On this page we address common questions about the where, when, what and why of Greenland Trees. If additional questions, please contact us.

Where do we plant trees?

For now, we only plant trees in the Arboretum Groenlandicum in Narsarsuaq in south Greenland. The Narsarsuaq climate is sheltered from ice sheet winds and damp marine weather. This often sunny location is 250 km further south than Iceland!

Can trees live in Greenland?

While Greenland may be thought to lack trees, today the island is host to a growing population of shrubs (birch, alder, rowan and willow) and trees planted by people. Climate conditions have been warming the past 150 years and increased rainfall has made southern Greenland an excellent site for tree growth today. In fact, since 1953, people have added an estimated 300.000 trees in several locations across southern Greenland.

Why not plant in an environment where tree growth (CO2 sequestration) is faster? Isn’t afforestation more effective in the tropics?

While the trees grow more slowly in southern Greenland…

  • We work in Greenland already and have all the logistics in place.
  • We partner with Greenlandic society, emphasizing youth engagement and education, reducing the CO2 footprint from travel to/from Greenland for forest management.
  • The sites have protection status.

Which trees do we plant?

We plant Larch trees (Larix Sibirica) and other technically not-exotic species. ~100,000 Larix already exist in the region.

There are many examples of introduced plants expanding beyond first planting areas. How is Greenland tree planting any different?

We plant in fenced, protected, and isolated areas. Today, there is no evidence of spreading of trees from the ~1 hectare 1953 Qanasiassat plantation near Narsarsuaq. Tree growth is relatively slow, so introducing trees presents no immediate out-of-control problem. This is not rabbits in Australia.

Were there trees in S Greenland in the past that humans cut down?

Pollen diagrams indicate the presence of birch woodlands in S Greenland before AD 1000, when Norse settlement began. The saga of the Greenlanders mentions ‘felling trees’ in N America, not Greenland. Iceland is know to have been deforested after the arrival of humans. Forest coverage at the Landnám Settlement was around 20% but was reduced to below 1%. The Greenland woodlands and shrubs trees were thus undoubtedly cut down. Then, introduced sheep grazing certainly destroyed tree regeneration. Land areas were also cleared of stones and shrubs by the Norse for farming and grass silage production.

On disruption, planting trees is a counter-measure for Anthropogenic climate change, itself very disruptive. Widespread sheep farming is highly disruptive, yet is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site defined by Norse and Inuit farming.

One hectare of trees planted in southern Greenland several decades ago

How much CO2 will be sequestrated?

We calculate 180 kg carbon per tree during growth to maturity in 50 years. We calculate that for each hectare, we sequester 1,818 tons carbon. That’s equivalent with over 1,000 round trip flights from London to San Francisco. Individual Larix trees can live well beyond 500 years.

How to guarantee the Greenland Tree forest will remain?

The forest we plant will persist long after our lives come to an end. We secure the plantations for the indefinite future by working with Greenland communities and authorities to create plantations that have protection status through long term (century) area allotment leases. Besides, there is so much space in Greenland, and trees are such a special sight in the country, that there is no imaginable need for these trees to be removed by humans – ever. Better yet, the forest area will increase once the trees propagate as they have begun to do from trees planted in Greenland 50 years ago.

Trees absorb more sunlight than bare grass and shrubs. How strong is the warming through this “albedo effect”?

When planting trees in seasonally snow-covered areas, the radiative forcing from albedo reduction by trees overcompensates the cooling forcing from carbon storage (Bala et al 2007Pitman et al 2009Pongratz et al 2009McGrath et al 2015). When snow-covered, forest area in general has ~0.3 lower albedo than non-forest area (Bonan, 2008 (DOI: 10.1126/science.1155121)). Despite evaporational cooling, the overall biophysical effect (evapotranspiration + albedo) of boreal forests (generally North of 45°N) is warming (Li et al., 2015 (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7603)), especially in wintertime. However:

  • Wintertime solar irradiance is low.
  • For snow-free soil in summer, the albedo difference between background treeless tundra is low, especially for Siberian Larch. Since we are planting in areas where native willow and birch thrive, we estimate that our trees darken the surface by 10%. Thus, the darkening effect from our plantations is not offsetting the carbon benefit.

Isn’t it so that increased carbon dioxide levels cause plants to retain water that otherwise would have evaporated from their leaves, entered the atmosphere and helped cool the planet?

Yes, but atmospheric moisture content globally and in the Arctic has been increasing in past decades. South Greenland has been receiving more moisture, anyway.

What other counter-balancing impacts are there to planting trees in Greenland?

No environmental intervention is without issues. Yet, the positive effect of carbon capture, youth engagement, and symbolism of giving to nature and not only taking, means that Greenland Trees’ work is net-positive.

How do we engage the local community?

In planting the trees and maintaining the plots, we receive excellent support from the local community. Greenland youth assisted tree planting efforts in the past, sponsored by the south Greenland municipality and getting some financing from supermarket chain Brugseni. Having a Greenland resident in our team is a great way to engage and create enthusiasm among the people who live in the region.

South Greenland tree planting in 2015

I’ve offset. Can I now keep on flying and using hydrocarbon fuels a lot?

We all should aim to decrease our CO2 emissions in the first place. However, our plantations reduce the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere.

It would take more than the available arable land to reverse the hundreds of gigatons of CO2 already in the atmosphere. So, what we offer is a way to reduce CO2 impacts while engaging in various other benefits (youth education, sustainable forestry).