Southern Greenland’s Ice Sheet

Greenland’s Ice Sheet is estimated to represent around 11% of the world’s total volume of glacial ice. The central, interior part of the ice sheet is relative ‘smooth’, while the ice sheet at the periphery of Greenland is much more rugged, due to the coastal mountain ranges of Greenland.

The southern tip of Greenland also contains a large mountain range and the aerial photographs that have been included here provide impressions of this southern region. From a distance the scale of these mountain ranges and glaciers appear surreal.

Under the central part of the ice sheet sits a gigantic sunken ‘valley area’ or shallow basin, while the mountain ranges are located at the periphery only. The central basin’s depth sits below actual sea level. The ice sheet is over 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) long and its width reaches 1,100 kilometres (680 miles) at its widest point, amounting to an area of about 1.7 million square kilometres.

The Greenland ice sheet reaches 3,290 metres (10,800 ft) altitude at its highest point and its thickness is over 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) at the thickest point. The massive thickness of the ice sheet is a result of the depth of the central shallow basin of Greenland.

The total volume of ice is estimated to be around 2,850,000 cubic kilometers (684,000 cubic miles) of ice. This makes it the second largest ice sheet in the world, with only the Antarctic ice sheet being larger. Studies indicate that if the total ice sheet would melt, global sea levels might rise over 7 meters.

It is at the coastal mountain ranges that the ice sheet contains gigantic ‘outlet glaciers’, as visible on these images of southern Greenland. These outlet glaciers are often described as tongues of the ice sheet, or rivers of ice, and contribute towards glacial erosion in the valleys of these coastal mountain ranges, resulting in steep and deep glacier-carved fjords.

Ice from the outlet glaciers calves off where they reach the ocean waters. From these fjords the glacial icebergs drift into the wider ocean and at times into the shipping lanes of the northern hemisphere.

Text and photography by Jan Haenraets

 Jan Haenraets is a Director of Atelier Anonymous Landscapes Inc., Vancouver, BC, Canada, and a Professor in the Preservation Studies Program, at Boston University


Sources and Information:

Modern Glaciers and Ice Sheets, by James S. Aber, 2013.

Greenland ice sheet, Wikipedia.

The Greenland Ice, by Rasmus Benestad, Eric Steig and Gavin Schmidt, 2006.



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