Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Big, Empty, Frozen Place.

Greenland is the largest island on earth. (Sorry Australia, you’re a continent.) It covers some 836,000 square miles, nearly twice the size of California and Texas combined, and yet is home to a mere 57,000 souls, making it the world’s least densely populated country. Nearly all of the people live on the island’s southern fringe, or one of several smaller islands that dot its coast. That is because the majority of the landmass—more than 80 percent—is covered by an ice sheet, an inhospitable place to pitch a tent, even if your tent is an igloo.

Although tacitly self-governed, Greenland remains part of the Kingdom of Denmark. After World War II, the U.S. government offered to buy the place for a cool $100 million, but the Danes turned them down flat. Considering they are now subsidizing Greenlanders to the tune of more than a half billion dollars per year, the Danes must be kicking themselves over that.
Nuuk, the capital, population 15,000, is a charming urban encampment of wood frame houses and Lutheran churches. Situated on a fjord in the southeast of the country, it has a number of modern conveniences rare in other parts of Greenland, including roads, running water and a Starbucks franchise. (Okay, I’m kidding about Starbucks.) By contrast, Kangerlussuaq, where I’ll be running the Polar Circle Marathon, is home to only 500 year-round residents. It, no doubt, is looked upon as a bumpkin backwater by cosmopolitan Nuukers.

Greenland’s ice sheet is a marvel of nature; second only in size to the one at Antarctica. At its thickest point, it measures nearly two miles. The weight of the ice has depressed the island bedrock into an enormous bowl that dips below sea level. Should global warming cause the ice sheet to fully melt (something that could take several hundred years), sea levels worldwide might rise more than 20 feet and Greenland would be reduced to a craggy archipelago.
At that point, the Polar Circle Marathon will become a nippy 26.2 mile swim. 


  1. The island's Danish history explains why you have to fly to Copenhagen before getting over to the Greenland. Cool! I hope the marathon will never turn into a nippy swim; can't imagine the water temperature. But then, there may always be some crazy dude wanting to set a world record.

  2. The ice sheets' thaw might only take decades; similar to other episodes of accelerated thaws throughout earth's history (recent repeated discoveries in ancient ice core research). Nonetheless, I love this polar adventure story! gimps"R"us Glen A. Christensen 4/17/2013