Located on the west coast of Greenland, the Ilulissat Icefjord is the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea. Sermeq Kujalleq is one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world. It annually calves over 35 sq.km of ice. Studied for over 250 years, it has helped to develop our understanding of climate change and icecap glaciology.
The Greenland ice cap is the only remnant in the Northern Hemisphere of the continental ice sheets from the Quaternary Ice Age. The oldest ice is estimated to be 250,000 years old, and provides detailed information on past climatic changes and atmospheric conditions from 250,000 to around 11,550 years ago, when climate became more stable.
Studies made over the last 250 years demonstrate that during the last ice age, the climate fluctuated between extremely cold and warmer periods, while today the ice cap is being maintained by an annual accumulation of snow that matches the loss through calving and melting at the margins. This phenomenon has helped to develop our understanding of climate change and icecap glaciology.
Header photo of Ilulissat and the Icefjord © Mads Pihl, VisitGreenland
Natural World Heritage
The combination of a huge ice sheet and a fast moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord covered by icebergs is a phenomenon only seen in Greenland and Antarctica. Ilulissat offers both scientists and visitors easy access for a close view of the calving glacier front as it cascades down from the ice sheet and into the ice-choked fjord. The wild and highly scenic combination of rock, ice and sea, along with the dramatic sounds produced by the moving ice, combine to present a memorable natural spectacle.
The Ilulissat Icefjord is an outstanding example of a stage in the Earth’s history: the last ice age of the Quaternary Period. The ice-stream is one of the fastest (40 m per day) and most active in the world. Its annual calving of over 46 km3 of ice accounts for 10% of the production of all Greenland calf ice, more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. The glacier has been the object of scientific attention for 250 years and, along with its relative ease of accessibility, has significantly added to the understanding of ice-cap glaciology, climate change and related geomorphic processes.
See also: Denmark