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There is a lot happening on the polar front these days, not least in the Arctic where climate change is giving us notice of a new era. In Greenland, modern society is knocking on the door in earnest with city life, the consumer society, extraction of raw materials, environmental problems, new shipping routes, etc., while the old hunting profession, the biodiversity and the indigenous way of life are all under pressure. In this new iPad edition, Polar Front presents a series of articles that paint a kaleidoscopic picture of some of the Danish and Greenlandic research activities that are currently unfolding in Greenland. You will find articles on a wide range of research projects within society, biology, geology, glaciology, health and history. These articles are clips from the Danish-language, popular science e-magazine, Polarfronten, which since 2012 has been published by the Greenland Company and, before that, was for many years the magazine of the now-closed Danish Polar Center. The e-magazine Polarfronten is published four times a year ( and aims to tell the news from the world of research for scientists, students, politicians, the press and all those interested in research and Greenland in an understandable and concise manner. We hope you will enjoy this iPad magazine and would ask you to circulate it further if you find it to be of value. This edition has been made possible with the support of the Danish Energy Agency, and we expect that it will be followed in 2015 by an edition which will bring together articles from the 2014 editions of Polarfronten. Happy reading Poul-Erik Philbert, Editor

CONTENT Giant Canyon under Ice Sheet

New Research Station in the North

in the Service of the Colony A Long Way to the Altar

A Geological POMPEII

Caught in a Trap Many Young People Attempt Suicide

Giants of the Arctic Ocean

Fewer insects in North-East Greenland

The Unknown Whale At the Ice Edge

Hazardous Substances in Everyday Life

Settlements not a Burden

From the Archive of the Arctic Institute

Life at the Edge

Settlements with a Future POLAR FRONT - SCIENCE NEWS FROM THE ARCTIC Published by: The Greenlandic Society 102 Strandgade, 1401 Copenhagen, Denmark. Tel.: +45 3026 8090.

Editorial board: Einar Lund Jensen, responsible under the press law Poul-Erik Philbert, editor. Uffe Wilken, journalist


Translation: David Young, Instant English

Design & App: Spagat designstudio & Cadpeople A/S

GIANT CANYON under the Ice Sheet Deep beneath the Greenland ice sheet runs the world’s longest canyon for over 750 kilometres (466 miles). It has been discovered through analysis of radar data from aircraft and provides scientists with important information about the great ice sheet.


ajor discoveries are not at an end. At all events, the Earth’s longest canyon has now been found. This is evident from the results that a project from Bristol University has published in the journal Science.

750 kilometres long Rationally speaking, it cannot come as any surprise that it has taken so long. The giant canyon is deep under the ice sheet, where it winds its way from central Greenland - not far from the highest point in the ice, more than three kilometres above it - at least 750 kilometres (about 466 miles) northwards to where it ends in the Arctic Ocean through Petermann Fjord. The canyon begins in some high ground, where it is about 200 metres (656 ft.) deep, but goes down to a depth of about 800 metres (2,625 ft.) on its way north. For most of its length, it is 10 kilometres (6 miles) wide. One can imagine that the canyon must have been created by a river that ran through what is now Greenland until the ice began putting its clammy paw over it at least 3.5 million years ago.

Gossip from Radio Waves The scientists haven’t just stumbled over the hidden canyon. They have taken advantage of the tremendous amount of data that has been painstakingly collected from aircraft over several decades. But new data from NASA’s ongoing Operation IceBridge, which is the largest aerial survey ever in the polar regions, have in particular given scientists valuable data with the level of detail required to map the features at the bottom of the ice sheet.

Effective drainage Scientists believe that the discovery of the hidden canyon may help to explain why the ice sheet, unlike in the Antarctic, doesn’t contain large glacial lakes trapped under the ice. The major canyons function as drainage when meltwater arises, thereby preventing large volumes of water from accumulating. The discharge of meltwater into the sea through the giant canyon also prevents meltwater seeping out

The scientists haven’t just stumbled over the hidden canyon. They have taken advantage of the tremendous amount of data that has been painstakingly collected from aircraft over several decades.

evenly under the ice and lubricating the bottom of the ice sheet. This means that a brake is put on the movement of the ice and that the ice sheet is more stable and doesn’t slide into the sea so quickly in a climate with rising temperatures. According to the Danish Meteorological Institute, the newly discovered giant canyon has also explained some deep, carved-out grooves on the underside of the Petermann Glacier. It was originally thought that the grooves had been melted by the warmer sea water, but there is now much to suggest that they have more likely been created by meltwater draining through the giant canyon from the interior of the ice sheet and out through the Petermann Fjord.

No more surprises The scientists responsible for the discovery of the giant canyon don’t think that there will be any new surprises of the same scale emerging from under the ice sheet in the future. The bottom of the ice sheet base has now been too well mapped for that to happen. In the Antarctic, on the other hand, there may be a lot concealed since the area is 10 times the size of Greenland and not particularly well surveyed. Poul-Erik Philbert

Paleofluvial Mega-Canyon Beneath the Central Greenland Ice Sheet

Operation IceBridge

The 750 kilometre-long (466 miles) canyon reaches a depth of 800 metres (about 2,625 ft.) on its way to its mouth in North Greenland.

New Research Station in the North

During the summer of 2014, a brand new, ultra-modern Arctic research station has shot up at the lonely Station Nord in the far north of Greenland. 250 tons of cargo - a wonderful mixture of building materials, snowmobiles, research equipment, rifles, signs for toilet doors, feminine hygiene dispensers, designer lamps, good films on DVD, vacuum cleaners and potato peelers - were brought from Denmark in July, via Longyearbyen on Svalbard, to the remote North Greenland military camp, Station Nord. By the end of August, a ready-made research station was finished, comprising a 350m2 laboratory and accommodation building, a workshop and storage building and a building for studying the atmosphere. The facilities will eventually also include a so-called ‘clean air’ laboratory, two kilometres outside Station Nord and a mobile station, which can be packed up and used for various expeditions in areas far from Station Nord. The new station not only provides space for Aarhus University’s present measurements of air pollution in the region, which until now have been carried out in a modest shed, but makes it possible to track how climate change is affecting the ice and the plant and animal life in the whole of the Arctic region. The station will be run by the Arctic Research Centre at Aarhus University and they expect that interest in using the station will also be broad internationally. Not only does the station provide access to a unique area of Arctic research, but it also makes it feasible to come to a previously inaccessible and economically and logistically demanding region. The new research station has been named the Villum Research Station, after the Villum Foundation which has donated DKK 70.5 million (ca. USD 12m) to the establishment, and it will be operated by the Arctic Research Centre at Aarhus University. The station will be open to both Danish and foreign researchers and it is expected that in the future about 100 researchers a year will visit.

Photo: Stephan Bernberg

Villum Research Station

Henrik Skov, Arctic Research Centre, Aarhus University

GIANTS OF THE ARCTIC OCEAN Filming underwater makes demands on both photographers and equipment. Filming underwater in the Arctic, where unforeseen challenges appear both above and in the water, demands even more. Shooting a film of bowhead whales was no exception.


mid-September, Loke Film’s nature drama ‘Giants of the Arctic Ocean’ had its first performance on the Danish TV channel DR1. The film had been in the pipeline for five years and presented very different challenges from the start for the film’s director, Adam Schmedes – from getting the finance for it during the financial crisis to hungry polar bears in Canada. The Polar Front has spoken to Adam Schmedes and underwater photographer Mikkel Lund Schmedes about filming one of the giants of the Arctic seas the Bowhead whale.

A living witness to 200 years of human history Where did the idea to make a film about the bowhead whale come from? Adam Schmedes: The idea came when I was in Alaska, where I saw skeletons of bowhead whales on the beach. I was amazed at the structure of the skeletons - they didn’t look like other whales. The head was enormous! One evening, I was invited to a whale feast by the local Inuit. They told me a story about catching and flensing a whale in 1998. Deep down in the blubber, they found a harpoon head of the type that their ancestors used 150 years ago. So that meant the whale must have been alive for at least 150 years. This was when I realised that here was a great story waiting to be revealed. Here, at the furthest edge of our world, we had a witness to human civilisation throughout 200 years in which everything has changed. When I got this witness from the Arctic that could tell me how it had registered the changes, I thought it was incredibly interesting and a pioneering mission. What practical challenges did you encounter? Adam Schmedes: On the east coast of Canada, there was always a problem going ashore because of polar bears. We saw bears on land where there was absolutely no ice - bears which had to survive on nothing. They were so stressed that every time we sent a diver into the water, they jumped in too because they were hoping to get him as compensation for a seal. They also approached us when we went ashore. There was

nothing else to do except film with a man with a gun constantly at the ready. Otherwise, we had to quickly get the rubber dinghy up on the ship, from which we could not go far.

Struck by ... a deep fascination A bowhead whale can grow up to 20 metres (about 65 ft.) long and weigh up to 100 metric tons (about 220,000 pounds). How did the divers experience filming these giants? Mikkel Lund Schmedes: Before we went down to the whales for the first time, we had talked a lot about the need to be really careful. The whales’ tail flukes can knock you out if you get hit. If you’re lying alone in the cold water and lose consciousness, you’re really in trouble. So we chose to have surface marker buoys attached to us, so at least we wouldn’t sink to the bottom. This, in turn, created a risk that the line could get caught on the whales, so it had to be of a type that we could get rid of in a hurry. Quite soon our concerns changed though; instead of being afraid of getting too close, we were, on the contrary, battling to get really

About the film A bowhead whale can be over 200 years old. It lives the whole of its long life in the Arctic. Giants of the Arctic Ocean is a unique documentary in which the bowhead whale’s secret underwater world is successfully filmed for the first time. The film follows the life of a whale over more than 200 years. The little wrinkled baby whale. The first mating. The bloody whaling of the 1800s in which thousands of bowhead whales were killed and which didn’t stop until almost all the whales had been wiped out. In 1935, the bowhead whale was the first animal in the world to be protected, but today the whale lives a stressful life with more and more noise in the ocean and it is suffering from climate change.

close in, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to get the pictures in the turbid waters.

How were you received by the whales? Mikkel Lund Schmedes: We started in Disko Bay where the whales couldn’t really be bothered with us. They swam off and dived when they saw us. In Igloolik in Canada, we had a different experience. When we were floating inside the holes in the ice, it was as if they suddenly became curious about who we were. So they lay there looking at us. We could go down to them here, and they seemed cautious but without being scared. Sometimes we were less than a metre from them could stretch out an arm and pat them. We chose not to do so - none of this ‘hi there’ or stroke them or some other mystical thing. We tried to keep the distance that they let us come in to. Did you feel threatened at any point? Mikkel Lund Schmedes: There was one time when a large whale approached and I was right where it couldn’t see me. It came straight towards me, and I thought, It’s going to hit me in a minute. I moved a little to the side, it saw my movements and then did all it could to turn away and not hit me. I felt that if it hadn’t seen me, it would have been like being run over. But it wasn’t threatening in the sense that it wanted to harm me. If it had hit me, it would have been an accident. It has consistently been our understanding that the whales at no point wanted to harm us. They haven’t gone after us or pushed us or tried to hit us ... rather the opposite. How did you feel when it tried to avoid hitting you? You were surely in its slipstream? Your pulse is racing when you’re in so close and something is about to happen, but I was quickly struck by a deep fascination with the reaction I’d seen. Of course, I was in a swirl of bubbles from its tail, but it had rotated along its full length and turned in a way I never

thought possible for a whale of that size. It suddenly became super agile.

Caught in a trap It wasn’t only the animals that could present the film crew with serious problems. Mikkel Lund Schmedes remembers an episode: We were filming in a location where a whale had earlier been. Suddenly, ice floes came drifting in, closing very quickly up against the other ice. I had a safety line on which got stuck, but I just managed to free it. I was close to getting jammed in the ice that was moving. I only got free because, on that occasion, I was in snorkelling equipment and could quickly get up on the ice. It was like a trap snapping shut everything suddenly happened really fast.

Curious bowhead whales Could you sense some form of communication between you and the whales? Mikkel Lund Schmedes: When we were with some young whales, we had the experience of them taking it in turns to stick their heads out close to us, and one coming to give a piece of seaweed to Martin. He took hold of it and then the whale let go. That’s also a form of communication, isn’t it? Adam Schmedes: There was one location where I had seen a spout. It was a hole in the ice about the size of a table where the ice was very thin. I set myself up here with my camera. Then a whale comes up through the thin ice and is curious. It lies a little on the side and looks at me. Two minutes later it comes back with another whale, which apparently should also see what was standing on the ice. So they’re both looking at me. You think to yourself, it’s so human - it’s certainly something you recognise. Also, the fact that they can seemingly fetch another whale to show it that there’s a ‘strange seal’ up on the ice. But is it communication? It is certainly curiosity. Uffe Wilken

The team in Greenland in 2011: From the left, Jesper Kikkenborg, Martin MacNaughton, Adam Schmedes, Mikkel Lund Schmedes. Two of the team’s five divers, Birgitta Mueck and Søren Petersen, were not on this trip.

Adam Schmedes

At the


Three biologists from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, together with four hunters from Qaanaaq, spent this summer in fieldwork in North Water, an open water area between Canada and North-West Greenland. There is an abundant and varied wildlife here and the goal was to tag walruses and narwhals and to record the species of the birds that lived at the edge of the ice.


find ourselves on the edge of what is possible! About 100 kilometres to the south, the human occupation of Greenland ends in the form of the world’s most northerly settlement, Siorapaluk, populated by 42 souls. We are in North Water - one of Greenland’s most important marine areas - and, in regions where fieldwork is usually carried out with large research vessels as logistic platforms, we have chosen to do our work in a ‘low-tech Inuit style’. Along with four hunters from Qaanaaq and the same number of open 19-foot dinghies, we have set course towards the northern edge of the ice in North Water. In June, the ice-edge extended from Greenland to Canada at about 79 degrees North. Our trip here has only been possible because fuel depots had already been laid out last autumn to ensure sufficient fuel for the boats for the long trip north. The hunters and their dinghies don’t however act only as a means of transportation. We are heavily dependent on the hunters’ knowledge if the fieldwork is to be a success.

One tagged narwhal ‘We’ covers three biologists from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. Mads Peter HeideJørgensen, a senior researcher, and Nynne Hjort Nielsen, a PhD student, both have extensive experience with marine mammals in Greenland, while my area of work is birds. Equipped with satellite transmitters, we have set out from Qaanaaq, heading north to tag walruses and narwhals. We are reasonably confident that we will get to meet a walrus on our trip. Right now, conditions are optimal, and the tons-heavy animals usually live in the drift ice at this time of the year. On the other hand, tagging a narwhal with a satellite transmitter from the edge of the ice must be regarded as something of a pilot project. The species has previously been caught in nets and tagged with transmitters in Greenland, but that has been done in late summer and on a flat, sandy beach. Just being able to tag a single narwhal from the edge of the ice and thereby meeting our criterion of success is entirely due

Photos: Carsten Egevang

to us being accompanied by some of Qaanaaq’s most experienced and enterprising hunters. Through their lifelong experience of how to conduct oneself in some of the world’s most inhospitable areas and how to decode the behaviour of our prey, we manage to capture a young narwhal. Equipped with a satellite transmitter, it will now tell researchers at the Institute about seasonal migration between Greenlandic and Canadian parts of the Arctic.

Tagging with old hunting methods Walruses are more numerous in the area. Overall, we see about 150 animals during our trip, which accounts for a substantial proportion of the estimated total population for North Water. Unlike the narwhals, the walruses turn out not to be very shy. At this time of the year, the walrus herds we meet consist primarily of females with calves and they show little fear of human beings. The hunters’ knowledge again comes to our aid. The tagging of walruses is done by using the dinghy to try and ‘sneak’ up close to the animals while they are resting on ice floes. From here, a harpoon with a satellite transmitter attached is thrown into the neck of the walrus, after which a small barb ensures that the transmitter stays fixed. In this way, we are using exactly the same method as when the hunters themselves hunt walruses. In this case, a walrus is always harpooned before being shot, as there is a great risk that it would sink otherwise. For the hunters in Qaanaaq, the harpoon is an important tool which is designed according to personal preferences. Thus, the individual hunters’ harpoons are not alike and it was necessary to ‘invent’ an adapter for the fieldwork so the satellite transmitter could be fitted to the hunters’ personal harpoons regardless of choice of material and thickness.

Abundant bird life The work with the marine mammals was the primary goal of the fieldwork, but the trip also had the goal of describing which bird species make use of the region at

the edge of the ice at this time of year. Summer comes late to the Qaanaaq area and bird surveys don’t usually take place until around mid-July to mid-August, when the sea birds are raising their young. And the bird life at the edge of the ice is abundant and varied! All the way from Greenland to the Canadian coast, the transition zone between land-fast ice and open water features many birds. The most numerous are long-tailed ducks and king eiders, both of which are species that do not breed on the coast, but in small

A young narwhal male has been caught in nets from the edge of the ice in North Water and gets a satellite transmitter attached. Capturing a narwhal in a 40-meter broad net in the world’s largest polynia requires, apart from a certain amount of luck, incredible amounts of patience. The hunters’ knowledge of animal ehaviour proved to be invaluable.

One of the characteristic birds at the edge of the ice in North Water is the Ivory Gull.

inland lakes. In June, the lakes on the fells are still frozen though and the birds are waiting at the edge of the ice. At this point, pairing among the king eiders has already taken place and all the observed birds were sexually mature birds probably waiting for the breeding grounds to become available. The fabled Arctic gull species, the Ivory Gull, is common in the area along the edge of the ice, as is the Long-tailed Skua (Jaeger) and the Pomarine Skua (Jaeger). The latter two species don’t breed in the Qaanaaq area, but make use of North Water at this time of year. At the edge of the ice, a few Sabine’s Gulls are foraging - yet another species with distribution limited to the High Arctic region.

Somewhat surprisingly, our visit to the area at the edge of the ice showed that the numerically dominant species of bird in North Water, the Little Auk, was present in only relatively small numbers. In the southern part of North Water, the species is present n the millions, and the water surface in some places appears to be totally alive with the multitude of birds, but at the edge of the ice, only a few thousand birds were observed. Probably a result of the fact that even the northernmost Little Auk colonies in North Water are too far away in relation to the birds’ foraging range. Carsten Egevang

The Little Auk and North Water No other species is more characteristic of North Water than the Little Auk. The Little Auk is present here in enormous quantities and its way of life reflects a highly specialised adaptation to the short, hectic High Arctic summer. The Little Auk’s diet consists almost entirely of two species of water fleas (copepods), which in turn are present in the water column in abundance in the biologically highly productive polynia. The Little Auk colonies are found on land and amount to hundreds of thousands, in some places millions, of breeding pairs. How many Little Auks here are in North Water is impossible to count, but an extrapolation from the breeding density to the expanse of the colonies would indicate that between 30 and 70 million pairs is realistic, making the Little Auk the most numerous sea bird in the world. Furthermore, the Little Auk has a rare ability to dominate the terrestrial landscape. The large number of birds gathered in the colonies transport nutrients from sea to land through their droppings and the vegetation near the colonies is particularly abundant. Thus, musk ox, reindeer and Arctic hare are all especially frequent visitors around the Little Auk colonies.

Carsten Egevang, Greenland Institute of Natural Resources

See photos from the expedition

Photo: Carsten Egevang

Hazardous Substances In Everyday Life The people of Nuuk have higher concentrations of PFCs in their bodies than people in remote areas of Greenland. At the same time, it has now been established that pollution caused by persistent substances does not, as previously, only come from the traditional diet, but is related to our modern lifestyle.


has been known for a long time that the traditional Greenlandic diet of seal, whale and polar bear, contains pollutants such as mercury, cadmium and lead and persistent organic pollutants, the so-called POPs. They are carried to the Arctic even from remote places on Earth, enter the marine food chain and eventually end up on the Greenlanders’ dining tables.

While the persistent toxins were previously found almost exclusively in seals, polar bears and other marine mammals, perfluorinated toxins can be found in a wide range of products in daily life.

Research has shown that many of these substances can be dangerous to humans and animals, and over the years, international agreements have been entered into that have eliminated the worst substances in production. So some have disappeared or are on their way out of the environment, while on the other hand new ones are appearing.

A high level of PFC Among the newer substances are those known as perfluorinated compounds, PFCs (see box), which are used in many of the products that we use every day. These perfluorinated compounds have been found in blood samples everywhere on Earth. In the Arctic in the period from 1982 to 2006, increasing concentrations were measured in ringed seals and polar bears. In contrast, it is not until now that we have become certain about how much PFC the Greenlandic population is carrying around in their bodies. Scientists at the Centre for Arctic Health at Aarhus University, using blood samples from 10 Greenlandic districts, have been studying PFC levels in Greenlanders. Overall, the study shows that the content of perfluorinated compounds is very similar to that found in the United States and Europe, that it is slightly higher than in the rest of the Arctic, and that the level is higher in men than in women. “But we can also see that there are far fewer perfluorinated compounds in the blood of people out in the settlements than in Nuuk, where we have found levels very similar to those in Denmark and the U.S.A.,” says Professor Eva Bonefeld-Jørgensen, who is the leader of the Centre for Arctic Health.

PFC in many products The study also shows that the harmful substances come from sources other than the traditional marine diet. In the settlements, the scientists have indeed found a significant association between the traditional diet and, not just the old toxins, but also the new perfluorinated compounds. But in Nuuk, the picture is different. “With the Greenlandic population in Nuuk, we can see that the perfluorinated compounds don’t only

Continued dissemination Perfluorinated compounds are very persistent and accumulate both in the environment and in organisms. The compounds are therefore found in animals, birds and humans and in the remotest areas of the world. Unlike environmental pollutants such as PCBs and dioxins, the accumulation occurs not in adipose tissue, but in the organs, mainly in the liver and kidneys. The compounds are increasingly being linked with various hormone-disrupting effects in humans and are suspected of being carcinogenic. Although production of perfluorinated substances today is essentially being phased out and banned in the western world, the dissemination continues because large quantities are still being produced in China. Polyfluorinated compounds occur in a lot of furniture and carpets, but also in the popular Gore-Tex jackets, in detergents, plastic paints, packaging and non-stick pans.

Our conclusion is that the toxins in Nuuk originate primarily in consumer products, while in the small settlements they originate in the marine diet.”

originate from the traditional diet of seal or other marine animals. This is no surprise, as people don’t eat so much of the traditional diet in Nuuk nowadays. They must therefore originate from other sources and all the indications are that there is a connection with life style and the large number of products we use in our daily lives,” explains Eva Bonefeld-Jørgensen. “Our conclusion is that the toxins in Nuuk originate primarily in consumer products, while in the small settlements they originate in the marine diet.” PFCs are found in many products used in people’s daily lives and are absorbed by the body through daily usage. The compounds are used in food packaging and cleaning products, plastic paint and non-stick pans, and they are found in such products as waterproofing, which protects fabrics from moisture and dirt, in a lot of furniture and carpets, and in the popular Gore-Tex jackets.

Under strong suspicion The perfluorinated compounds are strongly suspected of damaging health in several areas. Research is increasingly indicating that they can act as hormone disruptors in humans. The Centre for Arctic Health has thus shown that PFCs disrupt both female and male sex hormones, the hormone function of the thyroid and the body’s metabolism of toxic substances. At the Technical University of Denmark, toxicologists have shown that certain enzymes involved in the conversion of cholesterol to testosterone are affected by polyfluorinated compounds that together cause the cells to produce too little testosterone. At the same time, the human body has difficulty breaking down and excreting the perfluorinated compounds, which thus tend to accumulate. They increase the strain on the liver which has to work harder to get rid of them. Eva Bonefeld-Jørgensen also refers to a study in the Faeroe Islands, where they have been looking at whether perfluorinated compounds affect children’s responses to vaccination.

“As we have seen with the old toxins (POPs), the new perfluorinated compounds inhibit the effect of vaccinations in children. In some cases, so much so that those children who have the highest levels of erfluorinated compounds in their bodies are actually not protected against diphtheria and tetanus.” Eva Bonefeld-Jorgensen says that a similar study is currently underway among Greenlandic children.

Possibly carcinogenic Perfluorinated compounds are also suspected of causing cancer, and the Centre for Arctic Health has shown that PFCs are a risk factor for developing breast cancer in Inuit women. “In collaboration with the consultant, Doctor Peter Kern, and the staff at Queen Ingrid’s Hospital in Nuuk, the Centre for Arctic Health is now continuing to collect samples from breast cancer cases and controls in order to get a sturdier design for the study,” says Eva Bonefeld-Jørgensen. “We hope thereby to be able to further elucidate the possible connection between the large increase in breast cancer in Greenland and the perfluorinated compounds. “With the new study, we hope to have a sufficiently large sample of material to document this connection, because we certainly think that there may be a connection, and that it is very important to have it checked,” emphasises Eva Bonefeld -Jørgensen Poul-Erik Philbert

Eva Bonefeld-Jørgensen, Centre for Arctic Health, University of Aarhus

Settlements not a Burden There is a widespread belief that the Greenland settlements are very expensive to run. A new doctoral thesis debunks this view and shows that the settlements as a whole do not cost more than the towns. The thesis also shows that there are large variations in business opportunities in the settlements and in satisfaction with conditions among settlement dwellers.

Photo: Cecilia Petrine Pedersen


åre Hendriksen claims to have stayed overnight in three-quarters of the Greenland settlements and, since the late 1990s, has generally been deeply immersed in the Greenland melting pot as a consultant, teacher and researcher. Along the way, he has often come up against the claim that the settlements are more expensive than other residential areas, and that they are supposed to be one of the causes of Greenland’s economic problems because they impose an additional expenditure in billions of kroner. Now, in his PhD thesis, ‘Greenland Settlements Economy and Development Dynamics’, he has analysed the economics of the settlements and taken the temperature of the small residential areas and their residents. Having become much more knowledgeable, he makes it clear that the claim that the settlements are expensive for Greenland is based more on prejudice than on reality.

About the same level In connection with his PhD project, Kåre Hendriksen has examined the economies of 29 settlements in the old districts of Nanortalik, Qaqortoq, Narsaq, Kangaatsiaq, Upernavik and Ammassalik. His review of the available accounts has shown that the additional cost per inhabitant in the settlements is extremely modest when compared to the towns. If one assumes that, on average, the additional cost is the same in the country’s other settlements, less than one per cent of public expenditure on a national level is being allocated to more than 14 per cent of the population. But it is not easy to perform a watertight calculation. For example, one of the really high expenditures in the settlements is the subsidy of flight contacts by helicopter. That figure is evident in the National Treasury’s accounts. On the other hand, the figure for the cost of depreciation of establishment costs for fixed-wing airports in the major towns is not. If a correction was made for this situation alone, the difference between the towns and the settlements would be reduced considerably.

“It is therefore difficult to say right away whether the settlements are expensive or cheap,” says Kåre Hendriksen, “but generally speaking, the expenditure per capita is definitely only a little bit higher than in the towns.”

Less social expenditure

The settlement population is thriving in those places where the traditional industries can still provide a reasonable income.

There are also other relevant ways of comparing expenditure. The vast majority of the settlement population are unskilled workers, fishermen and hunters or without profession, and if one compares them with the corresponding groups in the towns, it turns out that public spending per capita in almost all the settlements is below the corresponding expenditure in the towns. Social spending, primarily social transfer payments, is in fact significantly higher in the towns for these groups of people. The explanation is that the settlement population supplements its income with private hunting and fishing to a much greater extent than the urban population, and that the old traditions with the sharing of the catch have been maintained to some extent. At the same time, the local authorities have generally been more reluctant to offer public assistance in the settlements, just as housing benefit is less in

Photo: Kåre Hendriksen

the settlements. Overall, this means that the social safety-net works in a completely different way than in the towns, where the socially disadvantaged are on social security benefits, housing benefits and social assistance. “So if the residents of the settlements move to the towns, it will be more expensive for the public purse,” says Kåre Hendriksen. “As it is today, most people moving from the settlements will become unemployed, while at the same time not being able to supplement their income by hunting and fishing.” On the other hand, the flip-side of the coin is that the lower spending per inhabitant in the settlements masks the fact that settlement residents have to live with a much lower level of social service and they don’t have the large numbers of offers that can be found in the towns.

Large differences between settlements But it is difficult to lump settlements into a common formula, because they are very different. There are hunting and fishing settlements, such as those in the Upernavik and Kangaatsiaq districts, where the traditional industries provide a basic livelihood or a supplement to the daily household. In many of the settlements, there are also trading posts where hunters and fishermen can sell their catch. “My research shows that the majority of the residents of these settlements are thriving and wouldn’t dream of leaving their homes,” says Kåre Hendriksen. “There is of course an exodus, especially among the young, but the population has been increasing slightly in the Upernavik settlements and is relatively stable in Kangaatsiaq district.” One comes up against the opposite trend in, for example, the settlements in Qaqortoq and Nanortalik districts. Here, the original industrial basis has thinned out strongly and there is a lack of trading opportunities. The settlements in these districts are therefore mostly publicly funded in the form of public sector jobs and transfer payments. Even though there is a major exodus from these

The settlements are shrinking There are currently 58 registered settlements in Greenland. The number of settlements have roughly halved since the post-war period, while the population from the early 1900s until the mid-1990s was relatively stable at around 10,000. During the whole period from the 1960s, there has been an exodus from the settlements, but a very high birth rate has contributed towards stabilising the population. During the last 10 years, the population of the settlements has been declining and it is now down around 7,000-8,000. The large decline coincides with a fall in the birth rate and with the last 10-15 years having become more expensive to live in the settlements with such as the abolition of the uniform price system on food, electricity and water.

settlements, there are many who remain because they still feel that hunting provides a sufficient basis to feed a family. A smaller group stays in the settlements of course because they have a public sector job. And finally, there are those that remain because they can’t see any attractive alternative. “They know that the alternative is to go into a big town and live in a housing block where they aren’t able to go out hunting and have to live on welfare. Many of them have tried living in a town, have perhaps gone to the dogs and have then moved back to the settlement where they live on welfare and on the whole don’t have a very good life,” says Kåre Hendriksen. Kåre Hendriksen’s study shows that it is in particular the settlements in South Greenland and East Greenland, which lack a resource base and the necessary trading facilities. They are therefore socially dysfunctional and have a number of citizens who only live there because they don’t experience the alternative as attractive.

Kåre Hendriksen, Department of Civil Engineering, Denmark’s Technical University

Poul-Erik Philbert

Photo: Poul-Erik Philbert

Settlements with a Future The future is uncertain for a number of Greenlandic settlements and some will disappear, says the author of a new doctoral thesis. But he also points out that it may be sensible to support the well-functioning settlements, which have an industrial basis.

Photo: KĂĽre Hendriksen


here is no trace of doubt in Kåre Hendriksen when he talks about the future of the Greenland settlements: “Even with the most favourable policies, settlements will continue to be closed down in the future.” This applies especially to the settlements, which no longer have an industrial basis in the form of hunting and fishing.

No alternative At the same time, one of the main conclusions of Kåre Hendriksen’s new doctoral thesis, ‘Greenland settlements - economy and development dynamics’ is that most settlements which have a basis for hunting and fishing and the necessary trading opportunities work well both financially and as places to live. “But I fear that some of these settlements, for example, in Upernavik and Kangaatsiaq districts, will be phased out relatively quickly if the Greenland Government does not change its position towards the Greenland settlements and the local use of resources,” he said. According to Kåre Hendriksen, there will not be a great deal of sense in these closures, because the alternative for many of the residents will nowadays be a life as unemployed and social clients in the Greenlandic towns, with the result that public spending will increase. “The problem is that the populations of the towns in Greenland today survive by doing favours for each other because there is no sound industrial basis. And as long as this situation prevails, it will be beneficial to support the well-functioning settlements where there is scope for hunting and fishing.” He also doesn’t believe that the much talked-about mining projects will necessarily provide many new jobs for Greenlanders. The Nulanaq gold mine, which is the only mining project currently in operation, has not succeeded since its inception 10 years ago in having 50% Greenlandic manpower for an extended period, even though there are only 80-100 men working there.

Local efforts But some input is required in the more well-functioning settlements so as to avoid residents voting with their feet and leaving them. Today, the general opinion is that large-scale operations are more profitable, and this has meant, for example, that politicians have focused their efforts on phasing out local small boat fishing in favour of fishing by large trawlers and on settlement factories and small trading posts being replaced by larger units. “Instead, we could begin thinking in terms of sustainability and orienting ourselves to potential new consumer groups in the Western world who demand exclusive, environmentally sound production of fish products, caught locally and having a history,” suggests Kåre Hendriksen.

Higher cost of living Kåre Hendriksen also points out that the settlement populations not only live with a much lower level of social service and a very limited range of goods, but also with higher prices for daily necessities. When the uniform price system was abolished in 1994, it was decided that the Greenland Government would ensure the same prices in the various districts. Since then, the subsidy has fallen from around DKK 100 million to DKK 37 million in 2011. In addition, prices of electricity and water are much higher in the settlements than in Nuuk. This doesn’t only hit household budgets but also the local fishing industry, which for that reason finds it harder to compete. Poul-Erik Philbert

Read the article: The organization of mineral exploitation and the relationship to urban structures and local business development

Read the article: Driving forces in the Greenlandic urbanization


in the Service of the Colony In the 1700s and 1800s, Danish men in Greenland entered into relationships with Greenlandic women. Sometimes these relationships developed into marriage and children, other times into having children out of wedlock. It wasn’t uncomplicated, not even for the colonial administrators who deliberately tried to control and regulate the results of sexual instincts.


or many expatriate Danish men in the Greenland of the 1700s and 1800s, it was a solution to a basic need to have a relationship with a Greenlandic woman and perhaps marry her and have children. For the colonial administrators in Copenhagen and Greenland, however, it could cause worried brows figuring out how they should deal with the inevitable fraternisation.

It has to be controlled Inge Seiding, a historian employed at the Greenland National Archives, has just defended her PhD thesis on mixed marriages in Greenland from 1750 to 1850, in which she relates the history of the relationship between Danish men and Greenlandic women. “When I was appointed to the archive, I discovered that intermarriage was something that took up a lot of time in the Danish Administration of Greenland. A massive effort was made to control and regulate the marriages and, throughout the period, what should be done with the phenomenon was a matter of hefty debate. There was one thing, however, that they always agreed on: it had to be controlled!” And it was, both by the Mission and by the Royal Greenland Trading Department (RGTD), which were the two central bodies in the Greenland colony. But the servants of God and those of officialdom did not always see eye to eye on mixed marriages. The Mission was broadly positive. For them, marriage was a part of the Christian message to be spread among the Greenlanders and mixed marriages therefore fitted in with the Mission’s work in a very tangible way. If criticism arose, it was most frequently directed at men who enjoyed themselves with Greenlandic women without being married, especially if children came out of it. The Mission also wanted to be consulted, of course, when consent was being given to a marriage.

Of mixed ancestry However, regulation of mixed marriages only got going in earnest when the RGTD was established in 1776. Before that time, the male expatriates had admittedly had to get permission from Denmark when they wanted

Photo: Klaus Georg Hansen

When Inge Seiding started working at the Greenland National Archives, she discovered that the records on mixed marriages took up a large portion of the archives. Now she has written a doctoral thesis on the subject.

< The colonial administration kept a check on children of mixed marriages being brought up in the Greenlandic way, including that the boys were able to paddle a kayak. In the 1807 survey from Jacobshavn, it states about 20-yearold Benjamin, who was the son of a chef, Abraham Fischer, he ‘has a kayak, but is lazy and careless’.

to marry a Greenlandic woman, but otherwise there hadn’t been very much focus on who married whom. But there was now, after the problem moved into the executive offices at the RGTD. The first results of the deliberations came in 1782, when the RGTD sent out a very detailed instruction that set out the rules for the employees’ relations with Greenlandic women. “This is where we meet a position on race for the first time,” says Inge Seiding. “Because it actually says in the instruction that marriage to a Greenlandic woman of unmixed ancestry was no longer permitted; only to a woman with a European father or ancestor.” Exemptions from the rule were however made. Inge Seiding has found 60-70 people up until 1850 who were given permission to marry a pure-bred Greenlandic woman; this is considerably more than previous researchers have been able to trace.

The goal was an efficient colony There was moralisation in the colonial administration, but Inge Seiding emphasises that there was basically a very pragmatic approach to the matter. “Today there are many people who would like to see the provisions as purely racial thinking. But that’s not what was at stake. It was basically a question of wanting to have an efficient colony. Race came into play, as it was increasingly beginning to be about class. The RGTD was trying to use the regulation to reduce the number of Greenlanders having relationships to the most senior officers. On the other hand, the Danish craftsmen and colonists, the junior officers, were to be integrated as much as possible with the Greenlanders (see article below).”

Proper Greenlander children Up until 1800, it was mainly about controlling who married whom. But one of the other really big concerns was what would happen to the children who were the offspring of the international unions. In the oldest marriage contracts from the mid-1770s, it says that the sons might be brought up in the same profession as their father; this was typically for craftsman of one kind or another.

However, the RGTD quickly put an end to that practice. Up until the mid-1800s, it is made clear with great insistence that children of mixed marriages must be brought up to be proper Greenlanders. They may not be pampered with a European diet and there may not be an inappropriate mix of Danish and Greenlandic upbringing. The boys have to learn to kayak and the girls to be the wives of hunters. In other words, they have to be able to look after themselves and not end up on poor relief and become a burden for the colonial administration. “In short, they wanted to control and regulate what kind of people came out of it,” says Inge Seiding. “For example, proposals came from Copenhagen that each year the governor was to take a tour of his inspectorate, inspect those of mixed race and see how good they were at kayaking. And to emphasise the seriousness of it, the father could be punished for failing to ensure that their children got a Greenlandic upbringing.”

Housing among Greenlanders There were also rules for where Danish-Greenlandic married couples had to live. At first, it was a requirement that they should reside in a Greenlandic way - for example, with the wife’s family. This saved the cost of a family residence for the junior officers in the colony, at the same time as the children were being brought up in a Greenlandic culture. When they started to introduce new wooden houses, a craftsman with a Greenlandic wife didn’t get his own house, but had to live with a Greenlandic family. “This wasn’t only about saving money but was also an expression of a civilisational change,” says Inge Seiding. “Where it was previously considered that the many junior officers who married Greenlanders should live among the Greenlanders, they were later seen as people who could pass on European culture to the Greenlanders.”

Not just an evil So the junior officers’ marriages were not just an evil to be defended against. If, for example, they wanted to

For example, proposals came from Copenhagen that each year the governor was to take a tour of his inspectorate, inspect those of mixed race and see how good they were at kayaking. And to emphasise the seriousness of it, the father could be punished for failing to ensure that their children got a Greenlandic upbringing.

move some sealer families to another location, it could be done more easily if there was a Danish man intermarried in the family whom the RGTD could move. This could get other families to move along with them and then the colony administration would have the good sealers where they wanted them. “You can see it in such a way that the colonial administration had to let people marry because it was, after all, impossible to control sexuality. But we can see that it wasn’t just a necessary evil that they had to defend themselves against. It could also be used, for example, as a strategy for both commerce and missionary work to occupy land and win souls,” says Inge Seiding finally. Poul-Erik Philbert

Inge Seiding University of Greenland

Inge Seiding: Colonial Categories of Rule – Mixed Marriages and Families in Greenland around 1800.

Johan Christian Geislerâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s daughter, Karen Margrethe, was one of the mixed race people to cross the boundary between Danish and Greenlandic culture. She married a deputy called Zimmer from Copenhagen, who after finishing his career as a deputy, chief factor and acting governor, took her to Fredericksberg in Copenhagen, where they are seen photographed together here. The photograph is one of the two oldest in the Arctic Instituteâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s collection. Photo: Arktisk Institut

A Long Way to the Altar In the first half of the 1800s, the senior officers in the colonial administration in Greenland were subjected to a very restrictive practice on the part of the RGTD, which made it difficult - if not impossible - for them to marry a Greenlandic woman.


wasn’t until the middle of the 1800s that the Royal Greenland Trading Department (RGTD) very gradually allowed European women into the Greenland colony. Before that time, a highly regulated marriage market with Greenlandic women was the only possibility open to Danish men who wanted a family life. And it was not without obstacles for the so-called senior officers: governors, chief factors and their deputies and senior deputies.

According to the instructions, there was actually nothing in the way of the senior officers being able to marry. But I have come across a few in the archive material who lived unmarried with Greenlandic women all their lives. They very much wanted to get married, but were not allowed to.

Difficult to get married Before the RGTD came into being, a substantial proportion of this group married Greenlandic women, writes the historian Inge Seiding in her doctoral thesis on mixed marriages from 1750 to 1850. But this was stopped on the instructions of the RGTD in 1782. “According to the instructions, there was actually nothing in the way of the senior officers being able to marry. But I have come across a few in the archive material who lived unmarried with Greenlandic women all their lives. They very much wanted to get married, but were not allowed to,” says Inge Seiding. And that was not at all uncommon for this group.

One refusal after another One of them was Johan Christian Geisler, an educated man, who had gone to a select school - Herlufsholm - and had a law degree. He had arrived in Greenland in 1801 as a 22-year-old to the position of deputy in Godhavn. It was not until the summer of 1827 that he was granted permission, as a chief factor in Egedesminde and after several refusals, to marry Karen, who was the child of Greenlandic parents and with whom he had had seven children during the 23 years they had been living together. According to the marriage licence, it is clear that the concession to marry a Greenlandic woman was eventually given only because he was a valued employee and because it appeared that he would be retiring in Greenland. But it is also strongly emphasised that the permission only applies to Geisler and should not constitute a precedent.

Geisler’s situation was especially difficult because he was living with a woman of pure Greenlandic ancestry and the RGTD’s instructions made it clear that Danish men could only marry women from mixed marriages. Many non-senior officers got much faster dispensation though (see article above). But other senior officers, who had followed the rules and entered into a relationship with a Greenlandic woman of mixed ancestry, also ran into problems when they sought permission to marry. Geisler’s predecessor in Egedesminde, Johan Lorentz Mørck, thus managed to live with Birgitte - the daughter of a Danish deputy, Lars Nielsen - for almost 25 years and have seven children with her. It wasn’t until four years prior to his death in 1830, sick, weakened and demoted from factor to deputy that he finally married her.

Governor Motzfeldt in Godhavn, on the other hand, was much less appalled. He asked briefly about the child’s date of birth so he could calculate what Geisler should pay in child support. But the same governor also had six children himself out of wedlock with a Greenlandic woman, Cecilie Dalager, so he “was not going to throw rocks at Geisler’s glasshouse”, as Inge Seiding puts it.

A desire for distance

The colonial administration thus regarded the senior officers and their subordinates very differently with respect to the possibilities of them marrying Green-landic women. “The RGTD didn’t want the most senior officers in Greenland being in too close a contact with the population and that closeness occurred precisely when someone married a Greenlandic No sanctions woman, which not only gave close conIt was certainly neither according to tact with a single person, but often with the rules nor welcome that Geisler a whole family or kinsfolk,” says Inge and Mørck each lived in sin or in ‘natSeiding. ural marriage’ as it was called, with a So while the RGTD could see the adGreenlandic woman for many years. vantages in the junior officers marrying But even though Johan Christian Greenlandic women and spreading Geisler was confronted with dissatisEuropean culture, the opposite was the faction and criticism from his superiors case for their superiors. They wanted and from the local missionaries, he was to have a certain distance between the not subjected to sanctions for living Greenlandic population and the top of with an ‘impregnated hussy’; not even the hierarchy, and in terms of class, a line when Karen’s sister, who had moved was drawn between the junior officers into the Geislers’ home in 1812, gave and the senior officers. birth to a girl to whom Johan Christian Poul-Erik Philbert was the father. The missionary reacted, not surprisingly, with horror at Geisler’s sinful life.

A Geological

POMPEII It may sound unlikely that the far north of Greenland was earlier covered by forest. Nevertheless, that is what fossil-rich layers are suggesting. New studies confirm that the age of the forest is between 2 and 2.5 million years.

A tree trunk a couple of million years old sticking out of a layer of clay. Photo: Svend Funder


ried-out tree roots sticking out of the ground are not unusual, but if the roots are more than two million years old, they are unique. In the arid and hilly landscape at Cape Copenhagen in Peary Land, we find a snapshot of the nature as it looked before the latest series of ice ages really speeded up. But the question is how old the roots and their sediments are. To get closer to an answer, Svend Funder and a handful of biologists and palaeontologists packed their equipment boxes and went back to North Greenland in the summer of 2012. The results are now slowly beginning to emerge.

A very unusual location Svend Funder is a geologist and professor emeritus at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. He doesn’t hesitate for a second when he says: “Cape Copenhagen is a very unusual location - also on a worldwide scale. The area is very rich in plant and animal residues which at some point have been swept out to an estuary - a kind of gulf that resembles Præstø Fjord, for example, today. A big river has flowed out here, which has brought a lot of material like pine cones from within the country while animals have been living in the sea. So, in the deposits, we get a picture of what was happening both on land and at sea. “The terrain has been a bit like what is found in northern Siberia today - up there where the forest boundary goes. There have been belts of trees along the rivers and there has also been tundra next to it. We can imagine a low coastal landscape with mountains in the background which were worn down by the rivers. It was from up there that the fine sand in the sediments came. What matters is that it’s all been remarkably well preserved because it was buried and frozen in permafrost immediately. And there it has remained ever since.”

How old? There have been discussions around how old the fossil-rich layer is. Svend Funder explains: “The dating is key, because it’s important to know how old the sediments at Cape Copenhagen are. It’s a

Watch a video panorama of the landscape at Cape Copenhagen.

complex matter, and that was what our field work in 2012 was about. There have been different ideas about how old they are; for example, that the geological layers were not, as originally assumed, over two million years old but only around one million years old. That’s out of the question now for two reasons: the magnetism in the layers and a rabbit’s tooth.” When Svend Funder talks about magnetisation, he is referring to a widely used dating method. Briefly, the method deciphers whether a given sample is normal or reverse magnetised, and then compares the result with the reference charts covering the geological time period in question. It is the minerals in the sample that store the magnetisation. They align themselves according to how the Earth’s magnetic field was at the point in time when the original material in the sample was formed. After the field work in 2012, the researchers can show that the sediments are reverse magnetised, and this

means that they are between 2.5 and 2.0 million years old, since in this period the magnetisation was reverse.

The importance of a rabbit’s tooth Something else that points to an age of a couple of million years is a rabbit’s tooth. The tooth was found by a geologist, Ole Bennike, in the 1980s and originates from a rabbit that is now extinct. The rabbit was assigned to a genus that was as dominant as the hare is today. But it became extinct when the Ice Ages approached because it could not adapt to the freezing temperatures. Svend Funder says: “There are very few finds of ones which are younger than 2 million years old. The leading expert in this genus was with us last summer and we had hoped to find some more teeth, but we didn’t. But we can still say that it is very unlikely that the tooth would be younger than two million years old. If it were younger, we would also be into a period of normal magnetisation - and we’re not.”

“The Camel back”, as the scientists called it, is, with its 150 m a.s.l., one of the highest hills in the Kap København area. On June 2nd 1921 the geologist and cartographer Lauge Koch, as the first scientist, and at the turning point of a monthslong and extremely arduous sledge journey, spent 4 hours on the top and mapped what he thought was moraines. The scientists now know that the hills are not moraines, but remnants from a distant past when the area was covered by trees and dense heaths.

Photo: Svend Funder

Molecular biologist Astrid Schmidt drilling samples out of the permafrozen earth for later DNA analysis in Copenhagen.

Rising sea levels detected in the sediments A third way to estimate the age is to look at the changes in sea level. Svend Funder notes that he can read in the geological column of layers that there has been a sharp rise in sea level. The water which caused the increase must have come from some great ice sheets that have melted away. If one studies the authorised charts of sea level for a time during the period 2 to 2.5 million years ago when there has been so much ice that it could give this large increase, there are not many possibilities. One finishes up with two periods: between 2 to 2.1 million years ago or between 2.3 to 2.5 million years ago, the last period appearing to be the most likely. And that result is not wildly off mark. Uffe Wilken

The Kap København Formation The Kap København Formation is the geological name for the over two million year old clay and sand sediments at Kap København in Peary Land. In addition to countless plant residues, the sediments contain a surprisingly large number of insect species - more than 200, including the remains of the first and only ants found in Greenland. The remains of insects have been important in the interpretation of the environment which was originally located here. The large number of plant and insect residues says that the summers at the time were about 10°C warmer than now. The around 100 metres of sediments constituting the formation were deposited in a eriod of less than 100,000 years. Svend Funder is more inclined to the view that it took less han 20,000 years - a split second in the Earth’s geological history. In the lowest part of the geologic column of layers, the sea sediments tell us that they were deposited in a cold sea. Above these lie the river sediments, with plant and insect remains from a somewhat warmer climate. Only a few geologists have visited this remote corner of the world since Lauge Koch in 1920. It was Svend Funder who, in 1979, discovered that Kap København was hiding a glimpse of life near the North Pole as it was a couple of million years ago.

CAUGHT IN A TRAP A large survey of the well-being of 15-17 year-old Greenlanders shows that many are still struggling with immense problems. Most are thriving, but worryingly large groups have a life with sexual abuse, violence and substance abuse of alcohol and hash in the family.


even years have passed since the Centre for Health Research in Greenland at the National Institute of Public Health was last out asking 15-17 year-old Greenlanders about how it is to be young in Greenland. Now the report ‘Difficulties with adolescence - Youth well-being in Greenland 2011’, which provides a solid description of what is ailing young people, has been made available. There are many young Greenlanders living a good life and positive changes have also taken place since the survey in 2004. Fewer young people are involved in conflicts at home, more young people are abstaining from alcohol, fewer girls start smoking before the age of 13, and there are noticeably fewer girls who have thoughts of suicide or have attempted suicide. Nevertheless, the report reveals that there are alarmingly large groups of young Greenlanders who are struggling to make their lives hang together and the report’s main author, Cecilia Petrine Pedersen, from the Centre for Health Research in Greenland, points particularly to substance abuse and violence in the family, sexual violations and suicide (see article below) as the worst afflictions.

Many sexual violations The survey in 2004 showed that there were many young people who had been subjected to sexual violation. The same applies to the survey in 2011. In this, 9% of boys and 21% of girls say that they have had at least one undesired sexual experience with peers, the vast majority under the age of consent the first time it happened. In addition, 17% of young people – of which significantly more girls than boys – have had sexual experiences with, or been approached in a sexual manner by, an adult. More than half of these young people have also had sexual intercourse with an adult and three out of four were under 15 years old when it happened. It is no wonder that the majority, 87%, of the young people who have had sexual contact with an adult experienced it as a violation. And if one takes all the young people who have had an undesired sexual

A HARD LIFE One in ten boys and one in four girls have attempted suicide. Of these, two out of three have made more than one attempt. Three out of four young people know someone who has committed suicide. 17% have mentioned a sexual experience or being approached in a sexual manner by an adult before the age of 15; in percentage terms, significantly more girls than boys. One in six young people have experienced physical violence from at least one parent. One in ten young people have witnessed grievous physical violence against their mother during the last year. One in ten young people have been subjected to grievous physical violence by at least one parent.

9% of boys and 21% of girls have had at least one undesired sexual experience with a peer, and the vast majority of young people were under the age of consent the first time it happened. Among the 17% who have had at least one sexual experience with an adult, over half have had sexual intercourse with an adult. Half of the young people report one or more forms of substance abuse in their immediate family. One out of three young people has experienced alcohol abuse in their immediate family, and one in five has experienced alcohol abuse among their parents.

experience with an adult or a peer, 29% of girls and 7.7% of boys have been subjected to a sexual violation. It is an extremely high number, and a similar Danish survey found that the corresponding figure was only 1% among boys and 9% among girls.

Substance abuse problems and violence Another big problem for many young people is abuse of alcohol and hash in the family. About one in four girls and one in six boys say their parents have had at least one addiction. One in three of the young people has experienced alcohol abuse in the immediate family, and one in five has experienced alcohol abuse among their parents. “We have for the first time included addiction to gambling and the study confirms that it is a significant problem,” says Cecilia Petrine Pedersen. One out of three young people who have parents with a gambling addiction have in fact experienced that their parents’ gambling has affected the family negatively. There are fewer young people this time reporting violence and conflicts. But there is still a large group of 13% who experience their parents quarrelling daily or weekly. One in six young people have also been subjected to physical violence by at least one parent, and more than a quarter of young people have witnessed their mothers being subjected to violence within the past year. “Conflicts and violence in the home are therefore central to young people not thriving. And since a quarter of young people have also experienced violence outside the home, we must recognise that we are talking about a general societal challenge,” says Cecilia Petrine Pedersen.

Wide social differences The new report only shows what young people overall have answered and doesn’t immediately come up with any causal connections. That analysis is expected in the future. Provisionally, Cecilia Petrine Pedersen has studied the social differences by looking at how the problems

are distributed based on how young people experience their own family’s prosperity (see overview here). “There are signs of a significant socio-economic inequality in which, for all the serious problems, there is a clear connection with the family’s economic status,” says Cecilia Petrine Pedersen. Children from lower income homes are broadly twice as afflicted as young people from economically well-off homes. The differences are especially visible for suicide among girls and for violence, where 3-4 times as many come from economically disadvantaged homes.

Geographical differences The survey also reveals that young people in some parts of Greenland are more afflicted than in others. This includes the various forms of substance abuse in the family. In East Greenland, half of the young people say that there is alcohol abuse in the family, while the number is lower in the other regions. The same applies to young people’s drinking habits, where 32% in East Greenland state that they drink alcohol one or more times a week compared to 17% in Nuuk, 15% in North Greenland and 8% in South Greenland. The 2004 survey showed that it was mainly young people in the settlements who were subjected to sexual abuse, and that there were often substance abuse problems in the family too. “We can see the same tendency in the new study,” explains Cecilia Petrine Pedersen. “And this time we have more information on substance abuse problems, violence in the family and mental health, which can further illustrate this relationship.” Poul-Erik Philbert

Cecilia Petrine Pedersen, National Institute of Public Health The report (In Danish only)

Many Young People Attempt Suicide A new survey shows that there is still an uncomfortably large number of young people in Greenland who attempt suicide. Among the girls, 25% of the 15-17 year-olds have made an attempt, and among girls who have grown up in a settlement, the figure is as high as 41%.


he good news is that only half as many 15-17 yearold Greenlandic girls have considered suicide and that significantly fewer have tried it in 2011 compared to 2004. This is shown by a new survey, â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Youth WellBeing in Greenland 2011â&#x20AC;&#x2122;, which the Centre for Health Research in Greenland has completed. The bad news is that there is still a disturbingly large number of young Greenlanders who are attempting or considering suicide.

A widespread problem

Cecilia Petrine Pedersen, National Institute of Public Health

Every tenth boy and every fourth girl in the survey say that they have attempted suicide; and of them, two out of three have made more than one attempt. Even though suicide attempts are very widespread among young people, it also appears to be partially hidden; in any case, half of them have not told anyone.

“It is also conspicuous that there are very few who have been in contact with the public authorities in connection with their suicide attempts. So what we see in health service or police statistics doesn’t give us the full picture at all. So there is a great need to detect the vulnerable young people at risk of suicide early,” says the main author of the report, Cecilia Petrine Pedersen. The young people themselves give as their reasons for their attempts at suicide: lack of care, problems with other people and the consequent low level of wellbeing, and not least loneliness. For many of them, missing people they have lost, especially the loss of loved ones by suicide, is a reason for deciding to attempt suicide. It confirms that young people who have experienced suicide in their close circle of friends have a higher risk of ending up in the same situation. The large number of suicides in Greenland means in fact that most people know someone who has taken his/her own life. This is true for three out of four young people in the survey.

Geographical differences There are large geographical differences in the number of suicide attempts among girls. The lowest prevalence is found in Nuuk with 19%, followed by South Greenland with 23% and North Greenland with 27%. The largest is in East Greenland, where 48% of girls have attempted suicide. Girls who have grown up in a settlement are also more likely to tell about suicide attempts than girls raised in a town - 41% of girls from the settlements compared to 23% from the towns. Cecilia Petrine Pedersen explains the big difference by the young people in the settlements being more vulnerable because they experience more sexual violation and more violence and alcohol abuse in the family and their immediate surroundings. She also believes that poor prospects and lack of access to the provision of assistance and to drop-in centres in the settlements play a role. Finally, she points out that changing schools from settlement to town in the final grades can be a vulnerable period for young people from the settlements who feel lonelier than young people from the towns.

Poul-Erik Philbert

Difficulties with adolescence The report ‘Difficulties with adolescence’ presents the findings of the survey ‘Youth well-being in Greenland 2011’. The survey covers 481 young people of 15 years of age and older from the 9th and 10th grades in seven towns. The overall participation rate was 81%, equivalent to almost half of all state school students in these grades in Greenland. The survey was conducted in Spring 2011 by the Centre for Health Research in Greenland at the National Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, in collaboration with the Department of Family, Culture, Church and Gender Equality, Government of Greenland, and PAARISA. The survey follows on from the earlier survey ‘Youth Well-Being in Greenland 2004’ and is comparable to the ‘Danish youth survey 2008’. The purpose of the report is not to cover all aspects of young people’s well-being and health, but to focus on those areas of young people’s upbringing which may affect their well-being particularly negatively.

Photos: Toke Thomas Høye

FEWER INSECTS in North-East Greenland

Over the last 14 years, the number of insects in the Zackenberg area of North-East Greenland has halved. The explanation is that the warmer climate causes the plants to cease flowering quicker, so the insects have less time to find nectar.

Photos: Toke Thomas Høye


something isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t working between the flowers and the bees, there is a problem. Every child knows that. And it isnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t working properly in the Arctic.

A big job with counting For the past 14 years, a research team has been following the flowering and the number of insects in a region near the Zackenberg Research Station in North-East Greenland. Every summer, they have kept a meticulous track of how many plants there were in a number of plant fields and how many insects that had fallen into the buried traps. A monotonous and simple counting job that has provided a tremendous amount of data - about 150,000 insects - which has now made it possible to make a scientific analysis of the relationship between the flowers and the pollinating insects in an Arctic area.

Shorter flowering, fewer insects A successful interaction between the flowers and the insects requires that the insects have access to as much pollen and nectar as they need to be able to maintain the population. The Zackenberg researchers’ analysis shows however that, during the 14 years, the total flowering period for a variety of plant species has become shorter. “Our studies show that it’s especially the species which bloom late which have changed a lot and bloom much earlier than before,” says senior researcher Toke Thomas Høye from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, who has been leading the study. The researchers can also see that it has an impact on the number of insects. “It’s been shown that there’s a correlation between the flowering season one year and the number of insects the next year. After the most extreme years with the shortest flowering season - there were only half the insects there used to be,” says Toke Thomas Høye. Concomitant with the total flowering period becoming shorter, a dramatic temperature increase of 2.5°C has been measured at Zackenberg, so the researchers find it reasonable to conclude that climate change is to blame for the problems which have arisen between the flowers and the pollinating insects.

Difficult to speculate on the future It isn’t difficult to imagine that fewer insects may mean poorer seed setting for plants. At the same time, many of the birds that feed on the insects may also be affected. “But it’s always difficult to demonstrate how one effect in nature spreads to other parts, so we can only speculate about the longer-term consequences of the trends that our study has uncovered,” says Toke Thomas Høye. “If we’re going to be better at saying something about the future, we need to examine the biodiversity in the Arctic region further. For example, our current knowledge of the biodiversity of insects is poor.” Poul-Erik Philbert

Toke Thomas Høye, Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University.

Photo: Bolethe Skifte Egede

The biologist Nynne H. Nielsen and the hunter Svend Heilmann tag a harbour porpoise with a satellite transmitter off the coast of Maniitsoq, West Greenland. The whole process takes 4-5 minutes and the porpoise is periodically doused with fresh sea water to keep it calm.

The Unknown Whale We donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t know very much about the harbour porpoises that live around Greenland. Where they go in the winter, and how deep they dive, are just some of the questions scientists would like to have answers to. In 2012, biologists from the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, in collaboration with hunters from Greenland, succeeded for the first time in capturing and tagging two harbour porpoises with satellite transmitters, which has given a lot of new and surprising information about harbour porpoises around Greenland.


he harbour porpoise project is part of a larger project that in part aims to explore the West Greenland harbour porpoise migration and diving behaviour and their ability to adapt to a warmer climate in the Arctic. Ultimately, this knowledge can be used to assess whether the catch of harbour porpoises in Greenland is sustainable.

The first tagged harbour porpoises in Greenland It is no easy task to tag harbour porpoises. These small whales are very hard to see - especially because only the upper part of the back and the dorsal fin stick up out of the water for a very short time. However, with the help of skilled hunters, it proved possible to chase the porpoises into a net and get them into the boat. After the porpoises had been captured and laid out on a mattress in the boat, they were measured and weighed before a satellite transmitter was attached to the dorsal fin. Every time the porpoise subsequently comes up to the surface to breathe, a signal is sent up to a satellite, which then calculates where the porpoise is. Besides the porpoiseâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s position, the transmitter also provides information about the animalâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s diving behaviour, such as the maximum dive depth, the time it has spent at a given depth and the number of completed dives. All in all, this increases our knowledge about the animals and can ultimately be used to assess the sustainability of the porpoise catch (see box).

Migrating over long distances On the map of the migrations of the two porpoises, it can be seen that harbour porpoises in Greenland unlike harbour porpoises from elsewhere - spend most of their time far from the coast, and that they migrate over long distances. It is therefore likely that there is one single population in West Greenland which can meet and mate without problems. Based on aerial surveys, conducted from land and out to the continental shelf, it is estimated there are around 30,000 harbour porpoises in West Greenland. Our study shows that they spend much of their time outside the continental shelf, so the size of the

Map of the migrations of the two harbour porpoises shows that porpoises spend most of their time far from the coast and migrate over great distances.

population is probably underestimated. This knowledge will be important for the catch of porpoises, as it tells us something about how large a pool the catch is taken from.

A warmer climate It is also important to look at external influences, such as climate change. The seas around Greenlandâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s west coast have become warmer and this brings more species of fish with it. A study in 2010 showed that the West Greenland harbour porpoises have become significantly heavier over a 14-year period. This is probably due to their diet now consisting of over twice as many fish species as before, including the northern cod which has now come on the porpoisesâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; menu and represents an important food item. If the porpoises in West Greenland can cope better in a warmer climate, it may help them to withstand the catch pressures they are exposed to.

More harbour porpoises tagged The project has provided an insight into the behaviour of the porpoises and the preliminary conclusion is that they seem to be adapting to a warmer climate and are not fastidious in their food choices. They forage in large areas and at great depths, and also migrate extensively but return to the same area again.

It is too early to say anything specific about harbour porpoises in Greenland when the study is based on only two animals. But in June and September 2013, we tagged more harbour porpoises with satellite transmitters and it will be interesting to see what knowledge these animals can bring us. Nynne H. Nielsen

Nynne Hjort Nielsen, Department of Bioscience, Marine Mammal Research, Aarhus University

Photo: Nynne H. Nielsen

Catch has to be sustainable Harbour porpoises are an important quarry in West Greenland, not least because of their skin (mattak), which is a coveted source of vitamin C. Around 2,100 porpoises are caught annually in Greenland and Maniitsoq accounts for the majority with around 1,500 animals. Greenland is obliged through the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO) and the Washington Convention to monitor and make population estimates for populations of marine mammals that are hunted. Greenland therefore has to document that the population of harbour porpoises can withstand the current catch pressure, i.e. that the catch is sustainable. To assess this, biological knowledge of the animal is required which we don’t have today. Among other things, we don’t know enough about how large the population is and how wide an area the harbour porpoises cover. Harbour porpoises are one of the world’s smallest toothed whales and they can essentially be found all over the Northern Hemisphere. The females are larger than the males and, in Denmark, they can grow up to 1.7 metres and weigh up to 65 kg, while those in Greenland are slightly smaller. We know that the environment in the Arctic region has changed markedly in recent years in the form of warmer seas and less ice cover. A large study suggests, however, that harbour porpoises in West Greenland are actually coping better in a warmer climate.

From the Archive of the Arctic Institute

Visit the Photo Collection of the Arctic Institute

LIFE AT THE EDGE The photo book Life at the Edge brings us to the “Backside of Greenland”, as East Greenland is popularly known by locals.

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he 170 photos are from Scoresbysund, which, in its East Greenlandic isolation and with its harsh conditions, truly offers a life at the edge. The photographer Carsten Egevang has visited the town five times over the last ten years and he has chosen to present his photographs in black and white because, in his opinion, this best matches the allure the place has had on him: “One can communicate many moods and nuances with colour, but black and white photos can do something completely different. They cut out all the superfluous, and I think that the raw, pared-down images suit the harsh living conditions and the demanding nature of Scoresbysund very well.” In Scoresbysund, traditional hunting plays a bigger role than most places in Greenland, though here too - despite the lack of alternatives - it is in

rapid decline. Carsten Egevang has been on hunting trips lasting several days armed with his camera and has come close to the modern hunter and his old hunting techniques. There is not much talk on such trips and, if it happens at all, it is about immediate, specific things, especially the dogs: “I’ve been out with a hunter who maybe spoke for a couple of hours about his dogs during the trip and then in passing briefly mentioned that he had a girlfriend and a new baby at home.” Carsten Egevang is a photographer and a biologist and, like many other researchers, he began his career as a photographer by taking photos for documentation when, as a biologist at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, he was doing field work and spent days and weeks in the vast Greenland landscapes. He was selected as Nature Photographer of the Year in 2011 by the Danish magazine NFD (Nature Photographers in Denmark), received the Greenland Government’s Environment and Nature Award at the end of 2011 and has also achieved several excellent positions in international photography competitions.

Polar Front 2014 English  

Polarfronten bringer historier fra polarforskningens arbejdsmark. Vi skriver om epokegørende resultater og nye initiativer, ekspeditioner og...

Polar Front 2014 English  

Polarfronten bringer historier fra polarforskningens arbejdsmark. Vi skriver om epokegørende resultater og nye initiativer, ekspeditioner og...