Upernavik Archipelago

Aappilattoq, one of several island settlements in the archipelago
Panorama of Naajaat, the second-smallest settlement

Upernavik Archipelago is a vast archipelago of small islands in the Qaasuitsup municipality in northwestern Greenland, on the coast of northeastern Baffin Bay. The archipelago extends from the northwestern coast of Sigguup Nunaa peninsula in the south at approximately 71°50′N 56°00′W / 71.833°N 56°W / 71.833; -56[1] to the southern end of Melville Bay (Kalaallisut: Qimusseriarsuaq) in the north at approximately 74°50′N 57°30′W / 74.833°N 57.5°W / 74.833; -57.5.[2]

The coastline of Greenland is at its most developed in this region, markedly different from that of the Nuussuaq Basin[3] of Uummannaq Fjord and Nuussuaq Peninsula. In the northern part of the archipelago, the coastal mountains disappear altogether, with the Greenland ice sheet (Kalaallisut: Sermersuaq) reaching the sea level across nearly the entire length of the perennially frozen Melville Bay.[1]


Map of the Archipelago

Sketch map of the Upernavik Archipelago on the Baffin Bay coast of northwestern Greenland
Geography of the Upernavik Archipelago, with marked settlement locations


The children of Upernavik town have their first day in class.

The archipelago belongs to the earliest-settled areas of Greenland, the first migrants arriving approximately 2.000 years B.C.E.[4] All southbound migrations of the Inuit passed through the area, leaving behind a trail of archeological sites.[5] The early Saqqaq culture diminished in importance around 1.000 BCE, followed by the migrants of Dorset culture, who spread alongside the coast of Baffin Bay,[4] being in turn displaced by the Thule people in the 13th and 14th centuries. The area has been continuously inhabited since then.

Today the Upernavik Archipelago is sparsely populated, despite the relatively high number of settlements scattered across its entire length. All but one of these settlements are located on the islands.[6] Upernavik town is the largest settlement with 1.129 inhabitants as of 2010, formally founded in 1772[5] by the Danes during the colonization era.


From north to south, the following are the towns and villages in the archipelago:

Settlement Latitude N Longitude W Population Notes
Kullorsuaq 74°34′45″ 57°13′05″ 436 The northernmost and the second largest settlement
Nuussuaq 74°06′40″ 57°03′40″ 204 The only settlement on the mainland
Nutaarmiut 73°31′08″ 56°25′35″ 36 The smallest settlement
Tasiusaq 73°22′08″ 56°03′20″ 248
Innaarsuit 73°12′00″ 56°00′40″ 161
Naajaat 73°08′35″ 55°48′25″ 50
Aappilattoq 72°53′00″ 55°36′00″ 180
Upernavik 72°47′13″ 56°08′50″ 1129 The only town of any size and a cultural center; host to the only airport in the area.
Kangersuatsiaq 72°22′47″ 55°33′00″ 186
Upernavik Kujalleq 72°09′16″ 55°31′29″ 204 The southernmost settlement, located on the largest of settled islands
Panorama of Upernavik Kujalleq in the southern part of the archipelago
Upernavik Kujalleq is the southernmost settlement


Muskox head on display in Upernavik Kujalleq

Fishing is the mainstay of the area,[4] although the more northern settlements still rely on traditional hunting of fur seals, walruses, and whales to supplement the family economy. In that, the northern region is culturally linked with the far north of Greenland, the Qaanaaq region.

Outside of Upernavik town, the average level of income is amongst the lowest in Greenland. Four of the settlements in the archipelago (Naajaat, Nuussuaq, Kullorsuaq, and Upernavik Kujalleq) are listed in the top 10 poorest within Greenland.[7]



Air Greenland services the settlements with a Bell 212 helicopter
The supply ship Vestlandia of Royal Arctic Line is the lifeline link for the archipelago

Air Greenland operates government contract flights to nearly all villages in the Upernavik archipelago. These mostly cargo flights are not featured in the timetable of the airline,[8] although they can be pre-booked.[9] Departure times for these flights as specifed during booking are by definition approximate, with the settlement service optimized on the fly depending on local demand for a given day. Upernavik is the only settlement with an airport.

Settlement Aerodrome Destinations
Aappilattoq Aappilattoq Heliport Upernavik
Innaarsuit Innaarsuit Heliport Tasiusaq, Upernavik
Kangersuatsiaq Kangersuatsiaq Heliport Upernavik, Upernavik Kujalleq
Kullorsuaq Kullorsuaq Heliport Nuussuaq, Upernavik
Nuussuaq Nuussuaq Heliport Kullorsuaq, Upernavik
Tasiusaq Tasiusaq Heliport Innaarsuit, Upernavik
Upernavik Upernavik Airport Aappilattoq, Ilulissat, Innaarsuit, Kangersuatsiaq, Kullorsuaq, Nuussuaq, Qaanaaq, Qaarsut, Tasiusaq, Upernavik Kujalleq
Upernavik Kujalleq Upernavik Kujalleq Heliport Kangersuatsiaq, Upernavik


Until 2006, Arctic Umiaq Line had provided ferry services from Upernavik to Nuuk, calling at Uummannaq, Ilulissat, and Aasiaat within the Qaasuitsup municipality.[5] M/S Sarpik Ittuk−which serviced Disko Bay, Uummannaq Fjord and Upernavik−was sold in 2006 to Nova Cruising, a company from the Bahamas.[10] Since then the ferry services of AUL are available only southwards from Ilulissat, operated with the remaining ship, M/S Sarfaq Ittuk.

Cargo/passenger boat Vestlandia of Royal Arctic Line links Upernavik with Uummannaq.[11] Tourism is very undeveloped, but charter boats for individual travellers and small groups are available in all settlements.


  1. ^ a b Nunavik, Saga Map, 1:250.000, Tage Schjøtt, 1992
  2. ^ Upernavik Avannarleq, Saga Map, 1:250.000, Tage Schjøtt, 1992
  3. ^ De Nationale Geologiske Undersøgelser for Danmark og Grønland (GEUS)
  4. ^ a b c greenland-guide.gl
  5. ^ a b c O'Carroll, Etain (2005). Greenland and the Arctic. Lonely Planet. pp. 196–199. ISBN 1-74059-095-3. 
  6. ^ Upernavik, Saga Map, 1:250.000, Tage Schjøtt, 1992
  7. ^ Sermitsiaq, 2009/04/17 (Danish)
  8. ^ Air Greenland, Departures and Arrivals
  9. ^ Air Greenland, fare system rules
  10. ^ inforMARE
  11. ^ RAL, Vestlandia schedule (Danish)

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