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Climate in Greenland

The world's largest island is 2.2 million square kilometers and spans over nearly 24 latitudes from north to south. 80 percent is covered by a massive, continuous and slightly convex ice sheet, the so-called inland ice.

The remaining fifth of the island is home to the country's flora and fauna, and this is where people live - on the brink of the ice age, so to speak - primarily in coastal areas that grant access to open water.

It is, however, the country's northern location and the surrounding cold and icy sea that all contribute to the cold climate.

Climate in Greenland varies greatly, but since it is primarily arctic, no forest can exist in the area.

Especially the northern part of the island is linked closely to the North American continent only separated by a narrow and icy sea.

Southern Greenland, on the other hand, is situated between the continent to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.

Greenland’s climate is primarily arctic - only a fifth is not permanently covered by ice. Photo John Cappelen.

Temperature

Summer temperatures at both the west and east coast of Greenland differs only a few degrees when moving from north to south - quite astonishing when considering the total distance of approx. 2,600 km. The reason for this is the midnight sun of northern Greenland in summer. On the other hand, winter darkness and the absence of warm sea currents mean that the length of winter differs considerably from north to south.

There are also significant differences in temperatures from the outer coasts to the fjords in inner coastal areas. In summer, drift ice and cold water along the coast result in warmer fjords. In winter, the situation is reversed. The position close to open sea means that coastal areas are warmer.     

Photo of discharge from glacial lake on inland ice. Image quality is affected by extremely low light conditions. Photo Sirius Patrol, Greenland Command.

The Foehn wind can disturb this picture in winter. Foehn winds are very common in Greenland. In winter, the warm and dry winds can cause temperatures to rise by 30°C in a relatively short time causing snow and ice to melt.

The warmest temperature recorded in Greenland since 1958 was 25.9°C in July 2013 in Manitsoq at the West Greenland coast. The coldest place in Greenland is the ice cap where temperatures are likely to fall below -70°C. In the 1950’s, a British research station measured -70°C and a DMI station measured below -63°C at Summit in the middle of the ice cap.

Apart from the ice cap, the coldest stations in Greenland are Hall Land and Cape Morris Jesup on the north coast with average mean temperatures of -19.6°C and -18°C, respectively. In January 1989, the lowest measured temperature at Hall Land was -52.1°C - possibly even lower as this type of station does not measure absolute minimum temperatures.

Over the past 130 years, temperatures in Greenland have shown a slight upward trend. Seen in a shorter time perspective, and apart from the warm decades of the 1930’s and 1940’s, temperatures have been decreasing. This trend is primarily observed on the west coast that not until recent years started showing an increasing trend.

On the east coast, a rising trend has been seen since the mid 1970’s. Current temperature level is now among the highest in the series. 2001-2010 was the warmest decade among all series. In 2010, record high annual temperatures were observed several places across Greenland.

In combined temperature series from southwest Greenland from the period 1784-2005, the 1930’s and 1940’s were the warmest decades and the 1810’s the coldest - not least due to unidentified large volcanic eruptions in 1809 and the Tambora eruption in 1815.

Sky and sea. Photo John Cappelen.

By John Cappelen

Edited by Carsten Ankjær Ludwigsen, translated by Marianne Brandt, kommunikation@dmi.dk

 

Annual mean temperature since 1873 for weather stations in Denmark, the Faroe Islands and West Greenland. Since 1873, temperatures in Copenhagen and Torshavn have been increasing. Temperatures in West Greenland also increased until around 1940. After this time, a downward trend was observed until recent decades when temperatures started rising again.
Annual mean temperature since 1873 for weather stations in Denmark, the Faroe Islands and East Greenland. Since 1873, temperatures in Copenhagen and Torshavn have been increasing. Temperatures in East Greenland also increased until around 1940. After this time, a downward trend was observed until mid-1970’s when temperatures started rising again.