The Secret American Ice City Under Greenland

Andrei Tapalaga

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Metal arch forms being emplaced over undercut trench in Camp Century, Greenland in 1961Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Cold War forced the two big powers of the world at the time (the Soviet Union and the United States) to build bases to protect their “political flanks”. Every political debate between communism and capitalism was leading a step closer to a nuclear war and the US did not want to take any chances. 

That is the reason why in the 1950s the US Army built a small underground city in Greenland, as they knew that the enemy had no interest to nuke a place that is not populated.

According to the book written by Kristian H. Nielsen entitled “Camp Century: The Untold Story of America’s Secret Arctic Military Base Under the Greenland Ice” they planned to build a nuclear military base, but then they realized that they can expand the space and use it as a refuge city in case of a nuclear apocalypse.

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Camp Century Evolution of Concept and History of Design Construction and Performance, U.S. Army MaterielWikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The original plan was to build 2,500 miles of tunnels which would have covered an area of 52,000 square miles — which is bigger than the size of England. However, they stopped in 1966 as the ice cap started to crush the base. The US Army managed to build two miles of tunnels with facilities such as a hospital, theatre, church, shops, and housing for over 200 inhabitants

The Danish government was not happy with having the US Army storing Atomic bombs in Greenland due to the concept of atoms which had an effect on the glacier, but at the same time, they felt safer against the Soviet Union. 

“It had become eminently clear to the Danish authorities during the summer of 1959 that the United States was extremely keen to establish Camp Century beneath the ice in northern Greenland, close to Thule Air Base. First, in November 1958, the United States had disregarded Danish concerns that their small country might find itself in big trouble were “the concept of atoms” to be mentioned in connection with Greenland.” (Quote by Kristian H. Nielsen)

It was not just about how remote Greenland was or the extreme wheater conditions that kept visitors away, but the strategic position. Greenland holds a central position in the Arctic Ocean, midway between the two continents that dominate the Northern Hemisphere and in range of an Atomic attack. 

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The city even had a highway built where Ice trucks were used to transport workers that we're extending itBright Enlightenment/YouTube

The US Army had big plans for Camp Century as the city had been named but soon realized that the architecture was not sustainable, so they dropped the project and hoped that it would stay buried exactly where it was. Despite the whole project being classified, it had been declassified in 1996 as some remains have been discovered in Greenland by Danish researchers. 

In 2019 Danish researchers from the Meteorological Institute noticed that the Ice in Greenland was beginning to melt at a much faster pace than before and based on their analysis it was not because of global warming. They found out that this was because of the shallow space left within the underground city. 

Most importantly, when the US Army dropped the project, they left everything behind, that is over 9,000 tonnes of scrap metal, hazardous chemicals, and diesel waste which are all contributing to the quick melting of Ice. 

A political debate actually began during that time between the US and Danish governments about who is responsible to clean up the mess. Due to the global pandemic that followed, other issues took priority and the argument was forgotten, whilst the rate at which the ice is melting in Greenland keeps increasing

The US government has not offered an update, but they do not seem keen on paying the huge price of having Greenland cleaned. 

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