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Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord UNESCO Site

5 min read

The Ilulissat Icefjord was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. Exploration of the Arctic ice fjord guarantees breathtaking views of the glaciers and ice caps surrounding the sea and exciting hiking trails throughout its lakes, meadows, and mountains.

However, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the fjord's beauty and intrigue while overlooking its significance as a site of outstanding natural value.


Where is the Ilulissat Icefjord?

The Ilulissat Icefjord lies in the northern hemisphere, within the Arctic circle. It runs between the Greenland Ice Sheet (the only remnant of the continental ice sheets of the Cenozoic era) and Disko Bay. It's home to many huge icebergs, as well as the the fastest moving and most productive glacier in the northern hemisphere.

Exploring the Ilulissat Icefjord

Visiting Western Greenland offers not only a once in a lifetime experience to explore local Greenlandic Inuit culture, but a chance to experience an important destination – a UNESCO site - that plays an essential role in the study of Polar Regions and climate change.

After taking in the 34 mile (55 km) long Icefjord and listening to the sounds of the ice in motion, you’re guaranteed to leave with a better understanding of the Icefjord’s uniqueness.

Whether you choose to visit during the summer's midnight sun, or look for the northern lights in the winter, you'll be greeted by stunning views.

An excellent option to visit this area is Gems of West Greenland: Fjords, Icebergs and Culture.

Recognizing the Outstanding Value of Polar Regions and the Greenland Ice Cap

A UNESCO designation - awarded to sites exhibiting outstanding value - isn’t granted to just any site in the world, nor is it a modest designation. Western Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord met specific criteria set forth by UNESCO in order to earn this title.

As one of the world’s most fascinating natural phenomena, the fjord easily met benchmarks for providing natural beauty and “aesthetic importance,” and met further criteria for showcasing major stages of Earth’s history, specifically the last ice age. The Icefjord has been the object of scientific attention for over 250 years.

The Important Study of Polar Regions and Climate Change

For more than a century, the Icefjord has provided a wealth of information concerning glaciology and the analysis of ice cores. The region has often been considered “Ground Zero” for climate change because of the significant and concerning changes in climate first noticed in the Arctic Regions.

The Icefjord has provided invaluable information and research opportunities for examining Earth’s climate for over 100,000 years, and continues to play a significant role in understanding and monitoring climate change effects.


With ice as old as 250,000 years, the Greenland ice cap serves as one of the most important sites for monitoring the climatic and atmospheric conditions of the past. The Icefjord's position, off the western coast of Greenland, just over 62 miles (100 kms) north of the Arctic Circle, makes it the ideal location for such data to be collected.

The tidal fjord is made up of brash (accumulations of smaller pieces of floating ice) and icebergs, and in the winter is completely frozen solid.

Of course, the expansive Greenland Ice Sheet, almost the size of the state of Texas, is the second-largest ice mass in the world after Antarctica.

Ice from the Sermeq Kujalleq (Jakobshavn Glacier), a large calving glacier, produces at least 10 per cent of all of Greenland’s calf ice. There is no glacier producing more calf ice outside of Antarctica, and it continues to erode the fjord bed.

Protecting One of Nature’s Most Valuable Wonders


A UNESCO designation includes an obligation to protect and preserve the world’s most precious natural wonders. UNESCO’s goal is to protect sites against destruction so future generations have the opportunity to enjoy and experience its beauty and intrigue.

Although the Greenland Home Rule Government continues its efforts to protect the Icefjord, as part of UNESCO, activities such as hunting, fishing, and tourism are regulated, as are the monitoring and research of activities and their effects on the region. In addition, Quark Expeditions is committed to environmental sustainability and protecting the cultures of the places its visit. In 2019, Quark Expeditions launched Polar Promise, the most comprehensive sustainability strategy in the Polar Regions.

Contact one of our experienced Polar Travel Advisers for more information on experiencing the Icefjord first-hand on a Greenland cruise.

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