Flag of Greenland

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The world's largest island, Greenland is about 81% ice-capped. Vikings reached the island in the 10th century from Iceland; Danish colonization began in the 18th century and Greenland was made an integral part of Denmark in 1953. It joined the European Community (now the European Union) with Denmark in 1973 but withdrew in 1985 over a dispute over stringent fishing quotas. Greenland was granted self-government in 1979 by the Danish parliament. The law went into effect the following year. Denmark continues to exercise control of Greenland's foreign affairs.


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

Geographic coordinates:

72 00 N, 40 00 W


total: 2,166,086 sq km
land: 2,166,086 sq km (410,449 sq km ice-free, 1,755,637 sq km ice-covered) (2000 est.)


arctic to subarctic; cool summers, cold winters


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

Elevation extremes:

lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Gunnbjorn 3,700 m

Natural resources:

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

Land use:

arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (2001)

Irrigated land:

NA sq km

Natural hazards:

continuous permafrost over northern two-thirds of the island

Environment - current issues:

protection 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, but close to one-quarter of the population lives in the capital, Nuuk; world's second largest ice cap


56,384 (July 2004 est.)

Ethnic groups:

Greenlander 88% (Inuit and Greenland-born whites), Danish and others 12% (January 2000)


Evangelical Lutheran


Greenlandic (East Inuit), Danish, English

Dependency status:

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

Government type:

parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy


Nuuk (Godthab)


none (part of the Kingdom of Denmark; self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark since 1979)
note: foreign affairs is the responsibility of Denmark, but Greenland actively participates in international agreements relating to Greenland

Legal system:


Economy - overview:

The economy remains critically dependent on exports of fish and substantial support from the Danish Government, which supplies about half of government revenues. The public sector, including publicly-owned enterprises and the municipalities, plays the dominant role in the economy. Despite several interesting hydrocarbon and minerals exploration activities, it will take several years before production can materialize. Tourism is the only sector offering any near-term potential, and even this is limited due to a short season and high costs.

Labor force:

24,500 (1999 est.)

Unemployment rate:

10% (2000 est.)


revenues: $646 million
expenditures: $629 million, including capital expenditures of $85 million (1999)

Agriculture - products:

forage crops, garden and greenhouse vegetables; sheep, reindeer; fish


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

Exports - commodities:

fish and fish products 94% (prawns 63%)

Exports - partners:

Denmark 66.8%, Japan 14.3%, China 4.5% (2003 est.)

Imports - commodities:

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

Imports - partners:

Denmark 81.5%, Norway 8.5%, Sweden 3% (2003 est.)


Danish krone (DKK) is the official legal tender.

Telephones - main lines in use:

26,000 (2001)

Telephones - mobile cellular:

16,747 (2001)


total: NA (there are no roads between towns) (2003)

Ports and harbors:

Aasiaat (Egedesminde), Ilulissat (Jakobshavn), Kangerlussuaq, Nanortalik, Narsarsuaq, Nuuk (Godthab), Qaqortoq (Julianehab), Sisimiut (Holsteinsborg), Tasiilaq

Merchant marine:

total: 3 ships (1,000 GRT or over) 4,593 GRT/3,640 DWT
foreign-owned: Denmark 1 (2003 est.)
by type: cargo 2, passenger 1


14 (2003 est.)

Airports - with paved runways:

total: 9
over 3,047 m: 1
2,438 to 3,047 m: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 5 (2003 est.)

Airports - with unpaved runways:

total: 5
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 2
under 914 m: 2 (2003 est.)

Military - note:

defense is the responsibility of Denmark

Disputes - international:

uncontested dispute between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island in the Kennedy Channel between Canada's Ellesmere Island and Greenland