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State

Capital

Greenland*

Godthaab

Kalaalit Nunaat

Nuuk

Currency unit

Danish kronor

Connections

Arctic

Climate

Denmark

EU
 Radioactive

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 Climate

History

Almost all of Greenland has been covered in ice throughout human history. Those best fitted to live there are the Inuit, a people found in all parts of the Arctic. Geologically it is not a part of the North American continent but is a separate continental island.

Greenland is a good example of the effects of climate on human history. Parts of the south were settled by the Vikings during a period when the weather was especially warm. The southern point at Cape Farewell is on the same latitude as Shetland, though not washed by a warm sea current. This land was explored by Eirik the Red in 982-5. He found the southwest corner to have pastures enough for grazing sheep and cattle, and to have plenty of wild animals to trap for skins and meat. At that time there were no inhabitants of this corner as the Inuit had retreated farther north - though he found signs that they had lived there in the past.

The south west lands were settled by people from Iceland in 986. The Norse population is believed to have reached 3000 at its peak. They created a state with the same form as Iceland - a Republic with an Assembly (Ting). They had churches with a bishop and a small cathedral. They exported furs, hides, ropes, cables, oils, woolens and ivory from walruses. (From Gwyn Jones - History of the Vikings (1984)).

It was from Greenland that the voyages to Canada were made. The attempts at settlement, probably on the northern tip of Newfoundland, failed because the Europeans had no advantage in weapons against the more numerous natives of the area, and very little technological advantage.

However, when the Little Ice Age of the later middle ages began about 1200 the Viking settlements began to die out and were last heard of in about 1476 when an English group from Bristol reported that the settlement was still there. It could no longer support a European peasant existence, even with fishing added to agriculture and cattle rearing. Trade with Europe died out when their products could be bought more cheaply from Russia. The native Inuit (Eskimo), however, continued to live there with their culture adapted to the climate and conditions. They moved south again as the climate grew colder. They are the dominant people at present, though some of them live in the towns built by the Danes. It is unknown exactly how the colony died out. Starvation is possible. Attack by the Inuit is also possible. A lack of innovation and adaptability meant that the settlers failed to learn from the Inuit (perhaps they feared they would cease to be "Christian" if they imitated the people they called Skraelings - savages).

It has been said that the "Green" of the name is the earliest known example of Real Estate Hype in that Eirik the Red wanted settlers to go there at a time when the land was only just green during the short summer. Climatic warming now shows signs of making it as green as it was during the time of the Viking colony (not very).

The Portuguese may have spotted it in the mid 15th century. Since the age of European exploration Greenland has had an association with Denmark and was a Danish colony. At present it is a self-governing associated state similar to some former British colonies in the West Indies. It has been a territory or colony of Denmark. The local government withdrew it from the European Community in 1985 but is considering negotiations to re-apply. Its economy depends to a large extent on subsidies from Denmark. The population of this huge island is about 50,000.

Because of social disintegration the society is very vulnerable to an AIDS epidemic which has already begun.

Languages

Danish

Kalaallisut

 History

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Politics

There is an elected local government, but it is dependent on a Danish subsidy. Greenland sends some MPs to the Danish parliament.

It is not currently part of the European Union.

 History

 Politics

 Green

 Rights

Economics

The island does not support its modern economy from its own produce. Danish subsidies and the US military bases help balance the trade deficit.

But this leaves the population on welfare and demoralised.

Climate change is already having an effect. Sheep grazing has returned. Oil exploration is beginning.

Large scale mineral exploration is ocurring as the climate warms.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Rights

Green/Ecology

If global climate change occurs Greenland will be affected. Will the ice sheet melt completely? No-one knows at present but the glaciers have been measured to be speeding up, increasing the rate of melting. Already the Arctic Ocean melts earlier in the year than previously (so that attempts to walk to the Pole are no longer achievable). If large amounts of fresh water enter the Arctic Ocean it could alter the pattern of Atlantic currents on which Britain and western Europe depend for a mild climate, but this is not considered likely in the foreseeable future. At the end of the last Ice Age these currents were turned off for 800 years, probably while fresh water poured out of the Great Lakes area.

A US nuclear-armed bomber crashed on the ice in the 1950s leaving an area contaminated by Plutonium. See this article

Pollution of radioactive substances, PCBs and many others tend to get concentrated by the Arctic conditions. As a result animals and the people who eat them are becoming dangerously contaminated.

See this article on the problems of former military bases from the Cold War.

Interesting reading

Gwyn Jones - History of the Vikings (1984)

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

Human Rights

Climate effects

A loss of the ice cover seems very likely as it is already melting rapidly and reducing in thickness. Could the entire ice field disappear? If warming reaches 2 degrees increase it seems very likely that the whole ice cover would vanish with effects on the sea level.

This article Greenland broccoli reports rapid melting of the ice cap.

Last revised 6/06/11


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