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Greenland

As part of the Kingdom of Denmark, the country of Greenland began its long road to independence with the expected mineral, oil and gas boom that is expected to occur in the first half of the twenty-first century. Greenland has been inhabited for almost five thousand years, with the main colonization of the worlds largest island taking place under the arrival of Norwegian people in the tenth century. The earliest known inhabitants of the island arrived from the frozen regions of modern day Canada, Inuit people also made their way to Greenland in the thirteenth century and brought their own way of life with them, which is under threat with the continuing problem of global warming leading to a reduction in Greenland's large ice sheet. Despite the problems of global warming affecting the traditional way of life in Greenland, the opportunity to search for minerals and fossil fuels as the Arctic ice melts around Greenland is expected to provide an economic windfall for the nation.

Geography

By McKay Savage from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Greenland is the worlds largest island, which is largely barren and free of trees and vegetation. The majority of the island is covered by the second largest ice sheet in the world, and the largest outside of the Antarctic. Because of the shortage of natural resources found in Greenland throughout its history the country has remained largely free of immigrants with small pockets of people found on the coastline of over forty four thousand kilometers. The ice sheet covering the central body of the island does not allow the growth of trees and vegetation, with the only forested area found in the south of the country close to Cape Farewell. As the majority of the country is covered by a large ice sheet the land beneath is thought to be flat, with the ice covering the country holding around one tenth of the fresh water found in the world. Colonized areas of Greenland are found on the coastline, which contains a large number of mountains and barren land interspersed with small settlements and towns. Greenland is one of the oldest pieces of land on the planet, with the oldest known rocks in the world found in the country, dating back to over 3.7 billion years in age. Despite being a part of the continent of North America, the country has remained largely linked to Europe through its close cultural and political links to the Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Norway.

Early History

In periods of pre-history the country known as Greenland was inhabited by a large number of early Eskimo tribes and cultures, the first archaeologically discovered Eskimo cultures are thought to date back to around 2500 BC. A series of Eskimo cultures inhabited parts of the island laying between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, before the Independence II culture expanded along the coastal regions of the country. Before the Thule people took control of Greenland around 1500 AD the population began to rely on whale hunting off the coastal waters for survival.

Norse Rule

The links between Greenland and Scandinavian countries are thought to have begun towards the end of the tenth century, colonists from Iceland and Norway are thought to have arrived and created settlements in Greenland sometime around 986 AD. The majority of Norse settlements in Greenland at this point in history were focused on the west coast, with a largely peaceful period beginning with the Inuit people living alongside the Scandinavian colonists. In the thirteenth century, the Norse people of Greenland accepted Norwegian rule and remained successful as colonists up to their disappearance in the fifteenth century. Most historians claim the colonies in Greenland were eliminated with the onset of the Little Ice Age that lowered temperatures in the Arctic throughout the fifteenth century. Archaeologists have found a number of colonists bones that show signs of an escalation of violence with the Inuit people of Greenland and signs of starvation.

Danish Exploration

The fate of the colonists in Greenland remained a mystery as links with Scandinavia were lost in the fifteenth century as the Greenland colonies died out. Despite being claimed by Danish people, the country of Greenland remained under the control of Inuit people after the fifteenth century until 1721 when a joint economic and religious exploration party arrived from Denmark and Norway under the leadership of Hans Egede. As the countries of Scandinavia looked to expand their economic ties to America, the importance of Greenland as a stopping point on the way to and from the New World was seen. The colony of Good Hope on the south west coast of Greenland became the center of Danish colonization, with a seminary founded at the town under the leadership of Egede's son Paul.

Danish Rule

Norway and Denmark remained in joint control of Greenland until the onset of World War II, when Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany. With the partnership between the crowns Norway and Denmark being severed in 1814, the Norwegians remained in control of an uninhabited area of the island on the eastern region of the country. The threat of invasion by Nazi Germany prompted the US to invade and occupy Greenland in April 1941 to protect itself from the threat of German troops advancing across the Atlantic to North America. Remaining in occupation in Greenland throughout World War II, the US promoted the idea of home rule for the country and led to the gradual opening of trade between Greenland and countries outside the monopoly held by the Danish government.

Self Government

At the end of World War II the government of Denmark was returned to power over its own country and its colonies, including Greenland. US control had seen a large increase in interest in self government by the people of Greenland, and a breaking of the monopoly on trade held by the Danish government. As Greenland is actually part of the continent of North America, the US government offered to purchase Greenland from Denmark in an offer refused by the Royal Government of Denmark. Radical changes were not made to the governance of Greenland at the end of World War II, instead a slow process of reform to a modern welfare state system under the sponsorship of the Danish government was undertaken. It was not until 1953 that Greenland was given rights as an equal member of the Danish lands and no longer classified as a colony of the European country. Initially classed as an amt, or county of Denmark the country of Greenland was given the status of autonomous governance in 1979.

Despite being granted home rule in 1979 the country of Greenland remained closely linked in political and economic terms to Denmark into the twenty-first century. Greenland followed Denmark into trade and political agreements with the European community in 1973, and later followed Denmark out of the EEC in 1985. Despite the move to independence for Greenland, the Danish monarch remains the head of state of Greenland and local government is carried out in the name of the monarch. In 2009, the three counties of Greenland were disbanded and a new system of four municipalities were created, which are known as Much Ice, South, Center, and Darkness. Because of the close ties to Denmark the people of Greenland are given two seats in the Danish parliament to ensure their issues and needs are presented to the Danish government.

Funding

Because of the isolated nature of Greenland, and the Arctic to sub-Arctic temperatures and climate of the country the growth of industry has been slow in Greenland. Without a large amount of industrial growth, and a reliance on agriculture, fishing and whale hunting to fund its economy Greenland has remained reliant on funding from the Danish government for survival and growth. At the dawn of the twenty-first century the arrival of many mineral, oil and gas companies interested in exploring the mining potential of Greenland led to a decision to gradually decrease the funding and sponsorship of Denmark until the island becomes fully independent in a number of decades. This decrease in Danish funding will reduce the amount of monetary sponsorship from around half of the Greenland economy over the coming years. Greenland has an elected Prime Minister who oversees the political direction of the country and its more than fifty-six thousand inhabitants from the capital city, Nuuk.

Future Exploration

As the world's least densely populated country, Greenland has remained free of large scale industrialization. With the majority of the population living in the fjord lined region to the south west of the country the remainder of the island is now free to be explored for minerals, gas and oil. The first exploration for oil was completed by the Scottish company Cairn Energy in 2011, which failed to discover any major oil or gas deposits in a bay off the west coast of the island. The expansion of global warming to reduce the icecaps has seen agreements signed with a large number of mineral exploration companies to mine for diamonds and gold within Greenland, bringing industrialization and an expected population boom in coming decades. Future oil field exploration is expected to focus on the region off the north east coast of Greenland, where the population is low, and the geography and climate making survival difficult. With over 88 percent of the population of Inuit descent the increase in industrialization and mineral exploration is expected is expected to reduce the reliance on the traditional lifestyle of Greenlanders.

Environmental Issues

The ice sheet, which covered the majority of Greenland until the recent melting caused by an increase in average global temperature made the country largely uninhabitable and difficult to explore for mineral and fossil fuel deposits. With a large number of industries now exploring Greenland for its possible industrial uses the protection of the land and its animals has become a major source of concern for the inhabitants of the country and environmental groups. Amongst those looking at Greenland for future expansion are aluminum producers, who are exploring the use of the fjords and rivers of the country for their hydro-electrical production opportunities for refineries that could be placed on the world's largest island. Problems are facing many of the animals found on land in Greenland, such as the polar bear and Arctic fox, which are having their natural environments reduced by melting icecaps and ice sheets. With the majority of the labor needed to operate proposed aluminum smelters and any future oil and gas exploration and refining projects being brought into Greenland from other countries many environmental experts fear Greenland's nature will be sacrificed for short term economic gain.

Culture

The people of Greenland speak both Greenlandic and Danish, with the West Greenlandic dialect dominant amongst the majority of the population. Education on the island has provided a current 100 percent literacy rate, with Danish used as the official administrative language of the country. Culture in the country combines traditional Inuit and Scandinavian elements to form a unique culture. Scandinavian elements are found in the official sports of Greenland, which are soccer and handball.

Economy

The economy of Greenland is made up of agricultural enterprises and publicly owned companies dominate the current economy of Greenland. Until the end of the Second World War the Danish government maintained a monopoly on trade with Greenland, once broken the links between Greenland and the US grew along with links with other NATO countries during the Cold War. The creation of a US air force base for NATO defense in the 1960s expanded trade ties with the US and prompted trade with other European countries within Europe. The main exports from Greenland are based around fishing products and whale based products, other areas of growth have been in the growing economic areas of textiles and the farming of reindeer and foraged crops. The short lived tourist industry within Greenland did not survive beyond the first decade of the twenty-first century, after finding a foothold in the 1990s tourist move to non traditional vacation destinations. The small number of flights available through Air Greenland to Kangerlussuaq Airport on the west side of the island has driven up the cost of air travel to the island and seen the number of flights decrease since 2008.

Islands | Travel | Denmark | Polar Regions


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