Looking northeast around local noon, a crew member on the International Space Station (ISS) photographed this panorama of the southern tip of Greenland. It is a challenging place for astronauts to photograph because it lies 920 kilometers (570 miles) north of the northernmost point reached by the ISS, and because it is so often cloud-covered.
The sheet of ice that covers most of Greenland feeds hundreds of glaciers that flow slowly off the continent toward the sea. This photograph shows more than 600 kilometers (380 miles) of the indented east coast. Great swirls of sea ice stretch north as far as the eye can see, slightly obscured by thin clouds. The southernmost tip of Greenland, Cape Farewell, lies just outside the lower right of the photo.
Remains of several villages of the “Eastern Settlement” lie along the fjords shown in the detail image. These were medieval Norse settlements established late in the 10th century by Erik the Red from Iceland, father of Leif Eriksson (of Vinland fame). At the peak of the Eastern Settlement, cattle and sheep farming supported as many as 4,000 people in the valleys downstream of the glaciers. But by the early 1400s, the settlement died out completely; the last written record comes from a wedding in 1408. These dates coincide well with dates geologists have acquired from ice and sediment layers that show a warmer climate in southern Greenland between the 800s and 1300s. The settlements were abandoned perhaps because of the onset of the Little Ice Age.
Astronaut photograph ISS047-E-83811 was acquired on May 24, 2016, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 240 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 47 crew. The image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by M. Justin Wilkinson, Texas State University, Jacobs Contract at NASA-JSC.
The image is highly oblique—taken from an angle looking outwards from the ISS, rather than straight down towards the Earth—and this perspective provides a sense of topography along the southern edge of Greenland. The exposed dark grey bedrock along the southwestern coastline has been carved by glaciers into numerous fjords, steep-sided valleys that drain directly into the ocean.