Location and Values: Ilulissat Icefjord lies at the mouth of an enormous, ancient glacier known as Sermeq Kujalleq, a ‘river of ice’ that discharges about 40 km3 of ice into the sea each year. Located on the western margins of the Greenland icecap, about 250km inside the Arctic Circle, it is one of the fastest and most active glaciers in the world. The glacier has a catchment area of about 110,000 km2 (6.5% of the Greenland Icecap), with the world heritage site occupying the ice stream from its sea mouth to the 1,200m contour, about 80-85km inland. In this area the ice stream forms a narrow well-defined channel approximately 3-6km wide, moving at a rate of about 40m each day. The calving of the glacier as it drops huge chunks of ice into the fjord, where icebergs of every shape and size fill the landscape, creates an awe-inspiring experience of sound and sight.
The Greenland icecap is the only remnant in the northern hemisphere of the continental ice sheets that existed during the last Ice Age, in the Quarternary period about 250,000 years ago. The oldest ice dates back to this time and the icecap holds a detailed record of past climate change and atmospheric conditions (in trapped air bubbles) for the entire period since it was formed. As one of the most accessible places on the Greenland icecap, Illulisat Icefjord has been studied in detail for over 250 years and has helped develop our understanding of natural cycles of climate change and icecap glaciology.
Conservation Status and Prospects. According to IUCN’s Conservation Outlook Assessment (2020) the conservation status of the Ilulissat Icefjord is ‘good, with some concerns’. The IUCN report notes that climate change is already affecting the site and will result in significant changes in the glacial landscape as well as plant and animal life. Protection and management of the site is considered to be mostly effective, but there are some concerns over possible future developments as tourism demand increases and commercial fisheries are developed at Ilulissat.
Official UNESCO Site Details
IUCN Conservation Outlook
UNEP-WCMC Site Description