Erik the Red's Land

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Erik the Red's Land
Eirik Raudes Land
Official seal of Erik the Red's Land
Location of Erik the Red's Land
Country  Kingdom of Greenland
Regional capital Danmarkshavn
 • Governor Ingvald Valkendorf
 • Total 972,000 km2 (375,000 sq mi)
Area rank 1st
Population (2014)
 • Total 4,824
Official language Danish

Erik the Red's Land (Danish: Eirik Raudes Land) is one of the five regions of Greenland, covering the northeastern portion of the country, with the large interior being part of the Greenland Ice Sheet and some ice-free coastal areas where most of the vast region's population lives. Erik the Red's Land is the biggest region of Greenland and is bigger than all but 29 of the world's 194 countries with a total area of 972,000 km, but is also the country's least populated region. It is the site of the world's northernmost national park, Northeast Greenland National Park, which covers much of the region's territory, and several Arctic research stations along with a few permanent settlements. It is named after Erik the Red, who founded the first Norse or Viking settlements on the coast of southeastern Greenland in the 10th century.

None of the original Norse colonies were located in what is now Erik the Red's Land, but further to the south on Greenland's southeastern coast. A significant Inuit population existed as of 1823, as observed by some European explorers, but by 1900 the vast region was uninhabited and uncharted. The first Greenlandic and Danish expeditions reached the area in the early 1900s, and in the 1930s, Norway briefly tried to claim the area in violation of the Kingdom of Greenland's sovereignty. The Permanent Court of International Justice ruled against the Norwegians and Greenlandic sovereignty in the region was restored. At present, Erik the Red's Land has only a four small towns—Danmarkshavn, Mestersvig, Brønlundhus, and Eismitte—and a number of scientific research and Greenlandic Coast Guard stations.


The original Norse colonists of Greenland came from Iceland around the year 1000. There were two main Norse settlements on the island, but they were down on the southeastern coast of Greenland, far from the modern territory of Erik the Red's Land. However, contact with those settlements was lost during the Late Middle Ages and the surviving Norse population was not reconnected with Europe until around 1500. After the rediscovery the Norse colonists in Greenland would come under Dano-Norwegian rule, from then until 1814. The remote territory in northeastern Greenland had no permanent inhabitants, as the Greenlanders nor the Danish made any attempts to explore the area by around 1900. Some Inuits had been spotted there by in 1823 by British captain Douglas Clavering as he sailed along the coast, but the area was uninhabited when Norse-Greenlandic, Danish, and Norwegian explorers began arriving in the area starting from 1900.

Part of the area along the remote northeastern coast was mapped out by the 1906–1908 joint Greenlandic-Danish expedition. They established Danmarkshavn, the largest town in east Greenland. Although no living Inuit were found, the expedition discovered abundant evidence of their former habitation, such as tent rings, winter dwellings, meat caches and tools, all along the coast up to Danmark Fjord in the far north. After the country gained independence from Denmark in 1918, more expeditions in the remote northeast were undertaken by the Greenlandic government to map out the entirety of its territory.

A station was established there by Norwegians like Gunnar Isachsen in the early 1920s. But it was not until 1931 that five Norwegian trappers arrived in the area in 1931 and claimed east Greenland for Norway, calling it Eirik Raudes Land (Erik the Red's Land). In 1933, an international court in The Hague ruled that the whole island belonged to the Kingdom of Greenland. Nonetheless for decades the Greenlandic government's effective control in the area was limited to the eastern coast, so the Inland Ice constituted its western limit (the Inland Ice covers five-sixths of Greenland's total area, so that only a narrow strip of varying width along the coast is free of permanent ice). Most of the present settlements exist along the coastal strip.

Since the 1720s, most of what is now Erik the Red's Land was on paper a part of North Greenland, one of the two regions that the island was divided into by the Danish with the 68°N latitude as the border. In 1952, the former regions of Greenland were reorganised, with the eastern portion of North Greenland becoming known as Erik the Red's Land. The Greenlandic government kept the name as a homage to Erik the Red, who had established the first Norse colonies in Greenland.

Geography and environment[edit]

The Elephant Foot Glacier in Romer Lake, in the far northern limit of King Frederick VIII Land district

Erik the Red's Land shares borders, which are mostly straight lines, with the region King Christian IX Land in the south and with Knud Rasmussen Land in the west along the 45° West meridian on the ice cap. The large interior of the region is part of the Greenland Ice Sheet, but there are ice-free areas along the coast and on Peary Land in the north. The ice sheet reaches the sea at Jokel Bay. In the areas of the shore it also includes numerous fjords, such as the Skaer Fjord, the Ingolf Fjord and the Borge Fjord in Dove Bay, as well as numerous coastal islands, such as Hovgaard Island in the shore of the Greenland Sea, Princess Thyra Island in the Wandel Sea, or Oodaaq off the north coast, which is the world's most northerly land. Erik the Red's Land also includes several mountain ranges, such as the Princess Caroline-Mathilde Alps, nunataks, such as Queen Louise Land, and vast glacier expanses, such as the Storstrommen, the Zachariae Isstrom and the Nioghalvfjerdsbrae of far northeastern Greenland. It also includes the little-explored Roosevelt Range in the far north of Erik the Red's Land, the northernmost mountain range in the world.

The region's animal and plant life includes the Arctic wolf in the far north, particularly in parts of the Peary Land district, and some areas on the north coast represent the northernmost limit of certain plant species. The southern parts of the region, in King Oscar Land, include some of the most mosquito-infested areas of Greenland.


Administratively, the region is divided into four districts.

  • King Wilhelm Land – Encompasses most of the frozen interior of the region, with its borders forming a rectangle shape. Largely uninhabited wilderness, the only town of significance is Eismitte, the administrative center, towards the south.
  • Peary Land – The unfrozen northern coast, directly north of King Wilhelm Land beyond 82°N parallel. It is the northernmost ice-free land in the world, being a polar desert. District administrative center is Brønlundhus.
  • King Frederick VIII Land – The northern section of the unfrozen eastern coastal strip, directly to the east of King Wilhelm Land. The location of the majority of the population and Danmarkshavn, the regional administrative center.
  • King Oscar Land – The southern section of the unfrozen eastern coastal strip, directly to the east of King Wilhelm Land. The administrative center is the town of Mestersvig.


There are no major roads or railways in Erik the Red's Land, with most transportation being on ferries that travel along the coast or several small airports operated by Air Greenland.

See also[edit]