Greenland ( ; , meaning
"Land of the people" ) is an autonomous constituent country within the Kingdom of
Denmark located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North
America, Greenland has been politically associated with
Europe (specifically Scandinavia and Denmark) for about a
In 1979, Denmark granted home rule
Greenland, with a relationship known in Danish as Rigsfællesskabet
, and in 2008
transfer more competencies to the local government. This became
effective the following year, with the Danish royal government
remaining in charge only of foreign affairs, security and financial
policy, and providing a subsidy of DKK
billion ($633m), or approximately US$11,300 per Greenlander,
Greenland is, by area, the world's largest island
that is not a
continent, as well as the least
densely populated country in the world
. The bedrock in the
center of Greenland has been pressed below sea level by the weight
of the ice sheet, so that if the ice were to melt, much of central
Greenland would be under water.
In prehistoric times
Greenland was home
to several successive Paleo-Eskimo
cultures known primarily through archaeological findings. From
around 2500 BC to 800 BC, southern and western Greenland was
inhabited by the Saqqaq culture
findings of Saqqaq period archaeological remains have been around
. From 2400 BC to 1300 BC the
Independence I culture
existed in northern Greenland. It was a part of the Arctic small tool
Around 800 BC the Saqqaq culture disappeared and the Early Dorset culture
emerged in western Greenland
and the Independence II
in northern Greenland. The Dorset culture was the first
culture to extend throughout the Greenlandic coastal areas, both on
the west and east coasts, and it lasted until the arrival of the
in 1500 AD. The Dorset
culture population lived primarily from whale hunting. The Thule
culture people are the ancestors of the current Greenlandic
population. They started migrating from Alaska around 1000
AD, reaching Greenland around 1300 AD.
The Thule culture was
the first to introduce to Greenland such technological innovations
as dog sleds
and toggling harpoons
AD, Greenland's west coast was colonised by Icelanders and Norwegians in two
settlements on fjords near the
southwestern-most tip of the island.
They shared the island
with the late Dorset culture inhabitants who occupied the northern
and eastern parts, and later with the Thule culture arriving from
the north. The settlements, such as Brattahlið, thrived for centuries but disappeared some time in
the 15th century, perhaps at the onset of the Little Ice Age.
Interpretation of ice
core data suggests that between 800 and 1300 AD the regions around
the fjords of southern Greenland experienced a mild climate, with
trees and herbaceous plants
and livestock being farmed. What is verifiable is that the ice
cores indicate Greenland has experienced dramatic temperature
shifts many times over the past 100,000 years — which makes it
possible to say that areas of Greenland may have been much warmer
during the medieval period than they are now and that the ice sheet
vanished during the 14th and 15th centuries,
probably due to famine
conflicts with the Inuit
. The condition of
human bones from this period indicates that the Norse population
, probably because of
- soil erosion resulting from the
Norsemen's destruction of natural vegetation in the course of
farming, turf-cutting, and wood-cutting,
- a decline in temperatures during the Little Ice Age,
- armed conflicts with the Inuit.
suggests that cultural
practices, such as rejecting fish as a source of food and relying
solely on livestock ill-adapted to Greenland's (deteriorating)
climate, resulted in recurring famine which led to abandonment of
the colony. However, isotope analysis of the bones of inhabitants
shows that marine food sources supplied more and more of the diet
of the Norse
Greenlanders, making up
between 50% and 80% of their diet by the 1300s.
In 1500, King Manuel I of
to Greenland in search of a Northwest Passage
to Asia which, according
to the Treaty of Tordesillas
was part of the Portuguese area of influence. In 1501 Corte-Real
returned with his brother, Miguel
. Finding the Sea frozen, they headed South and
arrived in Labrador and Newfoundland
. It is possible that some
created there in that period, as attested in some maps.
In 1721 a joint mercantile and clerical expedition led by
Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede
was sent to Greenland, not knowing whether a Norse
civilization remained there. The expedition
can be seen as part of the Danish colonization of the
. After 15 years in Greenland, Hans Egede left his son
in charge of the mission in
Greenland and returned to Denmark where he established a Greenland
Seminary. This new colony was centered at Godthåb ("Good Hope") on
the southwest coast. Gradually, Greenland was opened up to Danish
merchants, and closed to those from other countries.
Norway occupied and claimed parts of the then-uninhabited eastern
Greenland (also called Erik the
) in July 1931, claiming that it constituted
. Norway and
Denmark agreed to submit the matter in 1933 to the Permanent Court of
, which decided against Norway.
Greenland's connection to Denmark was severed
on 9 April 1940, early in World War II, when
Denmark was occupied by Germany.
was able to buy goods from the United States and Canada by selling
cryolite from the mine at Ivittuut.
During this war, the system of government
changed: Governor Eske Brun
island under a law of 1925 that allowed governors to take control
under extreme circumstances; Governor Aksel Svane was transferred
to the US to lead the commission to supply Greenland. A sledge
patrol (in 1942, named the Sirius
), guarding the northeastern shores of Greenland using
, detected several German weather
stations and alerted American troops who then destroyed them.
Greenland had been a protected and very isolated society until
1940. The Danish government
which governed Greenland as its colony, had been convinced that
this society would face exploitation from the outside world or even
extinction if the country was opened up. But wartime Greenland
developed a sense of self-reliance through self-government and
independent communication with the outside world.
However, a commission in 1946 (with the highest Greenlandic
council, the Landsrådene, as a participant) recommended patience
and no radical reform of the system. Two years later, the first
step towards a change of government was initiated when a grand
commission was established. A final report (G-50) was presented in
1950: Greenland was to be a modern welfare state with Denmark as
sponsor and example. In 1953, Greenland was made an equal part of
the Danish Kingdom. Home rule
Greenlanders submitted to Norwegian rule in the 13th century, and
the kingdom of Norway entered into a personal union with Denmark in 1380 and
from 1397 as a part of the Kalmar
After the Norse settlements died off, the area
was de facto
controlled by various Inuit
groups; but the Danish government never forgot
or relinquished the claims to Greenland that it had inherited from
the Norwegians, and when contact with Greenland was re-established
in the early 18th century, Denmark asserted its sovereignty over
the island. Eventually, the dependencies of Greenland,
Iceland, and the Faroe Islands became part of the reorganised "Kingdom of Denmark"
after the Napoleonic Wars.
1933, Norway attempted to claim eastern Greenland, but the Permanent Court of
decided that the entire island belonged to Denmark.
the Cold War, the United States developed a geopolitical
interest in Greenland, and in 1946 the United States offered to buy
Greenland from Denmark for $100,000,000, but Denmark refused to
Greenland became an integral part of the Kingdom of Denmark in
was granted home rule by the Parliament
of Denmark in 1979.
The law came into effect on 1 May
1979. The Queen of Denmark
Greenland's Head of State
. In 1985,
Greenland left the European
(EEC) upon achieving self-rule, in view of
the EEC's commercial fishing regulations and a EEC ban on seal
skin products. A referendum on
was approved on 25 November 2008.
Internationally, on 21 June 2009, Greenland assumed
self-determination with responsibility for self-government of
judicial affairs, policing, and natural resources. Also,
Greenlanders were recognized as a separate people under
international law . Denmark maintains control of finances, foreign
affairs, and defense. It is a step towards full independence from
became the official
language of Greenland at the historic ceremony.
, in his Science Fiction
novel "The Chase of the Golden
" (written 1901, published posthumously 1908) envisioned
a future in which Greenland would become a fully sovereign nation
state. However, the independent Greenland depicted in the book is
dominated by Scandinavian settlers and the Inuit relegated to a
Greenland's Head of State is currently Margrethe II
. The Queen's government
in Denmark appoints a Rigsombudsmand
) representing the Danish
government and monarchy.
Greenland has an elected parliament
thirty-one members. The head of
is the Prime
, who is usually the leader of the majority party in
Parliament. The current Prime Minister is Kuupik Kleist
of the realm of the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenlanders elect two
representatives who sit in the Parliament of Denmark.
Greenland left the
European Community (EC), unlike Denmark which
remains a member.
The EC later became the EU
(European Union) when it was renamed and expanded in
scope in 1992. Greenland retains some ties with the EU via Denmark.
However EU law largely does not apply to Greenland except in the
area of trade.
Geography and climate
Geography of Greenland
The average annual temperatures of Nuuk, Greenland vary from -9
degrees Celsius (16 Fahrenheit) to 7 degrees Celsius (45
Ocean borders Greenland's southeast; the Greenland Sea is to the east; the Arctic Ocean is to the north; and Baffin Bay is to the west. The nearest countries
are Iceland, east of
Greenland in the Atlantic Ocean, and Canada, to the west
across Baffin Bay.
Greenland also contains the world's largest national
, and is the world's
and the largest
by area in
the world. However, since the 1950s, scientists have postulated
that the ice sheet covering the country may actually conceal three
separate island land masses that have been bridged by glaciers over
the last geologic cooling
Southeast coast of Greenland
The total area of Greenland is 2,166,086 km² (836,109 sq
mi), of which the Greenland ice
covers 1,755,637 km² (677,676 sq mi) (81%) and
has a volume of approximately . The coastline of Greenland is
39,330 km (24,430 miles) long, about the same length as the
Earth's circumference at the Equator
highest point on Greenland is Mkoliohn
3,859 metres (12,119 ft). However, the majority of Greenland
is under 1,500 metres (5,000 ft) elevation.
The weight of the massive Greenland ice sheet has depressed the
central land area to form a basin lying more than 300 m
(1,000 ft) below sea level. The ice flows
generally to the coast from the
center of the island.
All towns and
settlements of Greenland
are situated along the ice-free coast,
with the population being concentrated along the west coast. The
northeastern part of Greenland is not part of any municipality, but
is the site of the world's largest national park, Northeast Greenland National
four scientific expedition stations and camps had been established
on the ice sheet in the ice-covered central part of Greenland
(indicated as pale blue in the map to the right): Eismitte, North
Ice, North GRIP Camp and The Raven Skiway.
Currently, there is a year-round station,
Camp, on the ice sheet, established in 1989.
station Jørgen Brøndlund Fjord was, until 1950, the northernmost permanent outpost
in the world.
extreme north of Greenland, Peary Land, is not covered by an ice sheet, because the air
there is too dry to produce snow, which is
essential in the production and maintenance of an ice sheet.
View from the air
If the Greenland ice sheet
away completely, the world's sea
level would rise by more than 7 m (23 ft) and Greenland
would most likely become an archipelago
Between 1989 and 1993, U.S. and European climate
researchers drilled into the summit of
Greenland's ice sheet, obtaining a pair of 3 km (2 mi)
long ice cores
. Analysis of the
layering and chemical composition of the cores has provided a
revolutionary new record of climate change in the Northern
Hemisphere going back about 100,000 years, and
illustrated that the world's weather and
temperature have often shifted rapidly
from one seemingly stable state to another, with worldwide consequences.
The glaciers of
Greenland are also contributing to a rise in the global sea level
at a faster rate than was previously believed. Between 1991 and
2004, monitoring of the weather at one location (Swiss Camp) showed
that the average winter temperature had risen almost . Other
research has shown that higher snowfalls from the North Atlantic oscillation
the interior of the ice cap to thicken by an average of
6 cm/yr between 1994 and 2005.
However, a recent study suggests a much warmer planet in relatively
recent geological times:
Scientists who probed two kilometers (1.2 miles)
through a Greenland glacier to recover the oldest plant DNA on
record said that the planet was far warmer hundreds of thousands of
years ago than is generally believed.
DNA of trees, plants and insects including butterflies
and spiders from beneath the southern Greenland glacier was
estimated to date to 450,000 to 900,000 years ago, according to the
remnants retrieved from this long-vanished boreal
That view contrasts sharply with the prevailing one
that a lush forest of this kind could not have existed in Greenland
any later than 2.4 million years ago.
These DNA samples suggest that the temperature probably
reached 10 degrees C (50 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer and -17
°C (1 °F) in the winter.
They also indicate that during the last interglacial
period, 130,000–116,000 years ago, when temperatures were on
average 5 °C (9 °F) higher than now, the glaciers on Greenland did
not completely melt away.
In 1996, the American "Top of the World" expedition found the
world's northernmost island off Greenland: ATOW1996
. An even more northerly candidate was
spotted during the return from the expedition, but its status is
yet to be confirmed.
In 2007, the existence of a "new" island was announced.
Qeqertoq" (English: Warming Island), this island
has always been present off the coast of Greenland, but was covered
by a glacier.
This glacier was discovered in 2002 to be
shrinking rapidly, and by 2007 had completely melted away, leaving
the exposed island. The island was named "Place of the Year" by the
Oxford Atlas of the World in 2007. Ben Keene, the atlas's editor,
commented: "In the last two or three decades, global warming has
reduced the size of glaciers throughout the Arctic and earlier this
year, news sources confirmed what climate scientists already knew:
water, not rock, lay beneath this ice bridge on the east coast of
Greenland. More islets are likely to appear as the sheet of frozen
water covering the world’s largest island continues to melt."
Some controversy surrounds the history of the island, specifically
over whether the island might have been revealed during a brief
warm period in Greenland during the mid-20th century.
The name Greenland
comes from Scandinavian
settlers. In the Icelandic sagas, it is said that
Norwegian-born Erik the Red was exiled
from Iceland for
He, along with his extended family and thralls
, set out in ships
the land that was rumoured to be to the northwest. After settling
there, he named the land ("Greenland") in the hope that the
pleasant name would attract settlers. Greenland was also called
("Ground-land") and (or ) on early maps. Whether green
an erroneous transcription of ("ground"), which refers to shallow
bays, or vice versa, is not known. The southern portion of
Greenland (not covered by glacier) is indeed very green in the
summer and was probably even greener in Erik's time during the
Medieval Warm Period
About 81% of Greenland's surface is covered by the Greenland ice sheet
. The weight of the
ice has depressed the central land area into a basin shape, whose
base lies more than below the surrounding ocean. Elevations rise
suddenly and steeply near the coast.
Greenland today is critically dependent on fishing
fishing industry is by far the largest
income earner. Despite resumption of several interesting hydrocarbon
exploration activities, it will take several years before
hydrocarbon production can materialize. The state oil company
was created in order to help develop
the hydrocarbon industry in Greenland. The state company
Nunamineral has been launched on the Copenhagen Stock Exchange
more capital to increase the production of gold, started in 2007.
Exploitation of ruby
deposits began in 2007.
Other mineral prospects are improving as prices are increasing.
These include uranium
, and copper
The public sector, including publicly owned enterprises and the
municipalities, plays a dominant role in Greenland's economy. About
half the government revenues come from grants from the Danish
Government, an important supplement to the gross domestic product
domestic product per capita is equivalent to that of the weaker
economies of Europe.
Greenland suffered an economic contraction in the early 1990s, but
since 1993 the economy has improved. The Greenland Home Rule
Government (GHRG) has pursued a tight fiscal policy since the late
1980s which has helped create surpluses in the public budget and
low inflation. Since 1990, Greenland has registered a foreign trade
deficit following the closure of the last remaining lead
mine that year. More
recently, new sources of ruby
in Greenland have
been discovered promising to bring new industry and a new export to
the country. (See Greenland
Air transportation exists both within Greenland and between the
island and other nations. There is also scheduled boat traffic, but
the long distances lead to long travel times and low frequency.
There are no roads between cities because the coast has many
that would require ferry service to
connect a road network.
Kangerlussuaq Airport on the West coast is the major airport of Greenland
and the hub for domestic flights. Intercontinental
flights connect mainly to Copenhagen. In May 2007, Air
Greenland initiated a seasonal route to and from Baltimore in the United States, but on March 10, 2008, the route was cancelled due
to financial losses. Air Iceland will
begin operating a twice-weekly Keflavík-Ilulissat route in July 2009. In addition to these
routes there are scheduled international flights between Narsarsuaq and Copenhagen, between Kulusuk on the east coast and Reykjavík, and between Nuuk and Keflavík.
transport is served by the coastal ferries
operated by Arctic Umiaq Line
has only one round trip per week, taking 80 hours per
Greenland has a population of 57,600 (July 2009 estimate), of whom
88% are Inuit
or mixed Danish
and Inuit. The remaining 12% are of
Danish. The majority of the population is Evangelical Lutheran
. Nearly all
Greenlanders live along the fjords
south-west of the main island, which has a relatively mild
have been used in public affairs
since the establishment of home rule in 1979, and the majority of
the population speak both languages. Greenlandic, spoken by about
50,000 people, some monolingual
the sole official language in June 2009. A minority of Danish
migrants with no Inuit
ancestry speak Danish
as their first, or only, language,
and Danish, which was formerly one of the official languages, now
remains a language of higher education. English
is widely spoken as a third
language. The country has a 100% literacy rate.
The Greenlandic language is the most populous of the languages of
family and it has as many speakers as all the other languages of
the family combined. Within Greenland, three main dialects are
recognized: the northern dialect Inuktun or
Avanersuarmiutut, spoken by around 1000 people in the
region of Qaanaaq, Western Greenlandic or Kalaallisut, which serves as the official
standard language, and the Eastern dialect Tunumiit oraasiat or Tunumiutut,
spoken in eastern Greenland.
The culture of Greenland has much in common with Inuit
tradition, as the majority of people are
descended from Inuit. People continue the Inuit tradition of
and there are annual
dog-sled races. Fishing by traditional methods has been
increasingly replaced by the use of firearms and modern
, is the national sport
of Greenland.In January 2007, Greenland took part in the World Men's Handball
in Germany, finishing 22nd in a field of 24
Greenland competes in the biennial Island Games
, as well
as the biennial Arctic Winter
Also golf is a very popular sport in Greenland.
Calder's World Island Info
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Revision Population Database
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Mackenzie Brown, Archaeological Institute of America,
February 28, 2000
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Greenland. Europhysics news.
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Than Scientists Expected"
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- U.S. Climate Emergency Council: "Greenland's Ice Sheet Is Slip-Sliding
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- Alley, 2000
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thicker The Register
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Environment — Independent.co.uk
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Sögur. Reykjavik: Sigurður Kristjánsson, 1891. p. 10,
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national guide by Greenland Tourism and Business Council
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The Official Tourism and Business Site of Greenland
- Effective on 21 June
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Climate Change, and Our Future. Princeton University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-691-00493-5.
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beskrivelse af Ívar Bárðarson (Ivar Bårdssön)", (Copenhagen,
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variability and trends along the western slope of the Greenland Ice
Sheet during 1991-2004," Proceedings of the 85th American
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Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0810850583
- General information