As the ethereal curtains of the aurora borealis begin their nightly waltz across the winter sky, Olinguaq Sandgreen and his dog team pull up at the edge of the sea ice. The long sled journey from the town of Ilulissat has left the hardy Inuit and his passenger thoroughly chilled, despite being clad in full sets of seal skins. Plumes of canine breath crystallise onto the powdered snow as the dogs yap and strain at their traces. Tonight, an empty fisherman's hut will provide the men with warmth and food while the dogs burrow deep into the drift outside. Yet this is no fishing expedition. Sandgreen's companion is a tourist, drawn to the stark winter beauty of Greenland and a desire to witness an endangered way of life. "I used to be a full-time hunter and fisherman," says Sandgreen, as he cuts up chunks of foul-smelling seal meat for his ravenous pack. "But now I can make more money from taking people on sledding trips. The sea ice here is also increasingly unstable. It freezes later and breaks up earlier. It is very dangerous." The Greenlandic Inuit have been tied to the sea ice for centuries. Living in harmony with nature and surviving on what they could hunt, Inuit men would use their knowledge of the ice to catch seals, whales, walruses, polar bears and fish. With the effects of climate change increasingly pervasive, however, much of this seasonal ice is now weak or completely absent. As the Inuit are forced to take more risks, accidents become increasingly common. "In recent years, we have seen sea ice thinning, retreating and changing its patterns of formation and break up right across the Arctic," says Jon Burgwald, a campaigner with Greenpeace Denmark. "For many of the region's indigenous communities, including the Greenlandic Inuit, this means that the human-sea ice relationship - which is deeply ingrained in local livelihoods and culture - is under threat as well." Formerly a province of Denmark, Greenland became an autonomous dependent territory in 1979. In 2008, Greenlanders again voted for more freedom, with the lion's share of the population favouring complete independence. However, with the island still receiving a hefty annual subsidy from Copenhagen, further economic development is essential before full severance can be realistically considered. "Greenland is an enormous chunk of land," says Aqqaluk Lynge, chairman of the Greenland arm of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. "The Greenlandic Inuit are 56,000 people on an island that stretches the same distance as London to Stockholm and London to Morocco. "We face some unique challenges … nevertheless, there is a pretty unanimous feeling here that it is about time we ran our own business." The effects of climate change in Greenland go well beyond hunting and fishing. The melting ice has increased access to the country's mineral resources, which could provide the territory with a promising new source of income. Last year, Greenland's parliament voted in favour of lifting a long-standing ban on the extraction of radioactive materials, including uranium. Hugely valuable natural resources may also lie offshore. Some geologists believe Greenland's frigid coastal waters could contain the world's largest remaining reserves of oil. Not everyone is thrilled by the news. "Oil drilling in Greenland and the rest of the Arctic is insanely risky and should be avoided completely," says Burgwald. "A report published by Greenpeace earlier this year shows that development can be achieved via other, less hazardous sectors, such as tourism and fisheries." "For some years our decision-makers have focused on oil and minerals and the opportunities those industries could bring to us," adds Malik Milfeldt, a senior consultant with Visit Greenland. "But there have been huge environmental concerns, as well as concerns that our workforce is not big enough. I would much prefer us to develop tourism and gain our money there instead." As they embark on their journey across the sea ice the following morning, such considerations are all but moot to Sandgreen and his dog team. The Inuit has fixed the traces of his 13 dogs to a pituq - a looped rope attached to the sled between the runners - and the rudimentary vehicle is soon ploughing a furrow through the pristine snow. The design of the sled itself, comprising two 12-foot-long wooden runners, a flat board of planks and a pair of upright handrails, has barely changed since the days of Sandgreen's great-grandfather. A Greenlandic dog-sled ride is a truly exhilarating experience. A giant sun halo - caused by ice crystals in the upper atmosphere - slowly fades to nothingness as a light mist lifts to reveal azure sky. Their 13 bushy tails waving in the cold, dry air, the well-drilled members of Sandgreen's pack take turns to pull, slack off, flirt, defecate and nip at the nearest teammate. Snowmobiles may be quicker and cheaper, but most Greenlandic Inuit still travel by dog sled, even if they do carry more tourists and fewer seal carcasses. "A hunter without dogs is half a hunter," says Sandgreen, with a grin. "I'll never give up my dogs. They are my friends and they never run out of gas." Ilulissat, Sandgreen's home, is one of the largest settlements on the more populated west coast of Greenland, with about 5,000 human residents and 3,500 sled dogs. A short flight from Greenland's main airport in Kangerlussuaq, it's a cheerful place in winter, with brightly coloured buildings dotted across the snow-covered landscape, a small harbour filled with ice-bound fishing boats and a range of comfortable hotels. In Greenlandic, Ilulissat rather aptly means "the icebergs". The nearby Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, which produces about 20 million tons of ice each day, is a constant source of gigantic bergs, which break off and drift slowly into the Ilulissat Icefjord and adjoining Disko Bay. Such is the immense spectacle that both the fjord and glacier were inscribed on Unesco's World Heritage list in 2004. Ilulissat is an increasingly popular base for winter tourism, with miniature fleets of sleds parked outside many of the houses (the dogs themselves live on the edge of town). Many local companies offer dog sled tours - the best months for this are February, March and April - which can range from a few hours to multi-day trips to see ice fishermen at work. Perhaps it is this continuing close connection with nature that offers the greatest hope for the Greenlandic Inuit as they adapt to the changes wrought on their extreme landscape. "Despite the problems associated with climate change, we must not sacrifice our bond with the land," says Lynge. "You cannot stop progress and young Inuit must have the right incentives to stay here and raise families. However, that doesn't mean squandering our precious resources. "We face challenges but I am optimistic about the future. We are a tough people. We are adaptable. The character and soul of the Inuit cannot be taken away." Getting there: Finnair flies daily from Hong Kong to Helsinki, and from there to Copenhagen. Air Greenland flies once daily from the Danish capital to Kangerlussuaq, and from there to Ilulissat, four days a week.