History And Cultural Significance Of Ilulissat Icefjord

Anusuya Mukherjee
Apr 17, 2024 By Anusuya Mukherjee
Originally Published on Dec 20, 2023
In the native tongue of Greenland, Ilulissat Icefjord is referred to as 'Ilulissat Kangia.'

Ilulissat Icefjord is a naturally formed geographic phenomenon categorized as a 'fjord' located in West Greenland.

In layman's terms, a fjord or a 'fiord' refers to a narrow, long inlet that has cliffs and steep sides and has been created by glaciers.

One can find a number of fjords in areas such as New Zealand, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Kamchatka, South Georgia Island, Washington state, Kerguelen Islands, Ireland, Nunavut, and many other places all across the world as well.

The Ilulissat Icefjord is located at a distance of around 155.34 mi (250 km) from the Arctic circle in the northern direction.

The Ilulissat Icefjord also plays the role of being the sea mouth of Sermeq Kujalleq as it is one of the only glaciers using which the well-known Greenland ice cap can conveniently reach the sea.

Sermeq Kujalleq is pretty important to the northern hemisphere as it stands among the world's most active and fastest glaciers calving over 21.78 mi (35 km) of ice every year. The amount of ice annually calved by Sermeq Kujalleq is more than the amount of ice calved by any other glacier outside of Antarctica.

Ilulissat Icefjord has a staggering scientific value unsurprisingly as well, scientists have been studying the Ilulissat Icefjord for around the past 250 years and have gained significant knowledge in the areas of Icecap glaciology and climate change.

During the winter season, this entire area is frozen due to such low temperatures. Scroll down to learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage site and how it is one of the most important naturally gifted aspects of Greenland.


Ilulissat Icefjord is a tidal fjord that is covered with small chunks of floating ice and plays an important role in helping scientific groups study earlier atmospheric conditions as well as letting the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier perform its function. The Ilulissat Icefjord is thus home to one of the most productive glaciers in the Northern hemisphere.

The Ilulissat Icefjord is believed to be around 43.49 mi (70 km) long and runs in the western direction for 25 mi (40 km) from the Greenland ice sheet to Disko Bay, located to the south of Ilulissat town.

The Jakobshavn glacier or as it is also known as Sermeq Kujalleq is located in the Ilulissat Icefjord, this glacier calves off around 20 billion tons (18 billion metric tonnes) of icebergs every year.

Interestingly, it has been noted that some of the icebergs which have broken from this glacier in Greenland have a height of around 3,300 ft (1,000 m).

The staggering heights of these icebergs lead to many of them getting stuck in the shallow regions of the fjord for years until they are affected by the force of other icebergs and glaciers.

Once these icebergs are freed, the Ilulissat Icefjord facilitates them to travel into the open sea, where they initially move towards the northern direction along with the ocean currents but ultimately turn south towards the Atlantic Ocean.

The Ilulissat Icefjord is approximately believed to cover an area of 402,400 ha (994,000 ac) and can be pinpointed at 69°08′N 49°30′W.


Ilulissat Icefjord is a pretty famous natural wonder and we have partially learned about why it is so but this fjord located in Greenland is much more important to humankind as it provides us with information dating back to the Quaternary period. Let us scroll further to learn about the significance of this natural wonder of Greenland.

Unlike most fjords, Ilulissat Icefjord is pretty unique as it has a unique combination of rapidly moving ice and a vast ice sheet all over it which interestingly never allows a person to have the exact same glimpse of the fjord on two different occasions.

It is believed that the Greenland ice cap from which the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier derives is the only present remnant of continental ice sheets in the Northern hemisphere dating back to the Quaternary ice age.

When climatic conditions in this region are stable, scientists can learn about the atmospheric conditions from 250,000-11,500 years ago, as the oldest ice present is around 250,000 years old.

Owing to the research conducted, scientists now believe that during the ice age, the climate of this region fluctuated between extremely cold conditions and warm periods.

On the other hand, in the current day, the total ice cap is maintained by snow accumulation which helps balance the loss suffered in calving every year.

This UNESCO World Heritage site has helped people learn more about climate change and realize the critical role it is playing in shaping the world for the future.

Such is the importance of this natural wonder in Greenland that it was the first-ever place in the Arctic to be announced as a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 2004.

In recent times, there has been a rapid increase in the tourism sector regarding the Ilulissat Icefjord, as well as constant pressure from companies who look to harvest the biological resources available at this site in Greenland.

Tourists in the recent past have been left bewildered at the sight of the mammoth-sized icebergs and the dramatic sounds of ice calving, creaking, and certain sudden cracks as well.

Additionally, Disko Bay which is located at some distance from Ilulissat Icefjord has been a center for whale watching in Greenland for some time now as seals and whales have arrived at the point in large numbers. People can often see whales from the nearby restaurants, seashores as well as from their hotel room windows.

This UNESCO World Heritage site in Greenland is incredible and is considered a natural wonder for multiple reasons and rightly so.

One can book sightseeing flights to fly atop the glacier wall of these huge-sized glaciers and icebergs to have a completely different perspective.

World Heritage Site

Ilulissat Icefjord was announced as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 following its impeccable beauty and worldwide benefits which provided scientists and researchers with information that they couldn't find elsewhere. The Greenland wonder has helped the scientific team learn more about past atmospheric conditions as well as get hands-on data about the present-day climate change crisis.

The Ilulissat Icefjord is now protected from depletion as it is a unique phenomenon and has been recognized as a World Heritage site under two criteria.

Antarctica and Greenland are the only two places where one can get a glimpse of a fast-paced glacial ice sheet and a massive ice sheet's combination calving into a fjord.

Additionally, this fjord is then further covered by icebergs. This phenomenon can be best experienced at Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland which is one of the primary reasons under criteria (vii) laid down by UNESCO why Ilulissat Icefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The fjord presents itself as a natural spectacle to the visitors with its dramatic sound effects of cracks and calves.

One of the most interesting facts about this natural phenomenon is, one can very closely view these mammoth structures, the scientists as well as the tourists without a lot of hassle.

Moreover, this natural wonder also qualifies as a UNESCO World Heritage site under criteria (viii) listed by the organization where the fjord depicts itself as a living example of a time period in Earth's history, the last ice age of the Quaternary Period.

Scientists have been engaged in studying Ilulissat Icefjord for more than the past couple of centuries and keeping in mind the ease with which the scientific groups can access this geographical phenomenon, the data obtained has been a revolution for humankind.

As this fjord in Greenland is now a UNESCO World Heritage site providing invaluable information about the planet and especially the current hot cake of climate change, the site is being carefully conserved and protected by several government legislation and planning policies.

The primary legislation which protects this natural wonder is the 'Greenland Parliament Act No.

29 of December 18, 2003, of nature protection'.

This act undertakes the protection of ecosystems, species, and other areas as well. The 'Greenland Home Rule Government Order No.

10 of June 15, 2007, is also responsible for the protection of Ilulissat Icefjord.

Some additional controls in the adjacent areas also ensure the protection of the natural wonder. These restrictions include the likes of waste disposal regulations, building constructions, protection of the landscape, and the restricted usage of snowmobiles.

At the same time, it has been observed that in certain areas of the fjord, fishing and other hunting activities take place in abundance. In order to combat this condition, special hunting laws have been enforced to ensure that the biological resources aren't exploited in an unsustainable manner.

An increase in tourism resulting in a rise in the cruise ships visiting the spot and rapidly growing helicopter traffic has also been a factor to deal with for the authorities. Although restrictions regarding the same have been put into place to manage the same along with taking care of the nearby relevant cultural heritage sites.

There are no proper roads or human-made structures as well in the area which has led to avoiding permanent settlements near the site.

Other Miscellaneous Facts

The Ilulissat Icefjord is a one-of-a-kind natural phenomenon and is home to some of the most well renowned and productive icebergs, glaciers in the world. Most of the icebergs which emerge from this fjord travel to Disko Bay and then to the Baffin Bay but ultimately go to the North Atlantic Ocean.

Did you know, the majority of the boating-related travel is restricted around this fjord to protect the site. You can instead go for scenic helicopter rides or dog sledding to best enjoy this natural wonder.

The Jakobshavn glacier of the Ilulissat Icefjord is known to move around 131 ft (40 m) in one day, becoming the fastest traveling glacier on Earth and it goes on to gather speed every day.


What is the Ilulissat glacier known for?

The Ilulissat Icefjord plays a pivotal role in the function performed by the Sermeq Kujalleq and is best known for its natural beauty as well as the information it provides relating to the evolutionary history of Earth and the scientific knowledge of climate change.

How is the Ilulissat Icefjord protected?

A number of corrective and protective steps have been taken to protect Ilulissat Icefjord including the 'Greenland Home Rule Government Order No. 10 of June 15, 2007' and the 'Greenland Parliament Act No.

29 of December 18, 2003, of nature protection'. There are several other regulations as well which have proved to be of immense importance in protecting the site.

Where is Ilulissat Icefjord located?

The Ilulissat Icefjord is located to the north of the Arctic circle at a distance of 155.34 mi (250 km). You can track down this natural wonder at 69°08′N 49°30′W.

Why is the Ilulissat Icefjord important?

Ilulissat Icefjord is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is not only highly regarded for its aesthetic beauty but also for the environmental role it plays in facilitating the functions performed by the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier.

When and why was Ilulissat Icefjord declared a World Heritage Site?

The Ilulissat Icefjord was announced as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004 upon its fulfillment of the criteria (vii) and criteria (viii) laid down by the organization. The unparalleled scenic beauty and the immense scientific data available are the two main causes behind the same.

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Written by Anusuya Mukherjee

Bachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

Anusuya Mukherjee picture

Anusuya MukherjeeBachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

With a wealth of international experience spanning Europe, Africa, North America, and the Middle East, Anusuya brings a unique perspective to her work as a Content Assistant and Content Updating Coordinator. She holds a law degree from India and has practiced law in India and Kuwait. Anusuya is a fan of rap music and enjoys a good cup of coffee in her free time. Currently, she is working on her novel, "Mr. Ivory Merchant".

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