Greenland

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Illusiat map1 Camp CenturyFlora and Fauna DEW (Distance Early Warning) Line Flora and FaunaWildlife Greenland's cultural history International Geophysical Year (IGY) International Geophysical Year (IGY) Biploar investigations Cold War Field Stations

Greenland or Kalaallisut (Kalaallit Nunaat meaning “Land of the Kalaallit people”) is an a partially-independent country, having been granted Home Rule by Denmark in 1979, although it remains part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but is actively perusing independence. Interestingly, Greenlanders are recognised as an independent people under international law (2009) and left the EU in 1985 because of EEC ban on seal products and regulation on fishing rights. Archaeological records indicate that Inuit had inhabited Greenland since 2500BC, but it was colonised by the Danish in the 18th Century and Denmark continues to remain in charge of foreign affairs, security and financial policy in return for subsidies from the Danish government for Greenlanders. Recently there have been moves by Greenlanders to assert Inuit sovereignty over the region.

Geographically, Greenland is the world’s largest island that is not a continent and it is the least densely populated country in the world. This is mainly due to the large ice sheet covering most of the island (81%), which includes an estimated 2,850,000 cubic kilometres of ice. Most of the settlements are situated along the ice-free coast, although scientists (and historically, militarists) have occupied the interior of the ice sheet for periods of time. The Americans Army Corps of Engineers even built a whole city called “Camp Century” with a nuclear reactor (for electricity) under the ice during the Cold War (the facility was occupied from 1959-1966). This project was a feasibility pilot for a larger proposed project, “Operation Ice worm”, which intended to build a mobile nuclear missile station under the Greenland icecap that would be able to launch missile attacks on the Soviets should North America become strategically “untenable.” The polar field station (both military and civilian) has been crucial to the development of the science of climate change and some of the first ice cores where taken at Camp Century and other stations along the Dew Line (Distant Early Warning)¹ that were positioned on Greenland’s ice cap.

The Greenland ice cap, 1.7 million km2 in area, is the only remnant in the Northern Hemisphere of the continental ice sheets of the last Quaternary Ice Age. The icecap formed during the Middle and Late Pleistocene over a once temperate landscape, the south central part of which drained through large rivers to Disko Bugt, still marked as channels under the ice and submarine troughs. The ice cap's oldest ice is estimated to be 250,000 years old, maintained by the annual accumulation of snow matched by loss through calving and melting at the margins. The icecap holds a detailed record of past climatic change and atmospheric conditions (in trapped air bubbles) for this entire length of time, and shows that during the last ice age the climate fluctuated between extreme cold and warmer periods.

¹ The DEW Line’s mission was the detection and early warning reporting of airbourne vehicles over the polar regions. Built in 1956 (a year prior to the International Geophysical Year) the system was in continuous operation and spanned 3,600 miles from Alaska to Greenland and included 31 remote radar stations.


University of ExeterJISCGeography Earth and Environmental SciencesC-Change

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