part of the Danish realm, with a self-governing overseas administrative division. Led by the Danish high commissioner, the home rule prime minister and the cabinet, the legislature is comprised of one elected house, the Landsting.

When Denmark voted on the European Communities in 1972, 70 per cent of the Greenland population voted against joining. This fact caused the Danish Government to set up a home rule commission, whose 1978 white paper formed the basis of the Greenland home rule, which was subsequently introduced in 1979. The same year, the Landsting and the Greenland Home Rule Government were set up. In 1985, Greenland withdrew from the European Communities.

Legally, Greenland is a special cultural community in the Kingdom of Denmark. The Home Rule Administration consists of elected representatives and an administrative section operated by the Landsting.

How did Denmark come to be in charge?
Irish monks were likely the first to visit Greenland, beginning in the sixth century. Next, about 300 years later, the Viking Erik the Red and his wife Thodhild established the first European colony in Greenland . Their son Lief Eriksson brought Christianity to the area a generation later – around the same time that Inuit of the Thule culture moved into northern Greenland from Baffin Island.

Denmark took control of Norse countries in 1380 and the colonies on Greenland died out shortly after. In 1721, a Norwegian missionary named Hans Egede started a Lutheran mission in Greenland with the permission of the Danish government. A few years later, in 1729, Denmark officially took control of the new Scandinavian colonies that grew out of his effort and has maintained control ever since.

In 1940, the Germans conquered Denmark. During the remainder of World War II, the United States occupied Greenland to keep the Germans away. The Danes took control again in 1945, but the Americans were allowed to keep military bases there. Denmark granted Home Rule Government to Greenlanders in 1979.