At the height of the Cold War, the United States Army secretly began work on a base embedded deep in the Greenland ice cap: Camp Century. Officially defined as a scientific research station, this facility had an undisclosed purpose: to aim up to 600 nuclear warheads, buried in the ice, at the Soviet Union. In 1966, just six years after the camp was established, the United States gave up this provocative strategy and abandoned the base. Despite its brief life, Camp Century has been the cause of controversies from diplomatic relations between the United States and its Arctic allies, Denmark and Greenland, to the risks of radioactive waste abandoned at the site.
Camp Century is the first comprehensive account of the U.S. Army's "city under the ice." Beginning with the Truman administration's vision of military superiority in the Arctic and continuing through present-day concerns over the effects of climate change, Kristian H. Nielsen and Henry Nielsen unravel the extraordinary history of this clandestine installation. Drawing on sources including top-secret memos and never-before-seen photographic evidence, they follow the intertwining threads of high-level politics, ice-core research, media representations, daily life beneath the ice, and the specter of long-buried environmental problems that will one day resurface. Camp Century reveals a hidden chapter of Cold War history – and why, as the Greenland ice cap slowly melts, this story is not yet over.
1. Fortress Greenland
2. “The Concept of Atoms” in Greenland
3. The City Under the Ice
The Making of Camp Century: A Photographic Tour
4. News from Greenland
5. Scouting in the High Arctic
6. U.S. Military R&D on the Northern Frontier
7. The Cold War and Climate Research
8. Leaving the Ice Sheet: A Lingering Farewell
9. The Legacy of Camp Century
Image and Photo Credits
Kristian H. Nielsen is an associate professor at the Center for Science Studies at Aarhus University. He is coeditor of Scientists and Scholars in the Field: Studies in the History of Fieldwork and Expeditions (2012)
Henry Nielsen is associate professor emeritus at the Center for Science Studies at Aarhus University. With Kristian H. Nielsen and others, he is coauthor of Exploring Greenland: Cold War Science and Technology on Ice (2016) and Science in Denmark: A Thousand-Year History (2008).
"Though it only existed from 1959 to 1966, Camp Century remains a living – and deeply compelling – story today. Its history sweeps across Cold War intrigue to nuclear missiles hidden under ice; from the Arctic's defeat of nuclear-powered techno-hubris to ice cores at the heart of climate science; and from Danish and American politics to the (now) semi-independent Greenlanders who must live with Camp Century's legacy as the melting ice reveals its radioactive remains. This lively and intelligent book, beautifully translated from the Danish, gives Camp Century its first full accounting in English."
– Paul N. Edwards, author of A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data, and the Politics of Global Warming
"Camp Century, the U.S. Army's long-defunct encampment under the Greenland ice sheet, stands as a metaphor for the mess that military meddling can make in human affairs and in otherwise pristine environments. It is a story of the instability of diplomatic relationships, interservice rivalries, Cold War strategies, and Arctic knowledge. This exhaustively researched book by two Danish experts is a comprehensive study of the life and thorny legacy of the controversial 'city under the ice' – an imploding ghost town that just won't go away."
– James Rodger Fleming, author of Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control
"Camp Century paves new ground and compiles much disparate data under one roof. It will soon become a source book for the growing number of scholars interested in Greenland's past – as well as its political future."
– Mary Thompson-Jones, author of To the Secretary: Leaked Embassy Cables and America's Foreign Policy Disconnect
"A new book tells the exciting story about Camp Century, established under the inland ice in Greenland by the USA at the height of the Cold War. In a thorough and pedagogic manner, the authors include many details about the construction of the camp and the daily life of its inhabitants. The combination of minor details and the greater picture makes the reader feel that this is the complete story of Camp Century. Read this book, and this is all you have to read about Camp Century."
– Andreas Krog, Arctic News
"Henry Nielsen and Kristian Hvidtfelt Nielsen have produced a highly qualified book about fascinating aspects of the Cold War with implications for the present and the future. The book builds on extensive research, but will be an easy read for most people."
– David Kyng, Notes
"A thrilling book about what once expired under the ice in Greenland. Excellent researchers from Aarhus University have dug deep into the archives to find out what really took place, unraveling the extraordinary power games played by the super powers at the time."
– Finn Byrgesen, Bogsyn.dk