The one fact that most will remember is that Iceland is green and Greenland is icy. However, there’s more to Greenland than this grade school quip. In fact, in terms of size alone, there’s much, much more.
1. There Are No Roads
With an area of 836,330 square miles, Greenland is the world’s largest island. However, don’t get your hopes up for a road trip across the arctic tundra just yet. There are no major roads in Greenland. While the big towns have roads within them, there are no connecting road systems between settlements across the massive island. Dog sleds are still a method of transportation on the island, but boats are the leading form of transportation for the island’s 56,000 inhabitants.
2. It Used to Be Green
The naming disparity between Greenland and Iceland comes across as a cartographer’s practical joke, but there’s more to it than that. When the Vikings first discovered southern Greenland around A.D. 800, they arrived upon lush plains, and it is from their discovery that Greenland was christened with its name. Twelve hundred years ago, Greenland was green.
However, this historical fact has left archaeologists and scientists with two questions, both of which are still contentious: what happened to the Vikings, and what led to such drastic shifts in Greenland’s landscape?
It’s quite possible the two are linked. A decline of the ivory trade, upon which most of Greenland’s economy functioned, accompanied with massive environmental disruption spelled catastrophe for the Norse settlers. As for the climate change itself, it’s theorized that glaciation arose from a drastic decline in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
3. It’s an Autonomous Territory
Almost 90% of Greenland’s population is Inuit, or “Kalaallit” in the native tongue. Unlike countless tragic stories of colonialism, that of the Kalaalit of Greenland is one of the few with a rather happy ending. Though Greenland had spent most of modern history as a Danish colony, the Greenland Home Rule Act of 1979 granted the island its own parliament and increased sovereignty. This ruling was further developed in 2008 when a referendum by 75% vote recognized the islanders as a distinct people within the Danish realm. What this meant for the Kalaallit and the rest of Greenland’s inhabitants was a new era of autonomy.
4. It Hosts a Unique Sporting Event
Greenland’s vast icy landscape doesn’t lend itself to industry and agriculture. However, it does accommodate one sport that demands large expanses of open land. Since 1999, the island of Uummannaq hosts the annual World Ice Golf Championship. The 36-hole stroke tournament is open to golfers with a handicap up to 36, and the game is played with a red golf ball to be able to spot it on the quiet white horizons. You’ll want to dress warmly and be prepared for the glare of the sun.