Icebergs in all shapes and sizes.   Dramatic glaciers and an endless ice cap.
In the sea water, humpback whales and seals — a variety of sea mammals poking their noses from the water.
Overhead, eagles and falcons and ravens fly.
World's largest island
This is the world’s largest island.   It is 2,670 kilometers from the farthest point north, Cape Marris Jeppup, 740 km from the North Pole, to the southern most tip Cape Farewell.   The word Kalaallit has a meaning of ‘Greenlander’ in Kalaallisut, the Inuktitut — Inupik dialect — spoken on the island.
Kalaallisut is a language where sentence elements are often fused into a single word that may be the equivalent of a whole sentence in other languages.   The word, Nunaat, in Kalaallisut means country.   In more ancient times the name ‘Inuit Nunaat,’ was used, meaning ‘Country of the Inuit.’
A land of deep dark winters, and in the summertime the sun at midnight, this is a land that covers 2,000,000 sq kms, mostly ice except for what lies along the edge.   The island has the second largest ice cap in the world — second only to the great Antarctic ice.   A thickness of ice that can be as much as three kilometers deep.
Continuous permafrost covers two-thirds of the island.   The Arctic Circle (latitude 66° 32 N.) crosses the southern part of the country.
Despite these harsh conditions, waves of migration go back more than 4,000 years.   Many migrations of tribal groups have traveled across the Arctic.   Paleoeskimos came bringing their stone harpoon tips, arrowheads, and small one inch long knives.
The Saqqaq people, called ‘Independence I’ by archaeologists, a part of the ‘Arctic Small Tool’ tradition, came 3,000 years ago, establishing sites in areas now called Ellesmere Island, Canada, and Danish protectorate, Kalaallit Nunaat.   The present protectorate, formerly known as Greenland in English, or Grønland by the Danes, before home rule was granted in 1979.  
Winters gradually became cooler over the ensuing 1,500 years and the Saqqaq people had disappeared from the High Arctic by early 1500 B.C.E.   By 500 B.C.E., the climate had grown so cold that the ground became permanently frozen, as it remains today.
Ellesmere, the world’s 10th largest island, and the land today named Kalaallit Nunaat, were as one for the Saqqaq who settled on both islands.   Here they sought coastal sheltered places to live, places where they could sail in their small boats to capture small whales and harp seals.   They also camped while the caribou flocks remained, alongside where the caribou had their travel corridors.
Ellesmere island recently became part of the Inuit territory of Nunavut, Canada.   The channel from present day Ellesmere to Kalaallit Nunaat is only 30 miles across the High Artic.

   Photo © courtesy Carl Obling
Dorset Culture
The Dorset cultures were the next wave to arrive, thriving in the northern regions until 1,000 C.E.
The Dorest Cultures occupied a huge geographic triangle bounded on the west by Victoria Island, BC Canada, on the north by Ellesmere Island and northern Greenland, and on the southeast by Newfoundland, Canada.
It is believed that around 1,200 C.E a new influx began.
The Dorset people were no match for the new influx taking place, the Thule.
As the Thule crossed over to this large island, their people, doing as they had done in Alaska and Canada, intermingled and overcame the less skilled Dorset, the Dorset dissappearing as a people during this time.
Some Thule traveled around the northern coast to the east side, some settled on the northwest coast, some travelling to the south.
The Thule had developed whale-hunting technology in the Bering Sea and they brought this technologically with them as they crossed the Arctic.
The huge whales that hunters killed could feed a small settlement for a year.   Using ‘Umiaks,’ skin boats, to take bowhead whales, they were able to provid themselves with blubber, meat and baleen.   The umiaks could carry heavy loads, and were used for transporting families during seasonal moves from one settlement to another.   They were also used by men in pursuit of the large whales.

  High rate of teenage suicide  
The settlements the Thule constructed were clustered in groups of between 6 to 30 homes.
These were deep pits lined with large boulders and cleaved whale bones.
The entrance was through tunnels that kept out the cold, the homes heated by soapstone bowls, fire from flaming seal and whale oil.
The Thule had many tools, using bone, antler, ivory and stone for their creations.
It is the Thule who are the ancestors of the modern Inuit.   The Inuit preferring this word used for their people, to ‘Eskimo’ formerly used.
Eskimo is derived from ‘eskipot,’ from the Cree Indians who used it.
It is from the Algonquian language spoken in the northern US and Canada, a word meaning ‘an eater of raw flesh’ in this language.
With the Thule almost all terrestrial and marine species were available for hunting.
Seal capture was left to each individual, but whaling and caribou hunting and polar bear hunting took place as a communal activity.
Life depended on the meat that each community was able to store — enough to last through the long dark winter.
The Thule used driftwood for house and tent construction, mostly in the south where the milder climate allowed for small trees to grow.   Seal skins were used for roof covering.   Polar bear fir and seal skin was used for clothing.   Polar bear fir provided water proof clothing and was buoyant, should a hunter fall into the water.
Animal bones, antler, tusks, and teeth, as well as soapstone (a steatite stone, the primary components being magnesite, dolomite, chlorite, and talc, talc giving it a softness to the touch) were turned into hunting equipment and other tools.   In the south, wood was also used.
With their implements the Thule made delicate carvings.   The native stones — serpentine, marble, quartz, argillite, dolomite and different colored soapstone — had to be found or dug from places that were often far from where the camp was situated.
Some carvings were made and used as toys and for gaming pastimes, many for decorative purposes.   Some are in the form of spirit helpers — combinations of human and bear, human and seal, and of the various arctic animals.
   Photo © courtesy Carl Obling
Traveled along coast
The people of the Thule culture the length of the large island’s coast, even having a few shelters in the most northern region of the country.   Sites have been found along the west and east coasts, at Amdrup Land and between King Oscar Fjord and Clavering Island and Tasiilaq.   Along the south, sites have been discovered on the Cape Farewel Archipelago, the southernmost point.  
External contact and an exchange economy was a part of the life of the Thule.   Trading relationships were important and marriage was often used as a means to secure kinship.   Soapstone, caribou skin, driftwood and Baleen whale products were used for trading.
Baleen whales, named for the long plates of baleen which hang in a row (like the teeth of a comb) from their upper jaws, are remarkable.   They feed mostly on plankton, tiny crustaceans, such as krill and copepods, straining the organisms through bristly plates.   These largest animals on earth have a 10,000 mile yearly migration.   The skill of the Thule grew to enable them to capture such large mammels.
Northwest coast
Today, the descendents of the Thule thrive in centers around Kalaallit Nunaat.   The most northern town is Qaanaaq on the northwest coast.   The town has a population around 600.   There are five other villages in the area.   Near the settlement at Siorapaluk the cliffs are breeding grounds for millions of auk and the thick-billed murre.
The town of Qaanaaq was established when the US airbase at Thule/Dundas was extended.   Civilian populations were no longer allowed to live close to the base and were moved 100 kilometers north, to the new town of Qaanaaq built in 1953.
Powell — before being kicked out — working as tool of US war elite
U.S. continues to pursue 'interests'
From the end of October until mid July the passageway from the Naves Straight is covered by ice.   When the ice melts Qaanaaq is where the ships dock.   There is no seaport in Qaanaaq so the handling requires barges, and sometimes, because of the current and the passing icebergs, unloading can be a slow and dangerous process.
The sea opens around late July and today large dinghies with powerful engines are taken out for hunting trips and to visit.   It is twenty-fours hours of daylight at this time and the people in the area take advantage.
Weather always has significance for everyday life, particularly the winds.   Throughout the island people predict the weather from characteristic ‘Fohn’ clouds and the start of katabatic winds.   Katabatic winds blowing from the inland ice, and the ‘Fohn,’ a wind coming off the lee slopes of mountain ranges, act as extremes, blowing intense cold and a sudden warming.
When the weather is suitable, fishing and hunting is the most common occupation in the northwest and nothing goes to waste.
Skins are used for clothing and to cover the kayaks.
Narwhal whale tusks — the whale known as the unicorn of the sea — and walrus tusks are carved into finely-worked figures.   Jewellery and feathers are used in handicrafts.
There is a small hotel in Qaanaaq, and it gets busy in the peak of summer.
The glaciers are less than an hour’s walk from town.
      Thule Inuit battle to stop Star Wars and to close US air base        
Welcome to Qaanaaq — Take a tour of the Qaanaaq district
   Photo © courtesy Carl Obling
World's most active glaciers
South of Qaanaaq is the area called  ‘North Greenland.’   A land of islands and fjords, the seven glaciers at Uummannaq, and the Ilulissat glacier, are some of the world’s most active glaciers.   Every day around Kalaallit Nunaat millions of tons of ice ‘calve’ from the glaciers in the form of icebergs.
At the waterline, the glacier ice, 500 years to 100,000 years old at the ice edge, snap off and begin to float with the ‘calving.’
At Ilulissat, at the estuary of the fiord, the water depth is only 300 meters.   Smaller icebergs pass through the underwater but the larger glacier ice gets mired on the moraine deposit beneath.   Often the icebergs have to wait until new calving of icebergs behind pushes them forward, and the blue and white mountainous shapes slip into the bay.
The gigantic icebergs often rise as high as 120 meters, one fifth visible to that which is hidden below.   When the ice plummets in the water, rolling over several times, it looses its light snow layer.   Then, because of the greater compactness, only 1/10th is seen above the surface.
   Photo © courtesy Carl Obling
Sisimiut, situated on the westcoast 100 km’s north of the Arctic Circle, is the most northern icefree town in the winter.   Sisimiut, with a population of 6,000, has a mean temperature of up to 14º C in July down to -30º C in January-March.   Small and large trawlers fish shrimps, salmon, Greenland halibut and cod.   The Royal Greenland factory is the largest within Greenland and is also one of the most modern shrimp-shelling factories in the world.
Sisimiut has an independent institution, the Knud Rasmussen College, named after the Polar explorer and collector of songs and describer of the Inuit.   Knud Rasmussen, born in Ilulissat of Danish father and Inuit mother, participated in major expeditions from his late youth.   In 1921 he took a three year ‘Great Sledge Journey’ to collect Inuit songs and legends.   The first national folk high-school, inaugurated in 1962, requires the student to speak kalaallisut.    Over fifty students study kalaallisut, history, social sciences, literature, maths, and Danish and English.
ULO is a music company recording and distributing from the Aqisseq studio is Sissimut.   Producing CD’s such as Zedna, Sissoqog Live, and Mechanics In Ini, it produces CD’s of Western rock and pop, flavoured and intermixed with the heritage culture.
Sisimiut has two outlying settlements, Sarfannguaq and Itilleq, both fishing villages.   Itilleq is a small settlement on an island where there is no fresh water.   Recently an osmosis plant was built to converts salt water to fresh water.
The Disko Bay area, Sisimiut and Kangerlussuaq and their surrounding areas, due to their micro-climate, have the mildest summer weather on the island though it can get extremely cold in the winter.   Tasiilaq and the southeastern fjords have an overall milder climate, having milder winters.   With the milder summer weather, an abundence of plants can be found.   Some of the edible plants and herbs are: narrow-leafed labrador tea, downy lousewort, woolly lousewort, shaggy lousewort, crowberry, whortleberry, mountain cranberry, Greenland dandelion, black bearberry, sea purslane, mountain sorrel, mountain angelica, ladies smock and large-flowered rosebay, Scotch thyme, and viviparous knotgrass.
Abrupt Climate Change
Photo - ‘Kalaallit Nunaat Mountains.’ by LacieJo
Ice sheets thinning
The vast ice sheet covering Kalallit Nunaat is thinning by up to a metre a year.   Between 1993 and 1998 aerial surveyors from NASA found through laser altimeter technology that the ice sheet had lost an average of five metres in thickness.
On the western side of the icecap, some areas grew while others shrank.   But there was thinning almost everywhere else on the ice sheet.
As the ice cap is more than 3 kilometers thick this shouldn’t seem like much of a problem.   Yet scientists are saying the discovery of the thinning poses a potential threat to coastal communities around the world.   The ice sheet, which covers seven-eighths of the land’s surface, contains an estimated 11 percent of the world’s fresh water.
Ice core drillings of the ice fields of Kalaallit Nunaat do not date as far back as drillings of the Antarctic high plateau, but one advantage of drilling in the northern Arctic fields is that because of greater snow accumulation, and less compression of the ice, climatic history is preserved with a years-to-decades resolution, in contrast to the century-to-millennial scale resolution that has until recently been the findings in the Antarctic cores.
Over great periods of time there have been continental ice sheets that have advanced, spreading widely across lowlands in the north.   These are known as glacial periods.
During the last million years there have been four major glacial periods.   In chronological order they are the Nebraskan, the Kansan, the Saale, and the Warthe-Weischel.
An interglacial period is a time during which continental ice sheets that have advanced during a glacial period are caused to retreat for a lesser period of time to higher ground by warming.   Interglacial activity acts within a glacial period
There are also warming periods during the course of a major glacial stage that is not warm or prolonged enough to be deemed as interglacial.   These even shorter time periods are called interstadial.   Short cooling periods are called stadial.   The change in direction between these short warming and cooling periods are known as Dansgaard-Oeschger fluctuations.
During the last 110,000 years it is believed there have been at least 23 interstadial, ice warming, periods on the land of Kalallit Nunaat.
The discovery of abrupt climatic shifts, or Dansgaard-Oeschger oscillations, has been the most surprising feature of the Kalallit Nunaat ice core data.   The last glacial period show temperature increases over Kalallit Nunaat of up to 6 degrees Celsius, in a time span of less than a decade.   This has prompted great interest in the causes of such a dramatic change, and has led to speculation that the current increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere might trigger such change in the coming decades.
Data in the ice cores do show differences, and the comparison between cores remains at this time scientifically inconclusive.   It is possible one core is being affected by a distortion of the ice sheet close to bed-rock.   There might be a folding or sheer effect of the bed-rock region below 2,700m depth.   Which core has the more valid data is not known.   The top 1,500 meters of both cores show clearly the remarkable climate stability of the Holocene these past 10,000 to 12,000 years — the time period since the last glacial epoch ended.
   Photo © courtesy Carl Obling
Thermohaline Circulation
It is thought that the Dansgaard-Oeschger fluctuations might have been caused by major changes in the ocean’s thermohaline circulation.
Sixty percent of the heat built up around the equator is moved North and South by ocean currents.   The North Atlantic circulation system carries warm surface water northwards and returns cold deep water to the south.   Scientist’s call the deepwater ocean circulation that occurs through temperature cooling and salinity changes the ‘Thermohaline Circulation.’   When warm surface water from the tropics reaches Kalaallit Nunaat and the high West Atlantic, it becomes cooled.   This surface water has a greater salinity than Arctic water due to evaporation, and the higher density causes the mixture of waters to sink in the cooler temperatures.
The halocline waters (vertical mixing) forces the densest, most saline water to sink to a deep subsurface.   Here it begins to turn towards the continental slope.   First the underwater current turns westwards, then south.   These narrow underwater flows continue alongside the base of the continental slope, flowing by the North and South American coast, until they reach the Antarctic circumpolar current.   Here some of the undercurrent begins to move into the Indian and Pacific oceans.
The circular movement of these flows show an upwelling around the northeast African coast, as also in the high Pacific waters.   The Pacific surface current flows northwards to about 50 degrees north and then eastwards.   Along the west coast of North America it turns south and then west, rejoining the surface current returning from the Indian Ocean.   Joined, this warmer surface water then moves around the tip of Southern Africa, up the coast of Africa and the European coast, turning west to Kalaallit Nunaat.   One complete circuit of this flow of seawater is estimated to take about 1,000 years.   (Click below for ocean thermohaline maps.)
          Thermohaline Circulation          
          How it works         
          See animated world map          
   Photo © courtesy Carl Obling
Global Warming
April 2014 — Since this page was created the modeling of Global Warming has changed to reflect factors such as the sun not previously taken into account.
Radiation from the sun may effect global cooling to the extent that additional carbon in the atmosphere may have a positive effect.
Plants feed off carbon-dioxide releasing oxygen into the air.
The statements on this page of an ice shrinking crisis in the Arctic and global warming may be completely incorrect
The modeling of atmospheric and ocean processes indicate that if ice continues to shrink in the Arctic, due to global warming, two factors will take place:
The exposed ocean water will reflect less solar rays than ice.   This causing a further warming of the atmosphere.   Without other factors intervening, the additional warming will lead to more breakup of ice.  
Additional melt water from the ice will bring large fluxes of freshwater into the north Atlantic causing a buoyancy effect from the much less saline water.   The cold waters will cease to sink, and the low undercurrent flow is likely to considerably weaken, halting the Atlantic thermohaline circulation.  
All these processes are extremely complex.   The North Atlantic Drift is a warm ocean current in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean that moderates the climate of Europe.   This is a continuation of the Gulf Stream, a western boundary surface current of the North Atlantic.   The Gulf Stream, a major part of the clockwise-rotating system of currents in the Atlantic, the North Atlantic Drift, and other currents will be affected by a large influx of freshwater.  
With less ice cover, formation of the North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) will likely increase.   NADW forms when waters from the oceanic thermocline upwell to the surface, cool, and sink in the seas around Greenland.   Heat is transferred from ocean to atmosphere in the process.
When seas are ice covered, NADW formation is generally slower.
An intensification of NADW formation would cause rapid warmings in Kalaallit Nunaat and other land masses adjacent to the North Atlantic, which can explain the impressive magnitude of the climate changes as well as their rapidity.
These dramatic climate changes discovered have not been to Kalaallit Nunaat and nearby areas alone, as evidenced by other records.
It is also worth nothing that most of the 23 Kalaallit Nunaat interstadial events observed are not yet associated with major changes in Antarctic climate.   However, at least eight of the nine Kalaallit Nunaat events lasting longer than 2,000 years are linked to periods of warmer climates in East Antarctica.   Only the Antarctic Peninsula is warming at this time.   East Antarctica is slightly cooling.
Further study is needed to bring a clarification of all the factors involved in the complicated aspects of global warming.
However there are evidences of the aftermath of melting ice caps.   Marine sediment data, pollen profiles, and glacial snow line data all show that melting ice sheets in previous times have caused climactic changes that have been felt on a global scale.   These changes have occured over a very short period of time, some perhaps as short as ten years.
Abrupt climate change event — The Pentagon's Weather Nightmare — Click here
BBC — Friday, 6 July 2007
DNA reveals Greenland's lush past
Map of Greenland
Dye 3: 2km long ice core
Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP): 3km long ice core
John Evans Glacier (JEG): Control site
Kap Kobenhavn: Previously youngest known Greenland forest
Armies of insects once crawled through lush forests in a region of Greenland now covered by more than 2,000m of ice.
DNA extracted from ice cores shows that moths and butterflies were living in forests of spruce and pine in the area between 450,000 and 800,000 years ago.
Researchers writing in Science magazine say the specimens could represent the oldest pure DNA samples ever obtained.
The ice cores also suggest that the ice sheet is more resistant to warming than previously thought, the scientists say.
"We have shown for the first time that southern Greenland, which is currently hidden under more than 2km of ice, was once very different to the Greenland we see today," said Professor Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and one of the authors of the paper.
"What we've learned is that this part of the world was significantly warmer than most people thought," added Professor Martin Sharp from the University of Alberta, Canada, and a co-author of the Science paper.
The ancient boreal forests were thought to cover southern Greenland during a period of increased global temperatures, known as an interglacial.
Temperatures at the time were probably between 10C in summer and -17C in winter.
When the temperatures dropped again 450,000 years ago, the forests and their inhabitants were covered by the advancing ice, effectively freezing them in time.
Studies suggest that even during the last interglacial (116,000-130,000 years ago), when temperatures were thought to be 5C warmer than today, the ice persevered, keeping the delicate samples entombed and free from contamination and decay.
At the time the ice is estimated to have been between 1,000 and 1,500m thick.
"If our data is correct, then this means that the southern Greenland ice cap is more stable than previously thought," said Professor Willerslev. "This may have implications for how the ice sheets respond to global warming."
Research by Australian scientists has suggested that a 3C rise in global temperatures would be enough to trigger the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
In 2006, research conducted by researchers at Nasa suggested that the rate of melting of the giant ice sheet had tripled since 2004.
While in February 2006, researchers found that Greenland's glaciers were moving much faster than before, meaning that more of its ice was entering the sea.
And in 1996, Greenland was losing about 100 cubic km per year in mass from its ice sheet; by 2005, this had increased to about 220 cubic km.
A complete melt of the ice sheet would cause a global sea level rise of about 7m; but the current picture indicates that while some regions are thinning, others are apparently getting thicker.
The new results were obtained from the sediment rich bottom of ice cores.
The 2km-long Dye 3 core was drilled in south-central Greenland, whilst the 3km-long Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) core was taken from the summit of the Greenland ice sheet.
Samples from other glaciers, such as the John Evans Glacier on Ellesmere Island, in northern Canada, were used as a control, to verify the age of the samples and to confirm that the DNA was from plants that grew in southern Greenland, rather than from plant matter carried by wind or water from elsewhere in the world.
Although the ice contained only a handful of pollen grains and no fossils, the researchers were able to extract DNA from the organic matter held in the silt.
Comparisons with modern species show that the area was populated by diverse forests made up of alders, spruce, pine and members of the yew family.
Living in the trees and on the forest floor was a wide variety of life including beetles, flies, spiders, butterflies and moths.
The discovery pushes forward the date when the last forests were known to exist in Greenland by nearly two million years.
Previously, the youngest fossil evidence of a native forest in the region came from fossils found in the Kap Kobenhavn Formation in northern Greenland. There, the fossils date from around 2.4m years ago.
The study paves the way for scientists to probe beneath the ice in other parts of the world.
"Given that 10% of the Earth's terrestrial surface is covered by thick ice sheets, it could open up a world of new discoveries," said Dr Enrico Cappellini of the University of York, UK.
Record loss of sea ice in Arctic
Sea ice in the northern hemisphere has plunged to the lowest levels ever measured, US polar specialists said, adding they expect the record low to be 'annihilated' by summer's end.
A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic summer 2005, continued in summers of 2006 and 2007, has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover.
Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.
Dr Serreze: "This will be four Septembers in a row that we've seen a downward trend.  The feeling is we are reaching a tipping point or threshold beyond which sea ice will not recover."
Professor Wadhams: "As the sea ice melts, and more of the sun's energy is absorbed by the exposed ocean, a positive feedback is created leading to the loss of yet more ice."
"If anything we may be underestimating the dangers.  The computer models may not take into account collaborative positive feedback."
"Sea ice keeps a cap on frigid water, keeping it cold and protecting it from heating up."
"Losing the sea ice of the Arctic is likely to have major repercussions for the climate."
"There could be dramatic changes to the climate of the northern region due to the creation of a vast expanse of open water where there was once effectively land."
"You're essentially changing land into ocean and the creation of a huge area of open ocean where there was once land will have a very big impact on other climate parameters."
Big melt warning for Arctic — click here
Greenland ice cap thickens slightly as glaciers have begun to race towards the ocean
Glaicer moving towards the sea at a rate of 113 feet a year; normal annual speed of a glacier is just one foot
Area covered by sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk for a fourth consecutive year.
Hundreds of Antarctic Glaciers In Retreat, Says Study — see Antarctic
Has the Age of Chaos Begun?
...growing numbers of geophysicists toy with the possibilities of runaway warming returning the earth to the torrid chaos of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM: 55 million years ago) when the extreme and rapid heating of the oceans led to massive extinctions.
Ice from Upsala glacier
An ice-free Arctic Ocean has not existed for at least one million years and the authors warn that the Earth is inexorably headed toward a "super-interglacial" state "outside the envelope of glacial-interglacial fluctuations that prevailed during recent Earth history."
They emphasize that within a century global warming will probably exceed the Eemian temperature maximum and thus obviate all the models that have made this their essential scenario.
...The demon in me wants to say: Party and make merry.
No need now to worry about Kyoto, recycling your aluminum cans, or using too much toilet paper, when, soon enough, we'll be debating how many hunter-gathers can survive in the scorching deserts of New England or the tropical forests of the Yukon.
The good parent in me, however, screams: How is it possible that we can now contemplate with scientific seriousness whether our children's children will themselves have children?
The Garden — A presentation of the planet's present and future state
(Click her for how Ozone is formed in Antarctic section.)
(Click here for changes observed in Arctic Areas — in Arctic section.)
Ilulissat Glacier, a Wonder of the World Melting Away
The Ilulissat glacier in Greenland, a UN heritage site considered one of the wonders of the world, has shrunk by over 10 kilometers in just a few years, in one of the most alarming examples of global warming in the Arctic region.
"We are witnesses to one of the most striking examples of climate change in the Arctic," US expert Robert Corell said during a recent helicopter flight over the glacier.
The lower extremity of the glacier "has receded by more than 10 kilometers (six miles) in two or three years after having been relatively stable since the 1960s," he said.
Corell was in charge of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a 1,400-page report written by more than 250 scientists and published in November 2004 which sounded alarm bells for the region.
The report warned that less than a century from now, the Arctic ice could melt completely during the summer, threatening many species and the lifestyle of the indigenous Inuit population.
Corell, a senior fellow with the American Meteorological Society in Washington D.C., took 22 environment ministers and other officials from around the world, meeting in Ilulissat last week for a conference on global warming, on a tour of the glacier to see the effects first-hand.
"We can't find any more concrete example of Arctic warming, which is twice as fast as in any other part of the world," Corell told AFP.
He said the glacier shrank by seven kilometers (4.3 miles) in a 12-month period from 2002 to 2003.
"The glacier front is calving (scientific term meaning to release) huge ice rocks and moving 35 meters (yards) per day or around 13 kilometers (eight miles) a year, and discharging icebergs in the sea," he said.
"When a glacier recedes, it means that it is diminishing, which is an obvious sign of global warming," Corell said.
The drastic effects of climate change on the glacier have also been studied by Jason Box, a professor with the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University in the United States.
He recently led a research project on the glacier financed by US space agency NASA, with logistical support from environmental group Greenpeace.
His team used a small inflatable boat outfitted with special equipment to measure the depth of the ice cap's lakes, and found that water production had increased by 30 percent in just 17 years.
"We've observed an increase in the melt rates in recent years, consistent with warming observed at coastal weather stations," he said in a Greenpeace video report from the area.
The environmental group sent its vessel Arctic Sunrise to Greenland for two months this summer to raise awareness about global warming, with the final days of the campaign taking place in the Ilulissat fjord.
"More water is moving through the Greenland ice sheet system and there appears to be a link between more abundant melt water and the observed increase in ice flow acceleration," Box said.
The volume of water in the inland ice is important because it affects the speed with which the icebergs travel to the sea, and thereby affects the water level of the world's oceans.
"It's not a tomorrow issue, but a today issue," Corell told the 22 ministers.
"There is no time to lose.  Urgent action must be taken to respond to this problem," Martina Krueger, the head of the Greenpeace expedition to Greenland told AFP.
      by Caren Bohan   August 22, 2005      
Touring the Island
Map of Kalaalit Nunaat     Map of museums in the various towns.     courtesy
The vast coastline that stretches from Qanaaq in the north to Cape Farewell at the extreme southern tip is a distance of 3000 km.   It’s name for the locals is “Tuno”, quite literally meaning “the other side” or “backside”.
The huge area encompassing the northeast side of Kalaallit Nunaat has been designated as a park.   With more land than France and the British Isles combined, an area of 972,000 sq. kms has been set aside as protected.   The park is the largest reserve on Earth.   Much of the land remains covered by the inland icecap, but at the edge is a world of inescapable beauty.   Fjords, mountains glaciers sweep the coast; plains of desert on the coastline lying amid the sharp rising mountains.
Clusters of mountain aven can be seen in more southerly protected areas of the park, the plant’s light creamy tint growing in carpets, blooming as the weather permits, a remarkable sight when in bloom.   The small tundra shrub the low-lying arctic willow, is the only plant in the higher arctic regions.   Adapting to the harsh environment the Arctic willow grows outwards instead of upwards.   This can be used as a food plant, and has been, by those who travers these vast wild desolate regions.   Southlands of the park have dwarf-birch and arctic blueberry heaths and bell heather growing.
Mountain Aven
Arctic Willow
Inside the national park, scientists are working on a research project known as “Zero.”   They are monitoring the natural balance of this still undisturbed area of the planet, studying how the area functions.   They are attempting to do this before an ecosystem disturbance might be activated by climate change.
The wildlife reserve is home to polar bear, and musk oxen.   Arctic fox, arctic wolf, and mountain hare roam through the outer fringes.   The bird population has about 50 breeding species.   Red-throated diver, barnacle goose, pink-footed goose, brent goose, eider, sanderling, knot, ptarmigan, raven, gyrfalcon, and snowy owl are some who nest here.
Archaeological findings indicate that the Sarqaq came down the east coast 2,000 yeats ago.   Later the Dorset cultures began a progressive migration from the north.   Rowing along the coastline in their skin boats, these communities may have died out in the harsher climactic winters that began after they had settled.   The few who remained, if any, may have been assimilated by the Thule who migrated along this same corridor in the 14th and 15th century.
Photo - ‘East Kalaallit Nunaat’ by Kai
Wave of emigrations
By the 18th century the east coast of the island had a series of Thule descended Inuit settlements.   During the 19th century the climate deteriorated as it had with the Dorset cultures.   A number of emigrations took place to the southern communities around Cape Farewell and to the West Coast.   The populations further north likely declined due to starvation as the climate became colder and they were unable to retain enough winter surplus.
In 1829-30, W. A. Graah led a Danish expedition to an area south of a settlement later name Angmagssalik.   1884 Gustav Holm, who came from Cape Farewell to the Angmagssalik fjord, managed to penetrate the ice barrier by using the so-called ‘womens’ boat or umiak of the Inuit.   In spite of the weight and size, traditional umiaks weighs approximately 200 pounds, the boats could be dragged across the ice.
These skin boats weighed one-fifth that of the newer whaling boats that the Danes had constructed with modern methods and materials.   The ‘hunters’ boat are usually fashioned from female walrus hides that are split, seal skin floats being kept within the boat and used when a harpoon or spear would be thrown.
When used for transportation, as they have mostly been used in later years in Kalaallit Nunaat, umiaks were rowed by women with oars.   Thus they had aquired the name ‘womans’ boat.
Gustav Holm found an isolated Inuit population of around 500 in small settlements along the fjord.   It is said the people he found believed they were the ‘last people on earth.’   They knew of no other people; their contacts to the north and south of the fjord having all died out.
   Photo © courtesy Carl Obling
Population almost extinct
A follow-up expedition of 1892, found the population had dropped, due to internecine strife and starvation, to less than 300 people.   The Danes decided to establish a ‘Trading and Mission Station of Angmagssalik,’ which they did in 1894, in the bay named Kong Oscar’s Havn, where the present town of Tasiilaq is situated.
A series of expeditions began shortly afterwards by the Danes.   The Blosseville coast was charted by Amdrup in 1900.   In 1906-8 the ‘Danmark’ expedition explored the north-east coast as far as Peary Land, a peninsula at the extreme north that extends into the Arctic Ocean.
Learning techniques of how to survive in the sub-zero temperatures from the Inuit tribes they met, the American, Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary of the United States Navy, along with his African-American assistant, Matthew Henson, had explored this land in their expedition of 1891–92, traveling from settlements near present day Qaanaaq in the north-west.
The peninsula now known as Peary Land is mountainous, rising to near 1,950 meters.   It is free of the inland icecap.   Sparse vegetation supports musk oxen and caribou.
In 1909, Peary and Henson, who had wealthy philanthropist backers, and Peary, a few missing toes from his earlier expeditions, made it to the North Pole, (or just short as scientists now believe), using dog sleds that traveled upon the ice.
The Danish Expedition of 1906-08, en route northwards along the East Coast, collected traditional myths and stories from the people and settlements they found.
Another reason it is said of the Mylius-Erichsen expedition, is that they wanted to prove that Robert Peary’s outline of the East Greenland coast was not factual.   That it was erroneous and presumably self-serving.
During the Danmark expedition, one of the team Jorgen Bronland left behind a note referring to the position and demise of the leader Mylius-Erichsen and his companion Hoegh-Hagen.

Jørgen Brønlund’s diary from the Danmark expedition to Northeast Greenland 1906-08.  In his last pencilled entry in November 1907 he writes: "I arrived here in fading moonlight, and could not go on because of frostbite in my feet and darkness.  The other’s bodies are in the middle of the fjord in front of a glacier (about 18 km) ... Hagen died November 15 and Mylius about 10 days later."   The diary and the expedition’s maps were found four months later by his body in the cave.

The Manuscript Department, Ny kongelige Samling 565, oktavo
A relief expedition led by Ejnar Mikkelson and Iver Iverson never located the bodies but spent two winters alone on the north-east coast.   In dramatic circumstances — scurvy, starvation, frostbite, snow blindness, plunges into icy seawater, they explored the area as they waited for a relief ship — theirs having been crushed in the ice.
Mikkelsen, a veteran who had crossed Siberia, and Alaska, later wrote a book “Two Against the Ice” about the ill-fated relief expedition.  
Ejnar Mikkelsen after his return administered the developing colony of Angmagssalik.   In 1925 he explored the same stretch of coast that had given him such problems, becoming instrumental in the relocation of a section of the burgeoning Angmagssalik population to present day Illoqqoortoormiit, 600 kilometers to the north.
The founding of a new community on the borders of what is now the National Park relieved the over-hunting around the Angmagssalik district.
Mikkelsen returned again on an expedition along the east coast of the island in 1932; his final trip being made as a grand old man, in 1964.
The region became a Norwegian and Danish hunting and trapping area, until the North area was established as the largest National Park on earth, as it is today.
       Images from the North East.       
The Easterners
Inupik, part of the larger Inuktitut grouping, is a language spoken across Arctic Alaska to Canada to Greenland and Labrador. Geographically it has one of the largest language distributions in the world, with only dialectic differences between northern Alaska and Greenland.
But within this broad framework, the Inuit people of the east coast of Kalaallit Nunaat have a pronunciation and vocabulary different from the Inuit people of the west and southwest coast.   Both culturally and linguistically the eastern coast peoples differ.
The Easterners, those who have lived for centuries on the eastern coastline, are also said to have retained a collective memory different to memories retained by those elsewhere on the island.   Each has an oral history that has been transferred generation upon generation to the present day.
In the Easterner tales, perhaps because even up to present day times they have remained isolated, there is a body of knowledge of an origin, history and ancestry, of what many consider beyond even more remote times.   Tales that non-Easterners think of as mythological, certainly fabulous in its wealth if not imaginary.
In this memory of their earlier times, Easterner artists reflect their history in the handicrafts and the creatures, figures, that they carve from tusk and bone.
Today the most north-easterly town is Ittoqqortoormiit.   Perhaps one of the hardest words to pronounce (e-talk-cock-tome-meet), the town is situated center of the eastern coast.
Scoresbysund, the Danish name, was founded with 70 colonists who came with Ejnar Mikkelsen by ship in 1925 from Ammassalik.   Today, the municipality, about the size of Great Britain, has less than 700 people in its district.   Scoresby Sund with its side fjords is the largest fjord complex in the world.
The vast Scoresby Sund fjord is the longest in the world.
Ittoqqortoormiit church      Photo © courtesy
Dogsledge riding
Two other settlements, Itterajivit and Uunartoq, are within the municipality.   By tradition men remain responsible for hunting, women doing the skinning and parting of the animals.   Houses are work places and stores as well as being the home.   Dogsledge riding, visits to the ice edge, to the Apuseq glacier, sailing (pack-ice permitting late July through August), are all outdoor recreation activities.
A survey done in 1999 found 14 Gyrfalcon nest sites within a 6,000 sq km area of this region.
South of Ittoqqortoormiit, the largest settlement is Tasiilaq.   Formally known as Angmagssalik — since the name of the country changed, most of the towns have also changed names — Angmagssalik’s name change also became important because it reflected after a local man called Angmagssalik.   In Inuit it is disrespectful to speak the name of the dead.   The word also means literally “the place of ammassats,” a small, tasty fish of the Salmonids Westerners call capelins, fished in the area.   The new name Tasiilaq means “looks like a lake.”

Photo - ‘Tasiilaq fjord’ by Kai
Tasiilaq is the largest town in a vast East/South area.   Tucked inside a fiord, with a population close to 2,000, the town is overlooked by high mountain ridges.
Rich in scenery, Tasiilaq is divided by a river/stream which flows down through the Flower Valley behind the town.   One piece of new archtitecture is the pentagonal church built in 1986.   Its innerwalls, ceiling and alter has been designed by artist Aka Høegh.
With average temperaturs of -4º C in January 11º C in July, outdoor activites include scrambling up the Qaqqartivagajik Mountain, seal and fish capturing, which can often be seen placed to dry on racks behind the houses, dog teams, treking in summer to the valley of flowers.
The Angmagssalik district is, like all the population centers, westernized, but, retaining much of Inuit culture.   The past is a remembered one.   Talking with present day hunters, especially older hunters, the old life of thousands of generations comes alive.   A hunting culture rich in folk lore.
The area north of Tasiilaq — the Blosseville coast — is steep and inaccessible.   The area south has a narrow, low-lying coastline.   There are several deep fjord complexes.   Sermilik, a land of alpine fjellfields, well-drained meadows, valleys and glaciers, is one glacier calving area, the wide glaciers calving icebergs into the northern recess of Ningerti.   Calving and pack-ice makes the waters extremely difficult to navigate.   The Angmagssalik fjord, as the pack-ice begins to break as the summer advances, becomes more available for shipping transportation.

Photo - ‘Polar Stream’ by Kai
Katabatic wind
Out on the coast, as the East Greenland Polar Current drives sea pack ice south in summer months, it begins to crash into freshwater glacial ice being calved from the glaciers along the coastline.
A polar ocean current flows south along the entire east coast, around Cape Farewell the southenmost tip, carrying immense ice floes that make any sea approach hazardous.   Nevertheless, along the coast, and within the fjords, supply boats travel between the settlements when they can — in summer, visiting small occupied places such as Kuummiit weekly.
In late autumn, winter and spring, the frozen fjords become the play of the husky and the sled.
The Tasiilaq area is wet compared to other east coast areas further north and to the west.   But a katabatic wind can quickly arise, clearing out the persistent clouds in its intensity.
A light is used on top of the radio mast when a Piteraq is expected to blow, acting as a warning to sailors.
The mountains are extremely steep, showing as impressive peaks and pinnacles.   The peaks of Trillingerne and Pikkelhuen, the spiked helmet, tower 2,000 metres above fjord level.
Coastal vegetation is sparse, the land dominated by bare rock, glacial debris, snow and ice.   Base rock on the east is considered to be a continuation of that found in the Caledonian region of Scotland.
Rock face exposed north of Kuummiit appears identical to the ‘mottled’ exposures of gneiss that can be seen on the Outer Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris.
Because of this, the hypothesis is that the island over the last 70 million years has continued its northern and westward migration away from northern Europe.
Across the fiord, and the incoming sea-ice water, a ferry connects Tasiilaq to the smaller town of Kulusuk.   This is where the airport to the outside world is situated.
Kulusuk airport is where line of sight flying is the order of the day.   Navigation by air in this region is always a problem.   Coastal fog can descend quickly, blanketing the whole region.
Once landed on Kulusuk, a helicopter ride to Tasiilaq is possible.   The ride takes 15 minutes.
South of Tasiilaq is the Nanortalik region which includes Cape Farewell the most southernmost point.
The site of Aluk in this region became a meeting place of the East and West peoples in the 18th century, a meeting of peoples who have often disconnected for periods of time.   The site has many archaeological structures.   Here in this area are the country’s only present day natural forest.
It is to this region that the Norsemen came, and from a nearby settlement Narsarmijit, where the Norsemen took off and learnt of the knowledge of America.
Kuummiut near Tasiilaq - by Carl Skou
The South West
The southernmost tip is Cape Farewell, which lies at the same latitude as Oslo Norway.   In the far south the mean temperature in January is -15º C.   July temperature averages are +10º C.   Temperatures on the Central West Coast, with a much higher latitude, can exceed these.   Around the tip, the southwest coast enjoys open water all year round, but pack ice does float from the east coast around Cape Farewell.   Currents take the pack/sea-ice along the south coastline, up the west coast to Paamiut and further.
There is far greater rainfall in the south than in the north, which experiences more of a high pressure system with clear skies and little precipitation.   The increased rainfall and milder temperatures allowing for a greater growing of vegetation in the lowland regions.
Nanortalik Kommune, the southernmost municipal area, has a forest of birch and northern willow with 4 metres tall trees, the largest as much as 8 meters (26 ft).
Vegetation in the southwest includes dwarf willow and dwarf birch.   Among the grasses there are many varieties of flowering plants, mosses, and herbs that carpet the coastal landscape in summer.
Near Narsarsuaq on the southwest, edged by inlet sea and mountains, among the birch and the dwarf willow that grow on the mountain slopes, a new small arboretum is being developed for the benefit of the country.   Botanists in a reserve area of 500 acres have established an arboretum in a scientific attempt to see which trees are most suitable for growing.   Along with the bluebells and campions, 75 different tree species are growing in the woodland.   68,000 young trees have been planted.
Sub-Arctic Willow

Sub-Arctic Red Willow
Mosquitoes, buttercups, seals
The southwest land can be filled with mosquitoes and wet, hard-to-walk bog.   It can also be buttercups covering the wild green pastures.   Qaqortoq is the southwest’s most populous community.   Qaqortoq, in the Julianehåb district is where the best Viking ruins can be found.   Most of the early Viking settles built in wood or sod, which have long disappeared, but much of the Hvalsey Church, built in stone, remains.   Some of the stones for this church weigh four to five tons.   Recently the church has been stabilized as a ruin, to prevent it from falling.
Summer Months Arctic Tern, Black-legged Kittiwake, Eider, Thick-billed Murre, can be seen in the sky
Around the coastal shores, Harbour Seal, Harp Seal, Puffin, Ringed Seal, Bearded Seal and Walrus can be found lounging.
Igaliku is a tiny village known in ancient times as Gardar.   In 1126, with a Norse population of an estimated 2,000 to 4,000 and two settlements, a Bishop was appointed by the Pope.   This is where the Bishop had his church.   A place of fertile soil good for sheep-raising and vegetable-growing, it was the main religious center for the Vikings who settled here.   Stones still remain, the ruins of the church built for the Bishop.
Further north along the southwest coast is the town of Paamiut.   Todays high temperaturesat averages -3º C in January and +9º C during July and August.   This is area that has likely been inhabited since around 1,500 B.C.E.   The Danish town, formerly Frederikshåb, was built in 1742.  
The municipality today has the Frederikshåb Iceglacier as its northern border and the Qoornoq fjord at its southern tip, an area that boasts of the largest population of white-tailed eagles in the land.   With over 2,000 inhabitants, the town has developed among other industries the selling of snow crabs, opilio´s.   Along the west coast opilio´s are caught as a by-catch of other fishing.   Fishing, seal hunting, and sheep raising are also occupations of the Paamiut people.
Herbs and edible plants that can be found in the southwest are: mountain angelica, scotch thyme, narrow-leafed labrador tea, mountainside bilberry, greenland dandelion, crowberry, sea purslane, viviparous knotgrass, mountain sorrel, Swedish dogwood, ladies smock and large-flowered rosebay.
Off the waters in the open sea, rorqual whales, fin whales, killer or humpbacks can be seen passing in late summer and autumn.
Preachers mountain, Greenland.

Photo: Fjolle
Preachers mountain - by Fjolle
Nordic settlers and Danish Greenlandic History.
Vikings founded kingdoms in Russia, traded along the rivers.   East and south, they were in Constantinople and Bahgdad, in Gurgan and Chorezm.   They were an elite regiment for the East Roman Emperor, a guard that existed for some hundred years.   They conquered much of the United Kingdom, calling it Bretland.   They came to the Faroe Islands, Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides.   They swooped down into France and Spain, and sold European slaves to the North Africans.
Coming in waves from their Nordic homelands, they captured and settled in both East and West.   From the late eight century to the eleventh, they established outposts; in their sturdy boats even visiting the shores of North America.  
Gunnbjörn Ulf Kragesson, fable or truth, the story is said that the viking was blown off course on his way to Iceland in 932 C.E.   Seeing a large land mass — he may not have set foot upon it — he returned to Iceland, giving an account of the adventure.   For what he had seen, and for a short period of time, the land to the west is believed to have been known as Gunnbjörn land.
There were tales during this period that spoke of a place where some of the Irish Westman had traveled, a paradise across the waters. ‘Vestmannaeyjar’ it was called by the Vikings — the land the Westmann went to.   This idyllic place not to be confused with the archipelago a few miles south of Iceland, later called the Westmann Islands, known both as Vestmannaeyjar and as Eyja.   A place where monks had escaped from Iceland when the Vikings arrived.
One famous explorer in the middle ages was Brendan the Navigator.   St Brendan who died at Enachduin, now Annaghdown, Éire, in 577 C.E., came back from his travels with tales of a ‘Terra Repromissionis,’ an ‘Earthly Paradise.’   A most beautiful land with virgin greenery his companion monks and himself are stated to have found.   Seven years the voyage had taken.   If Brendan the Navigator visited the present North American coast, visited the ice-free southern lands of Kalaallit Nunaat, or voyaged as far south as the present day Canary Islands, it is not known; but the idea was out there, for the Vikings, that earlier Westmann had discovered a paradise.
After Gunnbjörn returned to Iceland from being blown off course, his story of what he had seen made Eiríkr (Röde) Þorvaldsson, known in English tongue as Erik the Red, curious.   Due to banishment because of his killing a man, he had to leave Iceland.   He decided to sail westwards and explore, to see what he could find.
Like Gunnbjörn, Eiríkr did discover a large land mass.   Sailing around the east and southern coast he came across some human built living places that were likely Celtic, likely Westmann.   The camps or settlements were in ruins; there were no people.
Returning home after his banishment period, Eiríkr decided to return again to the large land mass he had visited.   He was now calling the land Greenland, or Grønland in the Scandinavian tongue.   The land may well have been so to him, as it may have been to Brendan the Navigator and his fellow monks, if this was the ‘Earthly Paradise’ they visited.   The climate in South West Grønland was mild, milder than today, and there were additional coastal lowlands, perhaps lush fertile green areas, which have now disappeared under sea, that were above surface at that time.
Here land was available for sheep rearing, and goat and cow pasturing.   Plenty of fish were available for catching in the sea.
In 985 C.E., with 450 settlers accompanying, a camp was established in Eriksfiord, another at Eriksey.   Eiríkr settled on a farmstead at Brattahlid just west of Cape Farewell.   Some who came with him continued northward along the western shore, establishing settlements at Osterbygden near present day Julianehab, and Vesterbygden near the later town of Godthåb.   Twelve chieftains were appointed to govern the widely spaced fjords.
Written sources recounting the discovery and settlement are: Ari Þorgilsson’s Íslendingabók and Landámabók.   Also the Grænlendinga Saga — the story of the Greenlanders.   And there is ‘Eiríks saga rauða’ — the story of Eric the Red.   Composed from oral accounts, these stories give often outlandish feats of accomplishment by the Vikings, and they do contradict each other at times.  
‘Eiríks saga rauða’ describes a sea voyage from Grønland to Vinland — a later trip was also taken in 1006 by Thorfinn Karlsefn, a Norwegian born navigator, also perhaps in search of the Western ‘Paradise’.   Some things can be misinterpreted in the descriptions of what they found in Vinland which likely applies to the tales of Grønland.
In Rauða, for instance, when describing the event where Eiríkr’s son is killed, a Native American is described as a shiny one-legged man.   The fashion for those in the area at the time was to wear a single long piece of leather fastened through the legs and tied with a strip of leather, which may have given that appearance.
Native Americans often smeared ‘Bear Oil’ on themselves for protection from the cold, the sun, and insect bites, giving them a look that would sparkle in the sunlight.
  Men went chasing,
I tell you no lie,
A one-legger racing
The seashore by:
But this man-wonder,
Curst son of a trollop,
Karlsefni, pray ponder,
Escaped at a gallop.
       The Viking Lady Answers.       
Mosquitoes, buttercups, seals
Why the Norse settlements did not flourish on Greenland remains a mystery.   Oral tales have stories of fierce battles with the Skraelingjar, which is a Norse word meaning “small and withered.”   A peaceful assimilation of the last surviving Norsemen with the Inuit may also have taken place.   The last contact from the descendents of the early Nordic settlers was in 1408, a letter describing a wedding held two years before.
Here the story of the island enters its Danish history.   In 1,000 C.E., in Iceland, the Vikings established the Althing Parliament, the oldest, still around democracy.   These same Vikings agreed at the Althing to become part of a new religion called Chrisitanity.
The Scandinavians had shared a common culture, a language (Old Norse) and the faith system of the Norse Gods.   In the eleventh century they took to the Christian beliefs.   Denmark, Norway and Sweden became separate nations, with ongoing wars between chieftans and nations continuing.   1261/62 Greenland and Iceland became subject to Norwegian rule through conquest.   1387, the Norwegian royal house ceased with no heirs and the death of the 13 year old monarch.
A wearying series of battles brought much discontent and in 1397, a union was agreed between Denmark, Sweden and Norway.   In the town of Kalmar on the Swedish coast, a relative to Queen Margareta, Erik of Pomerania, was elected king over Denmark, Sweden and Norway.   The agreement between the countries stated that the monarch of the Union had to be Danish.   It is from this agreement, and the settling in 1721, that Denmark later claimed right to the island territory it called Grønland.
1523-5 Sweden reestablished itself as a separate kingdom after the Kalmar Civil War.   Norway becomes a subject of the Danish crown in 1536, a de facto Danish province; Danish becoming the written language of Norway.   Norway, a part of Sweden in the 19th century, achieves independence in 1905, the Danish prince Karl becoming king Haakon VII of Norway.   During this time, from the sixteenth century, changes in Christianity sees much of Scandinavia becoming Lutheran.
In 1721, pastor Hans Egede, “The Apostle of Grønland” comes to the island.   A movement called ‘Collegia pietatis’ (Pietists) had swept through Northern Europe the previous few decades.   Pietists believed in private gatherings, rather than church sermons, as a means of becoming better acquainted with the Word of God.   Hans Egede who was influenced by this movement decided, because of a number of personal reasons, to become a missionary.   An earlier writing of his:
Anno 1708 October, when I in the dark evening was walking alone, I began thinking, that I, long ago, had read in the description of Norway about Grønland too.   That this place roomed churches and monasteries, but that wale hunters did not find these.   Therefore I wanted to know, the present condition of these things.
Egede met with much questioning due to the Danes giving up contact with the territory.   The Lutherans under the patronage of the king of Denmark had been sending out missionies to the east however, and perserverence paid off.   Funds were raised for a colony, supported by merchants from Bergen; the King granting him a future yearly income.
The descendents of the Thule were living in the the southernmost points of the country and so people were discovered, but no white people among them.   Egede and his wife, Gertrud Rask, remained on the island, achieving some acceptance for Christianity and Scandinavian culture with those Inuit they contacted.  
Except for some landings run to the island by the Dutch, and trading between the Inuit, no other trade was taking place.   With support of Bergen merchants at the Bergan Company, a trading colony was established, because of, and called Godthåb, ‘harbour of good hope.’   Godthåb, known today as Nuuk, became the capital as the Danes asserted dominance over the fringes of the southern, non-icecap portion of the land.
Photo - ‘Early morning clouds outside Nuuk.’ by aubade
Pelts of polar bear
The initial colony of Godthåb, not achieving the success to survive, found Egede sending discouraging reports and appeals for help back to Europe.   A report to the Bergen Company ‘Det gamle Grønlands nye perlustration’ was printed in 1729 and became the first extensive description of life on the island.   Plant and animal life, and Inuit culture, commerce and religion were included.   The book was so popular that it was translated into German.
There were reindeer, bears, and birds to hunt on land and pelts of polar bear and arctic fox, whalebone, and walrus tusk to trade.   These were used to pay for essential imports such as metal, timber, and grain, as well as luxury goods.   In 1733, the Danish government took over as chief support for the trading and missionary work that was taking place there.
Egede returned to Denmark in 1736, assuming a supervisory position over the Greenland mission.   In 1741 an enlarged version of the 1729 book was printed.   This included an extensive natural history of Greenland, additional accounts of the manner of living of the Inuit with a brief vocabulary of their language, their shamanic religion and knowledge of the stars.   Egede added a map of Greenland as well as woodcut illustrations.  
Editions of Hans Egede’s: ‘Det gamle Grønlands nye perlustration, eller naturel-historie.’
The earlier 10th century Nordic Viking settlements were lost to these later Danes.   Searches continued through the 19th century along the East Coast to establish the sites of the former Nordic historical heritage.   The East Coast was searched because the names of the two major settlements were known in records as ‘Vesterbygd’ (Western Settlement) and ‘Osterbygd’ (Eastern Settlement).   It was assumed from this that the earlier living areas were on opposite coastlines.   In reality, the eastern settlement was slightly to the east and 350 km to the south of the western settlement.   They were both on the south-west coast.
The island in the late eighteenth century was closed to most foreign ships.   In 1774 the Royal Greenland Trading Company was granted a monopoly on trade.   The monopoly expanded the trading of pelts, furs and whale products to the Danes.   The trade monopoly and restricted entry policies and had a possible benefit for the Inuit.   It protected then to some extent from an invasion of sailers bringing European diseases of which they had no immunity.   This trade monopoly continued until after the Second World War.
Danish administration covered a mere 46,470 of Greenland’s 827,000 square miles prior to 1921, so the claim to the whole of Greenland was challenged.   The British had the expeditions of Hudson, Frobisher or Franklin.   The Americans the expeditions of Henson and Peary.   Both Norway and Iceland had a claim through Eiríkr Þorvaldsson and his early settlement.   Norway not the least through explorer, scientist, humanist and Nobel laureate, Fridjtof Nansen, who undertook several expeditions to the Arctic and the Greenlandic island.   In 1888 he led the first European expedition to cross the ice fields.
The United States because it sought the purchase of the Danish West Indies, today the U.S. Virgin Islands, agreed to concede Grønland sovereignty to Denmark.   A heated debate raged in Denmark over the sale, the US wanting to establish a base in the Danish West Indies before entering World War I, to protect the Panama Canal and Caribbean shipping from U-boat attacks.   The concession on Grønland sovereignty clinched the sale however.   Shortly afterwards Great Britain and Sweden allied themselves with the US decision and voted not to oppose the extension of Danish sovereignty to the whole island.
Norway, having been under the control of Denmark until the 19th century, resisted.   In 1924 a treaty was signed allowing Norway economic rights along the east coast between the Lindenow fjord and a position 81º N latitude, excluding the District of Angmagssalik.   The treaty was disegarded almost as soon as it was signed, and the years following many attempts were made to counter sovereignty claims.
In 1920 Norwegian whalers took home 3,000,000 kroner worth of whales from the waters off the north of the island.   Denmark, not happy, asks the Permanent Court of International Justice at the Hague in 1931 to adjudicate its dispute with Norway regarding the northeast coast.   After more annexes and occupations the court rules in 1933 in favour of Denmark.
1940 Germany invades Denmark and all trade and communication with the island is severed.   Local administrative councils meet, voting to assume power in the vacuum left by the loss of contact.   The councilors affirm their allegiance to King Christian X but request United States protection.
Greenland then becomes a USA Protectorate for the period of the Second World War.   The Americans were granted the right to maintain and operate landing fields, seaplane bases, radio and meteorological stations, and to install fortifications and take any measures they thought necessary to insure their efficient operation, which included the improvement of harbors, roads and communications.
The Danish Government established a commission to study the island’s future in 1948.   The old monopoly restrictions were ended with new trade and tourism regulations.   Greenland became part of the Kingdom of Denmark.   It was allocated two elected representatives in the lower house of the Danish parliament in 1953.   With Denmark supporting a social benefit system similar to its own, and retaining control of the island’s foreign affairs and defence, Kalaallit Nunaat was granted Home Rule in 1979.
Minerals and Gemstones
Kalaallit Nunaat has some of the oldest rocks and minerals on earth.   Many are unique and often unique to only a few locales.   Cryolite, an aluminium ore, is an example of this.   The mineral was first discovered by Danish explorers in 1794 on the Arksut Fjord in the South West. An open-pit mine was developed near the area of Ivigtût, hiking distance from the Danish naval station at Grønnedal.
Cryolite was first used for certain kinds of porcelain and glass, valued for its remarkable toughness, and enamelled look.   Having a low index of refraction, if emersed in water, a clear colorless crystal will seem to disappear.   Even cloudy cryolite will become more transparent, its edges will be less distinct.   This feature gave it its name, from the Greek ‘icpboc’ meaning frost, and ‘Xloos’ meaning stone.   It melts readily in a candle-flame, and the Inuit when they came across it, viewed it as a peculiar kind of ice.
Natural cryolite has been a mineral of great economic importance, extremely valued in the Second World War for its use as a solvent to produce aluminum metal.   Cheaper synthetic cryolite is now manufactured, the mine at Ivigtût closing in 1963.
Cryolite is most often found in colourless or snow-white cleavable masses.   It can be clear to white to yellowish and can be tinted in shades of pink or purple or brown and black.   It has a luster like that of wax.
Listing a few of the many minerals found on the world’s largest island:  Tugtupite is a fluorescent stone that is valued for its properties of vibrant fluorescence.   Tugtupite has a deep blood-red color and can be cut into a beautiful gemstone.   Sodalite, containing chlorine has a light to dark pure blue color.   The blue mineral is said to stimulate communication, to alleviate fear, to calm and clear the mind.   Both Tugtupite and Sodalite are valued for their brilliance and rarity.
Prehnite, another gemstones is often found as a pale green or light grass colored green, but can also be gray, white or colorless.   Sorensenite is what geologists call a new sodium-beryllium-tin-silicate.   It is found most widely in the Ilímaussaq massif intrusion at the extreme southwest, most notably at Kvanefjeld.   Sorensenite can be colorless, pinkish, or a milky white.   It has a silky luster.
sorensenite    Photo
Nuummit another mineral found almost exclusively on Kalaallit Nunaat, is a stone that consists of anthophyllit and gedrit.   Well suited to mounting in both gold and silver, Nuummit has an iridescent metallic blue and orange luster.   Considered to be one of the oldests stones found on earth, it is found in the Nuuk area in rock almost four billion years old.
Nuummit is thought to have a protective shielding for those who wear it.   Able to empower ‘one’s original blueprint,’ the stone is considered to be able to deflect unbalanced and negative energies.
September morning in Nuuk, Greenland

Photo: ox3jo
September morning in Nuuk - by ox3jo
The whole of Kalaallit Nunaat has less than 60,000 people.   90% are Kalaallit Nunaat-born.   90% of these are of the Inuit ethnic peoples.   Most Inuit are baptised into the Lutheran church, but ancient shamanic traditions are recognized during many community gatherings, manifesting within a modern party atmosphere.

The Danish settlement of 1721 on the west coast has led to Nuuk, previously named Godthåb, ‘Good Hope’, becoming the largest population center of the island.   Nuuk, with a population of 14,000, is the capital.   Renamed Nuuk after Home Rule was granted, Nuuk means peninsula in Kalaallisut, the name referring to the spectacular location where the capital is situated.   The headland, at the outlet of Godthåbsfjord, translated into English as ‘The deep inlet of the sea between steep slopes.   The fiord of Good Hope’, is the tip of an immense system of fjords and islands.
   Photo - Nuuk by Sila
Home Rule
Granted self-government in 1978 by the Danish parliament, the island has been ruled by the Simut party since the Home Rule parliament began in 1979.   2003 has a coalition of the Simut and the Atassut.   The opposition, the second largest grouping of members, is the Inuit Atagatigiit.   Parliament is composed of thirty-one directly elected members.   There is a shared Presidency of five people: four members of Parliament, and the Chairman.
The capital today is a modern city for its size.   It has a university, a national museum, and all the things that make up a modern metropolis.   There are ski slopes to visit, and music festivals, and ice-snow sculpture festivals, and fine restaurants to dine.   The city’s coastal location means, with its marine weather patterns, plenty of snow in winter.
KNR - Kalaallit Nunaata Radioa - the island’s publicly owned national radio and television station, broadcasts by satellite to the whole of the island.   Programmes are in Kalaallisut and Danish, some broadcast simultaneously.
The modern styled Katuaq Cultural Center has entertainment ranging from classical to rap music, to Inuit Drum Dancing, with artists coming both from Scandinavia and from the Inuit polar circle nations.   Katuaq is filled with Nordic and Inuit art and design.
       Katuaq Cultural Center       
   Photo - Katuaq - Consulate General of Denmark
The Silamiut professional theatre, and theatre school, begun in 1984, not only performs at Katuaq but has an objective to show knowledge of Inuit culture and its history on television, and to develop Inuit art through exhibitions, exchange programmes and similar activities around the world.
The National Library of Greenland houses the unique Groenlandica Collection, which retains copies of all books and papers published on the island, including many of the earliest publications.
NKA, Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu, the National Museum, is housed in a building complex by the old colonial harbour in Nuuk.   The museum, which advises on archaeological excavations, holds many of the major archaeological and ethnographic collections found and excavated in the territory.   The clothing exhibition has examples of Inuit clothing dating as far back as 500 years ago.
The town is a mixture of the old and new: of the cultures of kayakers and hunters, artists, and fishermen, of civil servants in the service and administration sector of the home government, and as well, a few politicians.   Nuuk’s harbor helps support an extensive fishing industry.   Principal fish products that are processed for foreign export include cod and Greenland halibut; the gulf stream, ‘Irmingerstream,’ keeping the offshore harbour water year-round ice-free.
Sitting in a café or a bar, it is possible to watch out the window and see across in the water humpback whales and seals play.   To see sea eagles and falcons flying overhead.   Flowing past may be the end of a glacier.
Discharges of ice, billions of tons of ice enter the sea each year.   White and blue ice that floats into the waters of the Atlantic.
Photo - ‘Late summer, a small storm coming.’ by Nuuk
Sunday, 14 August 2005
Icy Greenland turns green
By Richard Hollingham
BBC News, Greenland
A fjord in southern Greenland, near Narsarsuaq. (Photo: Richard Hollingham)
If it reaches the ocean, the glacial water will increase sea levels
Greenland's ice is melting rapidly. In some places, glacial levels have been falling by 10 metres a year and ultimately contributing to rising sea levels.   Travelling to Greenland, Richard Hollingham sees the impact of climate change for himself.
The gleaming white executive jet taxied to a stop on the cracked concrete apron beside a couple of derelict hangers.
Beyond the rusty barbed wire and crude prefabricated buildings surrounding the airport perimeter, cliffs of dark granite rose from the valley to blend with the equally ominous grey of the sky.
No trees, no colour, no signs of life.
The door of the private plane swung down.
Onlookers, had there been any, might have caught a glimpse of the deep leather seats and walnut panelling of the interior.
Perhaps a group of sharp suited executives would emerge looking dynamic and business-like. Or perhaps some sinister men-in-black types, here on covert government business.
The first person to climb down was wearing oversized shorts, stout walking boots and a hat that looked like it had seen rather more of the world than it was perhaps designed for.
Its enormous ice cap, a sea of white stretching seemingly forever, overflows into thousands of glaciers
The next man was dressed in a clashing array of outdoor clothing and sported large tortoise-shell glasses and an unkempt beard.
Each man muttered something about the landscape being bleak.
I would like to be able to tell you that when the BBC descended from the plane we stood apart with our sartorial elegance.
But if you have ever met any BBC types, particularly radio reporters, you would know that would be a lie.
A map of Greenland showing Kangerlussuaq and the capital Nuuk
We had landed at Kangerlussuaq, a community whose existence depends solely on the airstrip.
This used to be a bustling US base, servicing America's early warning system.
These days it is somewhat self perpetuating.   The airport brings in supplies for the people who live here who mostly work at the airport.
I was tagging along with a group of eminent scientists, funded through the foundation of a billionaire philanthropist, Gary Comer.   He has devoted his retirement to the science of global warming.
The researchers all make regular visits to the Arctic to assess the impact of climate change, not, it should be said, always in such comfort.
Retreating glaciers
An aerial view of a glacier on the western coast of Greenland. (Photo: Richard Hollingham)
Retreat: As air temperatures rise, glacial recession increases
Greenland is a massive island locked in ice.   And from the air there is little evidence that it is melting.
Its enormous ice cap, a sea of white stretching seemingly forever, overflows into thousands of glaciers.
These in turn carve their way through the mountains to the coast.
It is only when you get near to the base of the glaciers that you can see how the landscape is changing.
A few metres above the ice, the rock is totally bare.   A scar running horizontally across the valleys.
It is as if the ice has been drained away, like water in a bath, to leave a tide mark.   Which is, in effect, what has happened.
The ice has melted and the glaciers have retreated hundreds of metres over the past 150 years.
New vegetation
The weather cleared and with the edge of the glacier, a giant wall of ice behind us, glaciologist Richard Alley led me across the barren rock.
This land was being exposed for the first time in millions of years
As I tripped and stumbled behind him, he bounded through scree and leapt over crevasses.
I have never seen a scientist more in his element as he pointed out deep grooves in the rock where the ice had raked the stone, or the giant boulders lifted by the glacier to balance precariously on top of tiny pebbles.
This land was being exposed for the first time for millions of years.   Even a century ago, where I stood would have been solid ice, and I was struck by just how much vegetation there was.
Phillip, the biologist on the trip, was every bit as excited as Richard, identifying the dark brown lichens on the rocks, the grasses and beautiful purple flowers somehow managing to cling to just a few millimetres of soil.
Agricultural return
The Earth's climate has warmed before, albeit naturally.
A ruined church on the banks of a fjord marks the remains of a Viking farming civilisation.
The sun casts shadows through the arched window to the site of the altar, last used in the 1400s before the area was abandoned when it became too cold to support habitation.
Today, the farmers are back.
Sheep once again graze the surrounding hillside and shiny new tractors work the fields near the southern coast.
Greenland is turning green, something the rest of us should be very worried about indeed.
Welcome to Qaanaaq — Take a tour of the Qaanaaq district
      Thule Inuit battle to stop Star Wars and to close US air base        
        Siberia, Alaska        

        Dramatic permafrost melt      
Greenland's huge ice-sheet scientists warn is melting faster   
          CO2 record high levels in the atmosphere          
           — Climate fear as carbon levels soar          
      Highest for 650,000 years      
      Global warming point of no return       
The Ice Cap and the first Icebergs.
The WE Environment News Archives
       Why did you cut down the trees Grandma?       
      State of the World's Garden       
AntarcticEnviro NewsThe WE        
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