Greenland’s time(zones) changes, but not without problems | Polarjournal
Sometimes it seems that in Greenland time runs differently, slower, than in other parts of the world, but this is more due to our perception than to reality. But the fact that Greenland is three hours behind the coordinated universal time (UTC-3) is a reality that also affects daily life. Image: Dr Michael Wenger

Time is an abstract construct for many people and its classification often leads to discussions and confusion. Be it daylight saving time or time zones. Also in Greenland there was a discussion about time and the time zone and the government decided that the time in Greenland has to change, at least the time zone. But critics point out that it’s not that simple, and problems still need to be evaluated.

Going from three hours to two hours behind standard time UTC is a done deal in Greenland. The government of Múte B. Egede had submitted a corresponding amendment to the parliament last week and successfully pushed it through afterwards. This means that in the fall of 2023, when Greenland should change its time from daylight saving time to winter time, the clock hands will stay where they are. At least in most parts of the island. The law will take effect on March 25, when Greenland will start daylight saving time, changing the time to UTC-2. Effectively, it will be implemented in October, when the time will no longer be reset. Greenland thus also takes another aspect of a national administration into its own hands and no longer leaves it up to Copenhagen to determine the times in Greenland. An agreement to this effect was reached some time ago.

Despite its size, Greenland is divided into one time zone, UTC-3, except for a few small areas in the east. Only the areas of Danmarkshavn, Ittoqqortoormiit and Thule Air Base run under other time zones (left). If the time zones were distributed evenly over the latitudes (every 15°), Greenland would extend over 4 time zones. Maps: Wikicommons CC BY-SA 3.0

Greenland is a huge landmass with its 1’050 kilometers width and 2’670 kilometers length, but nevertheless it is located in only one time zone. The exceptions are the regions of Danmarkshavn (UTC, like Iceland) and Ittoqqortoormiit (UTC-1) in the east of the island, and the airbase Pituffik (also known as Thule), where the time zone is UTC-4. According to the government, these exemptions would also not be affected by the changeover. For the rest of the population, however, UTC-2 would apply, regardless of the region in which one lives and the time of year. This would also de facto abolish the daylight saving time/winter time changeover in Greenland, an issue that is still being discussed in the other European countries.

The Greenlandic Parliament, the seat of the guardians of time in Greenland. Because every country has the right to regulate its own time and thus also the time zone. Most are based on solar time and the Greenwich Meridian. Photo: Sermersooq Administration

The idea of shifting the Greenland time zone is not new. The topic was already on the agenda 3 years ago. But it was not until the government of Múte B. Egede was the whole thing pushed forward and now decided. But it was not as easy as it seems. Because there was a strong debate in the parliament about the government’s proposal. The government had the support of the business community, which hoped that rapprochement with Europe would lead to better connections. But critics in parliament cited health problems in the population as the main reason. In fact, a study in Iceland had shown that adolescents and young adults in particular would not get enough sleep with the time change and the associated longer duration of daylight. According to the authors of the study, listlessness and even depression were on the rise. Therefore, the Parliament voted in favor of conducting a similar study and approved a budget for it. By 2024, results of the study should be available for experts and the government, but then already in the new time.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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