Greenland’s time zones, they may be a-changin’

Most of Greenland is four hours behind Denmark. The premier wants to know whether there is any benefit of having one time apply to it all.

By Kevin McGwin - February 14, 2019
A taxi stops outside a barracks on Thule Air Base in the January darkness. The extremes of polar night and day make it less of an inconvenience to bring move its time closer to far-away Washington than to have it match Nuuk. (Michael Tolzmann/US Air Force)

What time is it in Greenland? As with many big countries (Greenland, if it were independent, would be the world’s 12th largest in terms of size, between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Saudi Arabia) that question has multiple answers. Now, it may also depend on when you ask.

Currently, Greenland is divided into three time zones: Most of the country is three hours behind Greenwich Mean Time; the town of Ittoqqortoormiit, on the eastern coast, sets its clocks two hours earlier, and, America’s Thule Air Base, at Pituffik, in the extreme north-west, is an hour behind the rest of the western coast.

All three time zones observe daylight savings time. This keeps them in sync with Copenhagen and Washington, as well as each other. The dates of the changes in the two capitals are not the same, though, so for a short period each spring and autumn, the American and European time zones are out of sync.

Complicating matters further, a fourth time is applied, unofficially, to Danmarkshavn, a remote research station on the north-eastern coast. That puts it an hour behind nearby Ittoqqortoormiit but keeps it in line with Iceland, where most of its supplies are flown in from. Like Iceland, the unofficial time in Danmarkshavn is not adjusted for daylight savings.

[Danish devolution: One kingdom, three countries]

At least some of these differences may be eliminated if Copenhagen, which remains the official timekeeper for the entire Kingdom of Denmark, concludes there are no particular benefits to having the multiple time zones, reports Sermitsiaq, a news outlet.

In addition to eliminating an artificial division between east and west, a single Greenlandic time zone could, suggests Kim Kielsen, the premier, come as a prelude to a decision to ask that official timekeeping be devolved to Nuuk.

Kielsen declined to set date for when he expected an answer from Copenhagen. The time it ticks in though will, at least for now, depend on where in the country he is at the time.