Greenland, an extensive region, stretching from 59° 45' to 83 1/2° N. lat. and from 17° to 73° W. long., now known to be an island engirt by smaller islands, but an island of almost continental size. Even its southern end has a thoroughly arctic character. It was discovered by the earliest Scandinavian settlers in Iceland. After having been sighted by Gunbjorn, it was visited by Erik the Red, who, having explored it, founded there in 986 two colonies. The colonies afterwards came under the dominion of Norway, but were neglected and suffered from disaster and privation, until the western settlement was attacked and destroyed by Eskimo intruders from the north some years after 1340. Subsequently the connection with Europe gradually grew less and less, wholly ceasing after 1448, when Greenland almost passed into oblivion. On its rediscovery by John Davis in 1585 the Eskimo were the only inhabitants. In 1721 the modern Danish settlements on the west coast were founded by Hans Egede as missionary stations. Remarkable ruins of undoubted Scandinavian origin were early discovered on two points of the west coast, one between 60° and 61° N. lat., the other between 64° and 65°. In each case the ruins lie scattered over an area of some hundred square miles, occupying small flat and fertile spots around the heads of the fjords. The whole coast-line may be roughly estimated at 3600 miles, or 192,000, following every island, fjord, and peninsula. The area again may be variously estimated at 512,000 and 320,000 sq. m., according as one includes or omits the islands and fjords running inland, which are 60 miles long on an average. A huge ice-sheet covers the whole of the interior. The surface of this enormous glacier, only occasionally interrupted by protruding mountain-tops, rises slightly towards the interior. In 1888, when Greenland was crossed from east to west (by Nansen), the 'divide' was found to attain some 10,000 feet above the sea. On account of this ice-cap Greenland has no rivers corresponding to its magnitude; instead of its being drained by rivers, the inland ice at certain points of the coast is thrust into the sea by forces which have their origin in extensive lateral glaciers in the interior. These points are represented by the so-called ice-fjords, through which the ice, whose thickness may be estimated at 1000 feet, is pushed on an average with a velocity of 50 feet in twenty-four hours into the sea, where it breaks into fragments - the bergs. The coast-margin, itself largely bounded with perpetual ice, is very mountainous; bold headlands, 3000 to 5000 feet high, are common, some even rising 6000 to 7000 feet. Low flat land is found only in small patches, especially round the heads of some of the fjords. These inlets generally take the form of narrow channels, frequently more than 1000 feet deep.
The climate of Greenland,when contrasted with the climate of the eastern coasts of the Atlantic in the same latitude, shows a surprising difference. The southern point of Greenland has a mean temperature corresponding to that of the most northern shores of Iceland and Norway. But the difference consists more in the want of summer than in the severity of the winter. The mean of summer, of winter, and of the year at Upernivik (73° N. lat.) is respectively 383.2°, -6.6°, and 13.3° F. The mountains of Greenland consist chiefly of granitic and gneissose rocks. Metallic ores have hitherto proved rather scarce. Besides coal, graphite has been discovered; and 10,000 tons of cryolite are annually exported for the manufacture of soda and alum. A mineralogical rarity is the native iron, of which a mass found on Disco Island was estimated to weigh 46,200 pounds. In sheltered slopes and valleys around the fjords south of 65° N. lat. copse-woods are found, consisting of alder, white birch, more rarely rowan-trees, which grow to 6 or 8 feel: high. Berries are abundant, especially crow-berries and whortleberries. The Greenland flora comprises 395 species of phanerogams and higher cryptogams, and 330 species of mosses. The fauna numbers 33 species of mammalia, 124 of birds, 79 of fishes. It is from the animal kingdom, especially from the seals and whales, that the natives derive almost their whole subsistence. Reindeer, of which 25,000 were shot annually in the years 1845-49, are now rather scarce. Of fish, sharks only have any commercial value, but several other kinds afford food for the inhabitants. American ships have for some years tried halibut-fishery on the banks off the west coast. The dogs used for draught are of great importance in the north. A few goats and horned cattle have been kept by the Europeans, but mainly as a curiosity.
The inhabitants of Greenland are of the Eskimo race, more or less mixed with European blood. The individuals of the mixed race hardly differ as to language and habits from the pure Eskimo. Besides the natives, about 250 Europeans usually reside in the country. Total pop. about 11,600. Since 1774 the trade of Greenland has been a royal monopoly. There are 12 chief stations for trading and the Danish Mission; the southernmost is Julianehaab (60° 42' N. lat.), the northernmost Upernivik (72° 48' N. lat.). At Godthaab there is a seminary for training native catechists; of late natives have been appointed pastors. The Moravian Mission has four chief stations.
See Danish Greenland, by Rink (Lond. 1877), and works on the expeditions of Scoresby, Clavering, Kane, Hall, Nares, Greely, Nansen, and Peary.