Thank you to everyone who took my survey assessing your pre-existing knowledge of Greenland! If you haven’t already, please take it before continuing to read. Along with the answers, I’ve put together some charts that show trends in the first 100 surveys. As more come in, I hope to update these later to see if trends persist.
After taking the survey, many people reached out and expressed surprise at what they didn’t know. If you got many (or all) of the questions wrong, you're not alone. This made me wonder, why is Greenland such a mystery to people outside the island? Let me be transparent though. I know many of the survey takers in the first 100 entries. Because of that, I know they are diverse in age, education, profession, travel experience, etc. They are not diverse in nationality. Many in this sample group are American-either by official citizenship or by circumstance. So perhaps my question should instead be, why is Greenland such a mystery to Americans? I acknowledge these results wouldn’t hold up as a true scientific study. It would be interesting to expand the questions, seek a bigger sample size, and collect extensive background information. This might produce a more rigorous picture of familiarity with this country. But for now, this was just a fun survey to quickly gather a bit of insight into what readers know about Greenland. Here are the results:
Question 1: Which continent is Greenland part of?
Answer: North America.
Just over 50% of the first 100 surveys had this correct. Greenland is in fact part of the North American continent. In searching for stock images, however, I noticed its often missing on maps of North America (see below). Its absence on these visual representations of the continent, along with its political affiliation (see question 2), might explain why this answer is not common knowledge for many in this survey. For those in America, does it surprise you how close Greenland is to mainland USA? Its more of a neighbor than you might have realized.
Question 2: Which political entity is Greenland part of?
Answer: The Kingdom of Denmark
Just over 50% of my first 100 submissions got this one correct as well. Greenland is an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark. It has its own government and parliament. While Denmark still has some political power and contributes revenue to the economy, there have been increasing shifts in power towards Greenlanders in recent decades. The latest change in 2009 established the current self-government. This increased Greenland's political and economic autonomy. Interested? Read more here.
Question 3: What percent of Greenland is covered in ice?
Judging by comments in the last survey question (“What is one thing you know about Greenland not mentioned here”) most of you are not fooled by its name...you know its more ice than green. How much more you were less sure of. Still, considering there were no multiple choice options for this question, many of you were close. Roughly 80% of the island is covered by an ice sheet that is 656,000 square miles (1.7 million square kilometers) in size. That's more than 12 times the area of New York State (where I live).
Question 4: Together, the Antarctic and Greenlandic ice sheets contain how much of the world's fresh water ice?
Answer: 99 %
Actually, its technically "over 99%" (see my source) . There is so much water frozen in the Greenland ice sheet that a full melt would raise sea-level an estimated 20 feet (6m). Don't even ask what happens if the Antarctic ice melts. These ice sheets are incredible. They form in layers, with a new layer added each year from snowfall that doesn't completely melt the following summer. Instead of melting, it piles up and weighs down on the layers below it, turning snow to ice. In each layer are clues to the climate that year. By drilling down into the ice sheet (pulling up what's called an 'ice core'), we can see over 100,000 years of climate information (800,000 years in Antarctic cores). Interested? Read more here.
This was a multiple choice question with these four percentages as options. The sample size on this one was smaller due to author's error. The first 20 people took the survey when it was missing the word 'ice' at the end (making the question about their contribution to total fresh water, rather than fresh water ice). These results reflect those who answered after this was fixed.
Question 5: Which country dug a secret Cold War military base 8 meters (26 ft) below the Greenland ice (where it remains today)?
Answer: The United States
The 1950s saw a lot of US military activity in Greenland. Three air bases were built, along with the subsurface Camp Century, constructed to house up to 200 military members below the ice. The camp's main activities ('Project Iceworm') were abandoned in the 1960s. Minimal decommissioning means most of the base remains below the Greenland ice today. While this answer was the one most selected, I might guess this surprised even those who choose it from the four options. Interested in this? Read more here, or find a copy of this book.
Question 6: Who were the first to live in Greenland?
Answer: The Inuit*
While the mysterious disappearance of the Greenland Vikings is shared widely, the fact they were not the first to inhabit the island is not always a focus of the story. This may explain a close split between these two answers. The first people to set foot in Greenland were the first of six migrations of Inuit cultures from Northern Canada/Alaska. The final migration, the Thule culture, are ancestral to the majority of the population in Greenland today.
* Correction (with help of a Greenlandic archaeologist): the first peoples to inhabit Greenland were several groups, generally referred to as 'Paleo-Inuit' by modern day archaeologists. These populations originated from eastern Siberia/Alaska roughly 4000-5000 years ago. Although they are connected to the Inuit-speaking Thule culture through a distant genetic lineage, they are still considered culturally distinct from the Thule culture Inuit and we do not know what languages they spoke. The final migration (Thule) came across the Canadian Arctic from Alaska and into Greenland a short time after Icelandic/Norse people arrived.
Question 7: Roughly how many people live in Greenland today?
Answer: Approximately 56,000
This question was asked to see if people were in the right ballpark in terms of population size. This was an open box, no choices. Consequently, there were a lot of answers. Some of you were creative in an attempt to be correct. Two of my favorites examples of this were “At least two or more” and “all of them”. Others just plain refused to guess, perhaps uncomfortable without the safety net of options. Either way, you can see many were in range, while others thought the country was considerably more populated.
Question 8: What is one thing you know about Greenland not mentioned here?
Answer: see below
Oh, question 8. Leave people a blank box and you'll get some interesting insight. Some were correct facts about Greenland. Some were incorrect. Some just made me giggle. Here are a few favorites:
Did anything here surprise you? If so, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section!
I am an anthropology professor, writer, researcher and global traveler. In fall of 2021, I led an experiential eLearning project connecting US students (and others) with the people, places, and industries of Greenland. I redesigned a research trip into a virtual field trip for my students who didn't have any Study Abroad options. All of the videos, photos, interviews, and storytelling are still here to enjoy!