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Greenland Factsheet

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Introduction to the Greenland Ice Sheet

  • Greenland is the world's largest island. I like to call it the world's smallest continent, but that's not technically correct. ;)
    • The island is about one quarter the size of the continental USA.
  • Greenland is host to the second largest ice mass on the planet, accounting for ~11% of the global ice surface area (Thomas, 1993).
    • is the only ice sheet in the Northern Hemisphere
    • is thought to have built up approximately 2.4 million years ago (Souchez, 1997).
  • The ice sheet would add between 6 and 7.4 meters to the global sea level (Warrick et al. 1996).
  • The ice sheet responds to climate on a variety of time scales, that is, from from seconds to its variations induced over past millenia (see Abe-Ouchi, 1994).

Prominent Physical Features

Highest Mountains

  • Gunnbjorn 3698 m (tallest mountain North of the Arctic Circle)
  • Petermann Bjerg in Northern Greenland
  • Mont Forel 3360 m

Ice sheet Topographic Features

  • southern dome
  • East Dome -67.5N 36.5W (Ekholm DEM)
  • Ice sheet summit

Prominent Ice Sheet Features

  • The ice divide that runs North-South over the crest of the ice sheet

Ice Sheet Elevation

  • Maximum elevation: 3275 m
  • Average elevation: 1922 m, skewness: -0.418
  • Median elevation: 2065 m
  • area above 1000 m: 82%
  • area above 2000 m: 53%

‡:above 0 m and above the WGS84 ellipsoid

Ice Sheet Area

  • Area of island: 2.1756 106 km2 (Ohmura et al. 1999)
  • Area of ice sheet: 1.801±0.016×106 km2 (Kargel et al. 2012). 1.785 x 106 km2 (Ohmura et al. 1999)
    • This value is 82% of the total area.
    • Nearly 97% of the ice covered area (or 1.736 x 106 km2 ) is comprised of the ice sheet, and the remaining area (4.9 x 10 km2) is shared among valley glaciers and ice caps near the coast (Ohmura et al. 1999).
  • Area of ice free land: 3.383 x 105 km2
  • Area of ice sheet: 1.67610 x 106 km2 (Ohmura and Reeh, 1991).
  • 2D Area 1.68513619939632 x 109 km2 (calculations by R. Huff using Bamber et al. 2001)
  • 3D Area 1.68549482526027 x 109 km2 (calculations by R. Huff using Bamber et al. 2001)

Ice Sheet Volume

  • Total volume of ice contained in the ice sheet: 2.931 x 106 km3 (Bamber et al. 2001)
    • This is the equivalent to an additional 7 m of global sea level rise.
  • Ice sheet volume: 2.911080129751762 x 1012 m3 (calculations by R. Huff using Bamber et al. 2001)
  • Total ice volume estimated at 2.620 x 106 km3 (Ohmura et al., 1999)
    • This is the equivalent to an additional 6.7 m of global sea level rise, without considering the effect of hydro-isostacy.

Ice Sheet Mass

  • Mass of ice sheet: 2.66946 x 1018 kg
    • (calculations by P.J. Petersen, assuming ice density of 917 kg/m3)
  • Mass of ice sheet: 2.66946 x 1015 metric tons
  • Mass of ice sheet: 8.28886129 x 1012 Boeing 747's
    • Assuming airplane weight of 3.22053 x 105
  • Mass of ice sheet: 27,085,538,493 U.S. Naval aircraft carriers
    • Assuming carrier weight of 98,556.67 metric tons

Greenland Basal Elevations and Ice Thickness

  1. Maximum thickness: 3366.5 m (calculations by R. Huff using Bamber et al. 2001a DEM)
  2. Average Basal elevation: 249 m (R. Huff, Based on Bamber et al. 2001)
  3. Min Basal elevation: -555 m (R. Huff, Based on Bamber et al. 2001)

Accumulation and Ablation

  • Area of net accumulation: 1.472 x 106 km2 (Benson, 1962)
  • Area with net ablation: 0.255 x 106 km2 (Benson, 1962)
  • Total accumulation: 516 km3 y-1 (Ohmura et al. 1999)
  • Total melt ablation: 347 km3 y-1 (Ohmura et al. 1999)
    • of which 244 km3 y-1 drains from the ablation area and the remaining (103 km3 y-1) from the accumulation area.
  • Net accumulation 271 x 1012 kg/yr (Ohmura et al. 1999)


  • Abe-Ouchi, Ayako, H. Blatter and A. Ohmura. 1994. How does the Greenland ice sheet geometry remember the ice age? Global and Planetary Change 9(1--2), Pages 133-142.
  • Bamber, J. L., R. L. Layberry, S. P. Gogineni, A new ice thickness and bedrock data set for the Greenland ice sheet, 1, Measurement, data reduction, and errors, J. Geophys. Res., 106(D24), 33773-33780, 2001.
  • Ekholm, S., A full coverage, high-resolution, topographic model of Greenland, computed from a variety of digital elevation data, J. Geophys. Res., B10, 21961-21972, 1996.
  • Ekholm, S. K. Keller, J.L. Bamber, S. P. Gogineni, Unusual surface morphology from digital elevation models of the Greenland ice sheet, Geophys. Res. Lett., 25 , 3623-3626, 1998 [5]
  • Kargel, J. S., Ahlstrøm, A. P., Alley, R. B., Bamber, J. L., Benham, T. J., Box, J. E., Chen, C., Christoffersen, P., Citterio, M., Cogley, J. G., Jiskoot, H., Leonard, G. J., Morin, P., Scambos, T., Sheldon, T., and Willis, I.: Brief communication Greenland's shrinking ice cover: "fast times" but not that fast, The Cryosphere, 6, 533-537, doi:10.5194/tc-6-533-2012, 2012. open access
  • Ohmura, A., Blatter, H., ETH Greenland Expedition, Progress Report No. 1, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, pp. 9-16, 1991.
  • Ohmura, A., Calanca, P., Wild, M. and Anklin, M., Precipitation, accumulation, and mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet, Zeitschrift für Gletscherkunde und Glazialgeologie, 35, 1, 1-20, 1999.
  • R. Huff (
  • Souchez, R. 1997. The buildup of the ice sheet in central Greenland. Journal of Geophysical Research, 102, 26317-26323.
  • Thomas, R., Ice Sheets, Atlas of Satellite Observations Related to Global Change, R.J. Gurney, J.L. Foster, and C.L. Parkinson, (eds.), Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 385-400, 1993.
  • Warrick R.A., C. Le Provost, M.F. Meier, J. Oerlemans, and P.L. Woodworth, Changes in Sea Level, Climate Change 1995: The Science of Climate Change, Cambridge Univ. Press, pp. 358-405, 1996.


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