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Geological History of Greenland - Four billion years of earth evolution

Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS)
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By Niels Henriksen

  • 270 pages profusely illustrated with photographs, maps and drawings with comprehensive figure captions.
  • 850 coloured figures describing and explaining the geology
  • 60 fact boxes focussing on geological concepts and processes
  • 18 page geological glossary (a mini-geological lexicon)
  • references to both general and specific scientific background literature.
  • index with geological and geographical entries
Size: 25 x 29.7 cm
Printed: June 2008, 1 English edition, number printed 4000
ISBN: 978-87-7871-211-0 Price: 350 Danish kroner incl. VAT, excl. postage

Order the book at:
Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS)
Øster Voldgade 10
1350 København K
Phone.: + 45 38 14 21 00, e-post: bogsalg@geus.dk

In United Kingdom order book at:
Gazelle Book Services Limited, United Kingdom

Amazon United Kingdom

The book is a translation of the Danish original "Grønlands geologiske udvikling - fra urtid til nutid" published in 2005 and reprinted in 2006 (ISBN 87-7871-163-0)


The mountains and fjords of Greenland preserve a record of nearly four billion years of Earth history - a story of mountain building, volcanic eruptions, primitive life and ice ages. During the vast period of time, through processes of continental drift, Greenland has journeyed from the southern hemisphere through the tropics to its present polar position. This volume presents an account of the geological evolution of Greenland, together with its mineral wealth and hydrocarbon potential. It is written in a form that is aimed at the general reader with interest in the dramatic history of our planet.

Greenland has a land area of over 2 million km2, 81% of which is covered by a central ice cap - the Inland Ice. The surrounding ice-free marginal zone is sparsely populated and is characterised by a mountainous arctic landscape. Ice-scoured outcrops are spectacularly exposed along steep fjord walls carved by glaciers draining the Inland Ice. This makes Greenland ideal for geological studies, because the rocks, the structures that deform them and the details of the development of the rock complexes with time can be read like an open book.

The geological development of Greenland spans almost four billion years. The central basement shield is composed of gneiss complexes and belts of metamorphosed sedimentary and volcanic rocks that came into existence during mountain-building episodes 3800-1600 million years ago. Around the margins of this basement shield, thick sedimentary deposits accumulated in extensive basins. Two coast-parallel younger mountain chains formed in North-East and North Greenland about 430-350 million years ago. Major volcanic successions, related to the plate-tectonic opening of the North Atlantic Ocean 60-55 million years ago, were erupted in both East and West Greenland. The Ice Age that began about 2 million years ago is represented by widespread glacial deposits, erosional features and the present-day Inland Ice.

The book summarises the results of more than 60 years of geological investigations in Greenland and the surrounding shelf areas. It has been written with a professional background and is presented in a form that is suitable not only for the general, interested reader, but also for students and geologists without a specific knowledge of Greenland geology. It includes explanations of basic geological concepts and processes for the non specialist, and describes the potential for economic resources, both onshore and offshore.

The book has been written by Niels Henriksen, former head of the Department of Geological Mapping at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). For more than 30 years he has led scientific expeditions to all parts of Greenland and has an intimate knowledge of Greenland's geology and nature.


Place name map and Preface

Greenland´s geological evolution
3800 million years of geological history

Geology in Greenland
Geological research and exploration for natural resources

Mountains worn down by ice reveal ancient geological formations

The crystalline basement
Rocks formed in Precambrian fold belts

The Archaean basement
Archaean - the first geological record of time

The younger part of the basement
Enlargement and stabilisation of the basement
The Nagssugtoqidian in southern West Greenland
Collision between rifted Archaean continents

Fold belts in central and northern West Greenland
Younger sedimentary rocks and older gneisses interfolded in a new orogeny

The Ketilidian fold belt in South Greenland
1800 million years old plate tectonics
The Gardar Province
A 1350-1125 Ma old rift valley with sedimentary deposits, basalts and intrusive magmatic rocks

Basin deposition
Sedimentary basins - depressions in which mud, sand, gravel and calcareous deposits accumulated
Older continental basins in North and North-West Greenland
Very well-preserved Proterozoic basin deposits

Older marine basins in North-East Greenland
The thickest basin succession in Greenland is about 20 km thick

Older marine basins in North Greenland
Among these is Greenland´s largest sedimentary basin
Fold belts in North and North-East Greenland
Mountain belt formation and structures. Collision between continents
The Caledonian fold belt in North-East Greenland
Formed by collision between Greenland and Scandinavia about 420 Ma ago

The Ellesmerian fold belt in North Greenland
A mountain belt where only the upper part of the crust is uncovered
Younger sedimentary basins
The basins contain flat-lying, unaltered, sedimentary strata
The Devonian basin in North-East Greenland
Flood plains and lakes amid mountain ranges

The Wandel Sea Basin in North Greenland
Break-up along Greenland´s plate margin in the north-east

Rift basins in East Greenland
Greenland and Norway were originally joined but later separated by sea

The Nuussuaq Basin in West Greenland
From a forested delta to deep-sea sedimentation

The Kangerlussuaq Basin in South.East Greenland
First sea then land - before the whole basin was buried under lava flows
Palaeogene volcanism
When Greenland and northern Europe drifted apart widespread volcanism occurred in the North Atlantic region
Plateau basalts in the Nuussuaq Basin
Flat-lying lava flows that were poured out into a deep lake, producing sedimentary-like volcanic deposits with inclined bedding similar to a delta front

The East Greenland volcanic province
Similar sequences of basalts on both side of the North Atlantic, show that Greenland and the Faroes, formed a coherent landmass when the basalt were erupted
Geology offshore
Exploration using geophysical methods and drilling
Geology offshore North and East Greenland
Sediments and basalts under the seabed

Geology offshore West Greenland

Greenland was joined to Canada until about 130 million years ago
The Ice Age
The patterns of glacial erosion and deposition are imprinted on all the older geological formations

Mineral resources
Subsurface mineral occurrences are difficult to find - but they exist. Finding the needle in the haystack
Early mining in Greenland
Mining in Greenland began as early as 1780

Mineralisation in Greenland
Existence of many mineralised localities in Greenland indicates a good potential for mineral deposits
Oil and gas
Carbon and hydrogen from ancient animals and plants form fossil fuels
Hydrocarbon potential of North and East Greenland
The shelf areas off North-East Greenland are geologically similar to the oil- and gas-producing basins offshore mid-Norway and on the Barents Sea shelf

Hydrocarbon potential of West Greenland
Since 1969, about 50.000 line kilometres of seismic data have been acquired and six deep wells drilled. The potential for oil exists, but is still unproven

Background and acknowledgements

Further reading


Acronyms - for organisations and projects

Subject index


"I purchased a copy since I am fascinated by this extraordinary book, one of the best books I have ever seen on geology for a broader (but educated) public. I've seen good geology books, but this one for its concept, contents and utmost readability is outstanding. I found it very well made, very attractive and I will recommend this as essential reading to anyone with an interest in geology or natural sciences. I believe that it beautifully shows many of the aspects of geology. Fantastic landscapes, fantastic geology, fantastic book".
Citation by Dr. Patrice Christmann, Secretary General, EuroGeoSurveys, the Association of the European Geological Surveys.

"This is an imposing book in many ways: a large format, beautifully illustrated and produced volume. It is aimed at a general readership with an interest in earth science and is excellent at explaining in layman´s terms current geological concepts and theories relevant to the geology of Greenland. It is also sufficiently detailed to be of interest to the more knowledgeable reader, and includes references and further information to help those wishing for a deeper and more technical understanding."
Citations from book review by D.W Matthews in Polar Record vol. 46, no. 236, January 2010. Cambridge University Press. Read whole review:

"In summary this is an outstanding contribution to the Earth science literature. It is one of the best books available on geology for a broader public, but it will still manage to satisfy the academic or industry-based geologists who wishes for an update on the geology of this perennially fascinating piece of the Earth´s crust. No library should be without a copy".
Citations from book review by Bob Strachan in Geoscientist vol. 19, no. 12, 2009. Geological Society of London. Read whole review:

"This book is to be highly commended and GEUS, as a specialist organization, are to be congratulated in investing in such a worthwhile product aimed at a general audience. In short, this is the sort of book that ignites the interest of us all and will convert the causal browser into an ardent geologist."
Citations from book review by Ian Alsop in Geology Today vol. 25, no. 5, 2009. The Geologists Association & The Geological Society of London. Read whole review:


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