Greenland (officially Kalâtdlit Nunât), world's largest island that is not considered a continent, located mainly north of the Arctic circle, in the North Atlantic. Greenland is a province of Denmark with its own 16-member legislature.
An ice cap covers four-fifths of the island and reaches a thickness of about 3 mi (4.8 km). Along the coasts mountain peaks penetrate the ice. At the edge of the ice cap wide glaciers sometimes move toward the coast at speeds of up to 20 yd (18 m) per day and have carved deep fjords in the coast. When these glaciers reach the sea, large pieces break off to form icebergs. The island is about 1,670 mi (2,688 km) long and 800 mi (1,287) across its widest part, but only two narrow coastal strips are habitable. Vegetation along the coasts is sparse and small but highly varied; there are about 400 species of flowering plants and several hundred types of mosses and lichens. Animals include muskoxen, reindeer, arctic hares, lemmings, blue and white arctic foxes, the white arctic wolf (almost extinct), and the polar bear. Birds include geese, gulls, sea eagles, owls, ptarmigan, buntings, and falcons. There are freshwater fish but not reptiles or amphibians.
Hunting and fishing are the two most important occupations. The world's main deposit of cryolite (used in making aluminum) is at Ivigtut. Iron, graphite, and lead are mined. The Royal Greenland Trading company handles all the island's import and export trade, with about 75% of exports going to Denmark. There is almost invariably an annual trade deficit, made up by the Danish government. When Denmark joined the Common Market in 1973, Greenland also became a member, but the island independently withdrew from the organization in 1982.
It is uncertain when Eskimo tribes first crossed to Greenland from northern Canada. The Vikings, led by Eric the Red, reached the island in 981. Eric the Red returned in 985 with a fleet of 14 ships to settle the Greenland shores. In about 1000 Lief Ericsson, his son, began to convert the population to Christianity, and Greenland was given its own bishop. The colonies were a republic until 1261, when they placed themselves under Norwegian sovereignty. In 1380 both Greenland and Norway fell under Danish rule. In 1953 Greenland gained control over its local affairs.