Located on the west coast of Greenland, 250 km north of the Arctic Circle, Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord (40,240 ha) is the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea. Sermeq Kujalleq is one of the fastest (19 m per day) and most active glaciers in the world. It annually calves over 35 km3 of ice, i.e. 10% of the production of all Greenland calf ice and more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. Studied for over 250 years, it has helped to develop our understanding of climate change and icecap glaciology. The combination of a huge ice-sheet and the dramatic sounds of a fast-moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord covered by icebergs makes for a dramatic and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.
Icebergs in Disko Bay, Fishing boat, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ilulissat, Jakobshavn, Greenland, Denmark
Icebergs dans Disko Bay, Bateau de pêche, Site du Patrimoine Mondial de l’UNESCO, Ilulissat, Jakobshavn, Groenland, Danemark
Eisberge in Disko Bay , Fischerboot, Welterbe der UNESCO, Ilulissat, Jakobshavn, Grönland, Groenland, Dänemark, Daenemark
© M & G Therin-Weise
Justification for Inscription
Criterion (viii): The Ilulissat Icefjord is an outstanding example of a stage in the Earth’s history: the last ice age of the Quaternary Period. The ice-stream is one of the fastest (19m per day) and most active in the world. Its annual calving of over 35 cu. km of ice accounts for 10% of the production of all Greenland calf ice, more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. The glacier has been the object of scientific attention for 250 years and, along with its relative ease of accessibility, has significantly added to the understanding of ice-cap glaciology, climate change and related geomorphic processes.
Criterion (vii): The combination of a huge ice sheet and a fast moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord covered by icebergs is a phenomenon only seen in Greenland and Antarctica. Ilulissat offers both scientists and visitors easy access for close view of the calving glacier front as it cascades down from the ice sheet and into the ice-choked fjord. The wild and highly scenic combination of rock, ice and sea, along with the dramatic sounds produced by the moving ice, combine to present a memorable natural spectacle.
Located on the west coast of Greenland, 250 km north of the Arctic Circle, Greenland's Ilulissat Icefjord (40,240 ha) is the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq, one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea. Sermeq Kujalleq is one of the fastest (19 m per day) and most active glaciers in the world. Its annual calving is of over 35 km3 of ice, 10% of the production of all Greenland calf ice and more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. Studied for over 250 years, it has helped develop our understanding of climate change and ice-cap glaciology. The combination of a huge ice-sheet and the dramatic sounds of a fast-moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord covered by icebergs make for a dramatic and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.
The flora of the area is a low-arctic type, typical of the nutrient-poor silicaceous soil which, where humid, shows solifluction an effect such as frost boils. Colonization of the margins of retreating ice also provides examples of plant succession. The main plant communities of the area are heath, fell-field, snow-patch, herb-slope, willow-scrub, fen, river-bank, seashore and aquatic.
The upwelling caused by calving icebergs brings up nutrient-rich water which supports prolific invertebrate life and attracts great numbers of fish, seals and whales that feed on the generated nutrients. 20 species of fish have been recorded in the area; the dominant species is the flatfish Greenland halibut which feeds mainly on northern shrimp and euphausid crustaceans. The halibut migrates seasonally in and out of the fjord, living both on the benthos and in the open sea. Warmer waters bring the Atlantic cod, ringed seal and Greenland shark to the area. All three species are hunted by man and feed on the halibut. Harp seals, fin and minke whales occur in summer at the fjord mouth with very occasional blue and Greenland whales. Beluga visit Disko Bugt in autumn and winter.
The seabirds are typical for the area, with numerous breeding colonies attracted by the high primary productivity of the glacier front, and by fish discarded by the local fishery. Large flocks of northern fulmar and gulls feed among the grounded icebergs. These are mainly Iceland gulls, glaucous gulls with lesser numbers of great black-backed gulls, kittiwakes and guillemots with great cormorant.
Land birds are few and also typical for the area; there are few mammals within the locality. Arctic fox is believed to be common, whereas Arctic hare occur mainly in the higher land near the inland ice. Reindeer live only to the south of the icefjord, and polar bears are very rare visitors.
Greenland has been inhabited for 4,500 years, settlers migrating from Asia via the Bering Straits and north-west Greenland in three main waves, known as the Saqqaq, Dorset and from 1000 BP, the Thule peoples. Their middens are shown in clear section at the Thule settlement of Sermermuit near Ilulissat. Norsemen inhabited south-west Greenland between AD 985 and 1450. During the 16th-18th centuries explorers followed by whalers inhabited the area. The nominated area includes the archaeologically valuable sites of Sermermuit, abandoned in 1850, and Qajaa on the south side of the fjord, abandoned earlier. The early settlers summered in tents but used stone and turf hovels in winter. The first local Danish settlement was in 1742 at Jakobshavn, now Ilulissat. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC