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Green. Kalaallit Nunaat, Dan. Grønland, the largest island in the world (2015 est. pop. 56,000), 836,109 sq mi (2,166,086 sq km), self-governing overseas administrative division of Denmark, lying largely within the Arctic Circle. It is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean in the north; the Greenland Sea in the east; the Denmark Strait in the southeast, which separates it from Iceland; the Atlantic Ocean in the south; and Davis Strait and Baffin Bay in the west, which separate it from Baffin Island, Canada. The capital is NuukNuuk
, formerly Godthåb
, town (1996 pop. 12,882), Nuuk dist., W Greenland, on the Godthåbfjord. The largest town and capital of Greenland, it is the seat of the national council and of the supreme court, and it has foreign consulates.
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 (formerly Godthåb).

Land and People

Greenland is 1,659 mi (2,670 km) long from Cape Farewell (lat. 59°46'N) to Cape Morris Jesup (lat. 82°39'N) and has a maximum width of about 800 mi (1,290 km). Geologically, the island is part of the Canadian ShieldCanadian Shield
or Laurentian Plateau
, U-shaped region of ancient rock, the nucleus of North America, stretching N from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean. Covering more than half of Canada, it also includes most of Greenland and extends into the United States as the
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 and, therefore, of North America; more than 50% of its ice-free area consists of rocks of the Precambrian, mostly granites and gneisses. Mountain chains parallel Greenland's east and west coasts; Mt. Gunnbjørn (12,139 ft/3,700 m) and Mt. Forel (11,024 ft/3,360 m), both in SE Greenland, are the highest peaks. The entire coastline of Greenland is deeply indented by fjords. There are many offshore islands, of which DiskoDisko
, island, 3,312 sq mi (8,578 sq km), in the Davis Strait off W Greenland. It is mountainous (rising to 6,296 ft/1,919 m) and partly glaciated. Telluric iron and lignite have been found there. Qeqertarsuaq, the island's chief town, is on the southern shore.
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, in W Greenland, is the largest.

Except for about 158,430 sq mi (410,450 sq km) of coastland and coastal islands, an ice sheet and numerous minor ice caps and glaciers cover the island. The extreme northern peninsula (Peary LandPeary Land,
peninsula, N Greenland, extending into the Arctic Ocean. It terminates in Cape Bridgman in the northeast and Cape Morris Jesup in the north, the most northerly point of land yet discovered. The area is mountainous (rising to c.
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) has no ice sheet but does have local ice caps. The thickness of the ice sheet reaches c.14,000 ft (4,300 m) in some places. Two drilling operations on the highest part of the ice sheet ("Summit" in N Greenland) in 1992 and 1993 both reached bottom, with the deepest core measuring 10,016 ft (3,053 m) from surface to bottom. Studies of the compositiom of the ice cores have permitted new insights into the climatic history of the last 200,000–300,000 years. The ice moves outward from the center, entering the sea in walls or debouching in glaciers, of which Humboldt Glacier is the largest and Jakobshavn Glacier the most calf-ice productive. These rapidly moving glaciers calve tremendous icebergs, notably into the Davis Strait, through which they frequently reach Atlantic shipping lanes. A number of studies have shown that since the late 1990s the amount of ice lost each year in Greenland due to melting and iceberg calving has increased due primarily to increasing arctic temperatures, leading to concerns that sea levels could rise significantly during the 21st century due to the melting of Greenland's ice. The loss of ice has led also to a corresponding increase in elevation in Greenland's coastal areas. Studies of satellite and airborne radar images of the ice sheet have revealed hidden beneath it an enormous canyon, more than 50 possible lakes of liquid water, and two possible large impact craters. The canyon is some 500 mi (800 km) long and up to .5 mi (800 m) deep, that stretches from central Greenland to its northern coast; it was carved by a river more than 4 million years ago. The impact craters, both in NW Greenland, are roughly 19 mi (31 km) and 22 mi (35 km) across.

Cold winds rush out from Greenland's interior—the coldest temperature in the Northern Hemisphere, −93.3°F; (−69.6°C;), was recorded at the Klinck automatic weather station in 1991—making the weather uncertain and foggy. A polar ocean current flows south along the entire east coast and around Cape Farewell, carrying immense ice floes that make the sea approach to E Greenland hazardous. The North Atlantic DriftNorth Atlantic Drift,
warm ocean current in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a continuation of the Gulf Stream, the merging point being at lat. 40°N and long. 60°W.
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 gives the southwest coast of Greenland a warmer climate and heavy rainfall.

There are no forests in Greenland; dwarf trees are found in the southern coastal areas. Natural vegetation also includes mosses, lichens, grasses, and sedges. The polar bear, musk ox, polar wolf, lemming, Arctic hare, and reindeer are the chief land animals.

In addition to the capital, other important settlements are SisimiutSisimiut
, formerly Holsteinsborg
, town (1996 pop. 5,117), Sisimiut dist., W Greenland. The second largest town in Greenland, it is a fishing center with a modern canning factory and several shipyards.
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 (Holsteinsborg), AasiaatAasiaat
, formerly Egedesminde
, town (1996 pop. 3,039), Aasiaat dist., W Greenland, at the mouth of Disko Bay. It is the fourth largest town in Greenland. It was founded in 1759 and named for Hans Egede, a Norwegian missionary. A large shrimp-canning factory is there.
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 (Egedesminde), QaqortoqQaqortoq
, formerly Julianehåb
, town (1996 pop. 3,176), Qaqortoq dist., SW Greenland. It is a fishing port with canneries. Sheep raising, meatpacking, and sealing are other significant industries.
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 (Julianehåb), ManiitsoqManiitsoq
, formerly Sukkertoppen
, town (1996 pop. 3,000), Maniitsoq dist., W Greenland. The town is a fishing center with modern canneries.
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 (Sukkertoppen), and Ilulissat (Jakobshavn). More than 90% of the island's population live along the west coast. About 88% of the people are Inuits or Greenland-born Caucasians; the balance are mainly Danish. The major religion is Evangelical Lutheran. Inuit dialects (Greenlandic), Danish, and English are spoken; Greenlandic and Danish are the official languages.


Fishing (shrimp, halibut, salmon, and cod) is the main industry, and processing plants have been constructed in the south and southwest. Some of the world's largest shrimp beds are in Disko Bay. In the north and east seals, foxes, and polar bears are hunted. Seabirds are hunted for their flesh, eggs, and down. Reindeer are herded and there is extensive sheep breeding in the southern area.

Gold, zinc, and rubies and pink sapphires are mined. Deposits of cryolite and lead that were important to Greenland's mining industry have been largely worked out. Other lead deposits as well as uranium, rare earths, copper, coal, oil, and molybdenum exist, but many are difficult to extract. Attempts to develop tourism have progressed slowly. The country is gradually shifting its electricity production from fossil fuel to hydropower.

Greenland has gradually modernized its economy but still depends heavily on its fishing industry, and fish products are its largest export. The country must import most machinery and transportation equipment, manufactured goods, food, and petroleum products. Tourism is being developed. Significant financial support from Denmark, however, remains essential. Greenland has benefited from greatly improved air transportation and telecommunications in recent years.


A Danish colony until 1953, Greenland then became a county; it attained home rule in 1979 and began full self-government in 1981. Greenland has a 31-member unicameral parliament (Landsting) and a premier and sends two representatives to the Danish Folketing. It is divided into 18 municipalities. The nominal head of state is the Danish monarch, represented by a high commissioner.


The earliest Palaeo-Eskimo cultures had already arrived in Greenland from Canada by c.2,500 B.C. The Thule Eskimo culture first arrived in N Greenland c.A.D. 900 and in the following 1,000 years spread to both W and E Greenland. From Iceland, Greenland was discovered and colonized by Norsemen (980s), led according to the sagas by Eric the RedEric the Red,
fl. 10th cent., Norse chieftain, discoverer and colonizer of Greenland according to the sagas. He left (c.950) Norway with his exiled father and settled in Iceland. A feud resulting in manslaughter led to his banishment (c.981) from Iceland for three years.
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, who named it Greenland in order to make it seem attractive to potential settlers. Local walrus tusks, valuable as ivory, were an important source of trade goods for the Norse. Two areas of settlement, in the south and southwest, were established; archaeologists now believe that the Norse population never numbered more than 2,500. It was in sailing to Greenland (c.1000) that Leif EricssonLeif Ericsson
, Old Norse Leifr Eiriksson, fl. A.D. 999–1000, Norse discoverer of America, b. probably in Iceland; son of Eric the Red. He spent his youth in Greenland and in 999 visited Norway, where he was converted to Christianity and commissioned by King Olaf I
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, the son of Eric the Red, probably reached North America. Greenland became a bishopric c.1110, and ruins of churches of that period remain.

Greenland became self-governing, with its own Althing, but failed to achieve political stability. In 1261 the colony came under Norwegian rule, but in the 14th and 15th cent. it suffered from the cooling of the climate and the collapse of the ivory trade, and was neglected; the colonists either died out, gradually returned to Iceland, or assimilated with the Eskimos. The British explorers Martin FrobisherFrobisher, Sir Martin
, 1535?–1594, English mariner. He went to sea as a boy, and spent much of his youth in the African trade. He later gained the friendship of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, through whom he became interested in the Northwest Passage.
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 and John DavisDavis or Davys, John,
1550?–1605, English navigator. He made his first voyage in search of the Northwest Passage in 1585, continuing the work of Martin Frobisher.
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 rediscovered Greenland in the 16th cent. but found no trace of Norsemen. Other explorers looking for the Northwest PassageNorthwest Passage,
water routes through the Arctic Archipelago, N Canada, and along the northern coast of Alaska between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Even though the explorers of the 16th cent.
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 subsequently charted much of the coast.

Modern colonization was begun (1721) by the Norwegian missionary Hans EgedeEgede, Hans
, 1686–1758, Norwegian Lutheran missionary, called the Apostle of Greenland. He went to Greenland in 1721 and, with the support of the Danish government, founded a mission for the Eskimo. He also helped to initiate trade between Denmark and Greenland.
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. Danish trading posts were established shortly afterward, and colonization was furthered by deporting undesirable subjects to Greenland. Soon, the native Greenlanders began to suffer from European diseases; tuberculosis remained a problem into the 1960s. In 1814, with the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark retained Greenland and other Atlantic possessions when Norway was ceded to Sweden, which, for strategic reasons, was interested in control of the Scandinavian peninsula but not in overseas commitments of the outlying Norwegian possessions.

In the 19th and 20th cent., Greenland was explored and mapped by numerous arctic explorers. In World War II, after the German occupation (1940) of Denmark, the United States invoked the Monroe DoctrineMonroe Doctrine,
principle of American foreign policy enunciated in President James Monroe's message to Congress, Dec. 2, 1823. It initially called for an end to European intervention in the Americas, but it was later extended to justify U.S.
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 for Greenland and reached an agreement (1941) with the Danish minister at Washington that permitted the establishment of U.S. military bases and meteorological stations. A Danish-American agreement for the common defense of Greenland was signed in 1951, and U.S. bases were retained, notably at ThuleThule
or Qaanaaq
, town (1995 pop. 627), N Greenland, on the north side of Inglefield Gulf. The name of Thule was originally attached to the main settlement for the Thule Eskimos, founded in 1910 by the arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen as a trading post on the south side
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. Thule is now the sole remaining U.S. military base in Greenland.

Greenland joined the European Community (now the European Union [EU]) with Denmark in 1972 but withdrew in 1985 after a controversy over stringent fishing quotas. Since then, relations with the EU have been based on special agreements. Jonathan Motzfeldt, of Forward (Siumut) became premier of Greenland when home rule was established in 1979. In 1991, Lars-Emil Johansen, also of Forward, succeeded him; in 1995 he remained in power as head of a coalition that favored increased autonomy from Denmark and greater internal economic development.

Johansen retired in 1997 and was replaced by Motzfeldt, who retained office after the 1999 elections. Following elections in 2002, Motzfeldt was replaced as premier by fellow party member Hans Enoksen. A political scandal involving misuse of funds forced an election in Nov., 2005; Enoksen remained prime minister of an expanded coalition. In 2008, Greenlanders approved a plan for increased autonomy, including increased control over natural resources; the changes, which were also supported by the Danish government, took effect in June, 2009. Elections that month resulted in a victory for the left-wing Community of the People party (Inuit Ataqatigiit; IA); party leader Kuupik Kleist became prime minister of a coalition government.

The 2013 elections resulted in a plurality for Forward, which formed a coalition with two smaller parties; Aleqa Hammond became Greenland's first woman premier. In Oct., 2014, a new scandal over the misuse of government funds led to early elections; Hammond resigned as Forward's leader. Forward won a narrow plurality and formed a coalition government, with Kim Kielsen as premier. Although Forward lost seats in the Apr., 2018, elections, it won a plurality and was able to form a coalition government; Kielsen remained premier. Later in 2018 one of the parties withdrew from the government, and Kielsen then formed a minority government.


See V. Stefansson, Greenland (1942); G. Jones, The Norse Atlantic Saga (1964); F. Gad, The History of Greenland From Earliest Times to 1700 (3 vol., 1971–83); E. Erngaard, Greenland Then and Now (1972); J. Malaurie, The Last Kings of Thule (1985); E. U. Lepthien, Greenland (1989).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Grønland), an island in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to the northeast of North America; the largest island in the world. Part of Danish territory. Area. 2,176,000 sq km. Population. 47,000 (1970).

Natural features,GEOLOGICAL STRUCTURE AND MINERALS. Greenland is situated almost entirely in the northeastern part of the Canadian shield; zones of Caledonian folding are developed only in the east and north. The rocks constituting the shield are gneisses, quartzites, marbles, and granites of Ar-chean and early Proterozoic origin that are covered, with unconformity, by volcanogenic sedimentary layers of the Middle Proterozoic era. The eastern zone of the caledonides is separated from the shield by a deep fault. The areas of the Caledonian geosyncline are filled with terrigenous and carbonaceous strata of the late Proterozoic era and carbonaceous rocks of the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, which were compressed into folds during the Silurian. Continental rocks accumulated in the intermountain areas during the Devonian. There was platform development at the end of the Paleozoic era and sandy-argillaceous rocks were deposited during the Mesozoic. Greenland was uplifted during the Cenozoic era, creating fractures with which the effusion of basalts is associated.

Useful minerals date from the Archean and early Proterozoic eras (cryolite in the south of Greenland, graphite and marble in the west). Deposits of lignite are associated with the Mesozoic. Deposits of lead, zinc, and uranium ores have been discovered in the eastern zone of the caledonides.


GLACIATION AND RELIEF. During the Quaternary period glaciation began that ultimately concealed a large part of Greenland under ice; glaciers cover 1,834,000 sq km (including 1,726,000 sq km covered by the glacial shield that occupies the entire interior and certain coastal regions of the island). The surface of the glacial shield rises gradually as one moves from the coast to the interior of the island. The highest section of the shield has the shape of a gently sloping arch, extending from north to south and divided into two vast domes by a transverse depression at about 66°-67°30’ N lat. The northern dome reaches an elevation of 3,300 m (at 71° N lat., 39° W long.), and the southern dome reaches an elevation of 2,730 m (at 64° N lat., 44° W long.). The bed of the glacier is concave. Elevation of the surface at its western edges is 600 m, in the east and in the southern dome it is 1,000 m, and in the center of the island it diminishes to 0–100 m (and in some places lower than sea level). The average thickness of the glacier is 2,300 m (maximum, 3,400 m). The volume of ice is 2.6 million cu km. The surface is covered with a layer of snow which, swept by the wind, forms snowbanks. Below 1,800–2,000 m the surface is broken up in some measure by streams of water that arise during the summer when the snow and ice melt, and along the edges (at elevations of 1,000–1,500 m) it is broken by crevices up to 30 or 40 m deep. The névé line on the glacier lies at an elevation of 1,200–1,500 m. The upper layers of ice shift from the center toward the western and eastern edges of the glacier at an average rate of about 150 m per year. The rate increases near the edges, and in certain sections the entire ice mass goes into motion and forms outlet glaciers—narrow oblong projections of the shield that move toward the ocean through the valleys. These glaciers move at a rate of 20–40 m per day and give rise to icebergs (as high as 100–135 m above sea level), which are carried into the northern part of the Atlantic and represent a great danger to navigation. The ice on the northern slope of the shield is almost immobile.

The eastern coast is washed by the cold Eastern Greenland current, so that it is blocked for almost the entire year by floating ice carried in from the central part of the Arctic Ocean. The southwest coast, which is washed by the warm waters of the Western Greenland current, is more accessible. The north coast of the island is almost always icebound. The coastline is strongly indented by long, deep fjords that reach as far as the edges of the ice sheet. The total length of the shoreline comes to 39,000 km.

The ice-free areas of land run in a continuous band, in some places as much as 200–250 km wide, along the shores of the island. The most important of these territories are found in the southwest and north of the island, high plateaus at elevations of 400–600 m alternating with mountain masses that reach elevations of 1,700–2,000 m. The east coast is characterized by ridges covered with mountain glaciers. The highest point in Greenland (and in all the arctic), Mt. Gunnbjorn (3,700 m), is found in one of these ranges (Watkins). In the west the ancient crystalline shield emerges on the surface, forming a broad but discontinuous belt of mountain masses and uplands along the coast of Baffin Bay.

CLIMATE. The coastal climate is marine, subarctic (south of 68° N lat.), and arctic; in the region of the glacial shield the climate is continental arctic. The island is frequently crossed by cyclones accompanied by strong winds, sharp changes in temperature, and precipitation. Negative values in the annual radiation balance are characteristic in the area of the glacial shield. Air cooling above the glacier causes the formation of anticyclones. The mean coastal temperature in January ranges from -7° C in the south to -36° C in the north; in July it ranges from 10° C in the south to 3° C in the northwest. At the center of the island the mean temperature in February is -47° C (absolute minimum, -70° C), and in July, -12° C. Annual precipitation in the south is 800–1,100 mm; in the north, 150–250 mm; and on the glacier, 300–400 mm (almost exclusively in the form of snow). The temperature from within the glacial shield itself to its bottom is below -10° C. The loss of ice along the edge of the shield through summer thawing and iceberg break-off is not compensated by the accumulation of ice in the interior, and the glacier is slowly becoming smaller.

FLORA. Vegetation in Greenland is confined to the ice-free regions. In the extreme south one encounters elfin birch woodland and thickets of mountain ash, alder, willow, and juniper, as well as sedge and grass meadows of various types. On the coast tundra predominates as far as 80° N lat., scrub tundra (dwarf arctic birch, bilberry, and crowberry) in the south, and moss-lichen tundra in the north. The far northern coast is sparsely vegetated arctic desert.

FAUNA. The reindeer, musk ox (in the north), polar bear, arctic fox, polar wolf, and lemming inhabit the shores of Greenland; the Greenland whale, the Greenland seal, and the walrus are among the animals inhabiting the coastal waters. There are 30 mammalian species in all. Among the birds the eiders, gulls, and willow grouse are particularly common. Commercially significant fish include cod, halibut, capelin, salmon, and shark; shrimp fishery is also important.


Population. The population of Greenland in 1970 was 47,000, of which about 90 percent were Eskimo natives. This figure does not include personnel at US military bases (as much as 2,000–4,000). There was a rapid growth in the population (1945 population, 21,000) after World War II as the result of a reduction in mortality (to 8 per 1,000 inhabitants) and a sharp increase in the birth rate (to 50 per 1,000 inhabitants). More than 90 percent of the population is concentrated on the southwest coast of Greenland, which is the location of the largest population centers: Godthåb (administrative center; population, 5,000) Julianehåb, Holsteinborg, and Sukkertoppen.

Historical survey. The island was first sighted by the Icelandic sailor Gunnbjorn in about 875 A.D. Eric the Red, an Icelander of Norwegian origin, conducted the first exploration of the island in 982 and called it Greenland. In 983, Norman (Icelandic) colonies were founded in the south of the island, lasting until the 15th century. In the 11th century Greenland’s population, including the native Eskimos, accepted Christianity; the first diocese was formed in 1126. From 1262 until the beginning of the 18th century Greenland belonged in effect to Norway. In 1721, Denmark began to colonize the island, and in 1744 it established a state monopoly on trade with Greenland (which existed until 1950). In 1814, with the dissolution of the Danish-Norwegian union of 1380, Greenland was left to Denmark and remained its colony until 1953, when it was declared part of the Kingdom of Denmark. In April 1940, after Denmark was occupied by fascist Germany, the US government announced that the Monroe Doctrine applied to Greenland and on Apr. 9, 1941, the Danish ambassador in Washington signed the so-called agreement on the defense of Greenland with the American government (ratified by the Danish legislature on May 16, 1945). The United States began to establish military bases on Greenland. After Denmark entered NATO on Apr. 4, 1949, a new agreement between the Danish and American governments was signed (Apr. 27, 1951), according to which Denmark and the United States are jointly responsible for the defense of the island. In 1971 the United States had two military bases and other military installations on Greenland.


The exploration of Greenland was begun in the 17th century, carried on initially by the English and, after colonization of the island, by Danes and Norwegians. The first extended trip into the interior of the island was made by the Swede A. Nordenskjöld in 1883. In 1886 the Norwegians F. Nansen and O. Sverdrup crossed the southern part of the island. In subsequent years the glacier was crossed by the expeditions of R. Peary (1892–95), K. Rasmussen (1912–13), A. Quervain (1912), J. Koch (1913), and A. Wegener (1906–08, 1912–13, 1929–30). The most valuable information of the postwar investigations has come from the French expedition of P. Victor (1949–51) and Simpson’s English expedition (1952–54). In recent years there has been almost continuous research, including permanent observations of the ice sheet, by American and British scientists. An expedition from the Academy of Sciences of the USSR worked there in 1968 and 1969.


Economy. Economic life is concentrated in the narrow coastal strip free of continental ice, which occupies about 15 percent of the total area of Greenland (primarily in the southwest of the island). During the colonial period trade with the native population, which engaged in trapping and hunting (seals and whales), was monopolized by a Danish state company. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, after the climate had warmed and cod came nearer the shores of the island, fishing became the principal occupation of the population. After the 1950’s capital investments in the economy increased. There is a program of economic development for Greenland (1966–75) that anticipates capital investments on the order of four billion Danish kroner. More than half of the economically active population is engaged in fishing and fish processing. The fish catch—primarily cod—is from 25,000 to 30,000 tons per year; the catch is exported in dried and salted form. There are several fish canneries, yards for repairing and building small fishing vessels, and netting and knitting factories. Sheep raising for meat and wool (24,000 sheep in 1969–70) and reindeer farming (about 4,000 deer) have also developed, and cryolite is mined.



Grenlandiia: Sb. st. Moscow, 1953. (Translated from Danish.)
Ignat’ev, G. M. Grenlandiia. Moscow, 1956.
Agranat, G. A. Zarubezhnyi Sever. Moscow, 1957.
Fristrup, B. The Greenland Ice Cape. Copenhagen, 1966.
Meddelelser om Grønland. Copenhagen, since 1879.
Bogen om Grønland. Copenhagen, 1968.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a large island, lying mostly within the Arctic Circle off the NE coast of North America: first settled by Icelanders in 986; resettled by Danes from 1721 onwards; integral part of Denmark (1953--79); granted internal autonomy 1979; mostly covered by an icecap up to 3300 m (11 000 ft.) thick, with ice-free coastal strips and coastal mountains; the population is largely Inuit, with a European minority; fishing, hunting, and mining. Capital: Nuuk. Pop.: 57 000 (2003 est.). Area: 175 600 sq. km (840 000 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005