The Vikings are remembered as fierce fighters, however even these mighty warriors had been no match for local weather change. Scientists not too long ago discovered that ice sheet progress and sea stage rise led to huge coastal flooding that inundated Norse farms and in the end drove the Vikings out of Greenland within the fifteenth century.
The Vikings first established a foothold in southern Greenland round A.D. 985 with the arrival of Erik Thorvaldsson, also referred to as “Erik the Crimson,” a Norwegian-born explorer who sailed to Greenland after being exiled from Iceland. Different Viking settlers quickly adopted, forming communities in Eystribyggð (Japanese Settlement) and Vestribyggð (Western Settlement) that thrived for hundreds of years. (On the time of the Vikings’ arrival, Greenland was already inhabited by individuals of the Dorset Tradition, an Indigenous group that preceded the arrival of the Inuit individuals within the Arctic, according to the University of California Riverside (opens in new tab)).
Across the fifteenth century, indicators of Norse habitation within the area vanished from the archaeological file. Researchers beforehand urged that components equivalent to climate change and financial shifts seemingly led the Vikings to desert Greenland. Now, new findings present that rising seas performed a key function, by submerging miles of shoreline, in accordance a brand new examine printed April 17 within the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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Between the 14th and nineteenth centuries, Europe and North America skilled a interval of considerably cooler temperatures, often called the Little Ice Age. Underneath these chilly situations, the Greenland Ice Sheet — an enormous blanket of ice overlaying most of Greenland — would have turn into even greater, Marisa Julia Borreggine (opens in new tab), a doctoral candidate within the Division of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard College, mentioned when she offered information at an American Geophysical Union annual convention in New Orleans in December 2021.
Because the ice sheet superior, its rising heaviness weighed down the substrate beneath, making coastal areas extra liable to flooding, Borreggine mentioned. On the identical time, the elevated gravitational attraction between the increasing ice sheet and enormous lots of sea ice pushed extra seawater over Greenland’s coast. These two processes might have pushed widespread flooding alongside the shoreline — “precisely the place the Vikings had been settled,” Borreggine mentioned.
The scientists examined their speculation by modeling estimated ice progress in southwestern Greenland over the 400-year interval of Norse occupation and including these calculations to a mannequin displaying sea stage rise throughout that point. Then, they analyzed maps of identified Viking websites to see how their findings lined up with archaeological proof marking the top of a Viking presence in Greenland.
Their fashions confirmed that from about 1000 to 1400, rising seas round Greenland would have flooded Viking settlements by as a lot as 11 ft (3.3 meters), affecting about 78 sq. miles (204 sq. kilometers) of coastal land, Borreggine mentioned. This flooding would have submerged land that the Vikings used for farming and as grazing pastures for his or her cattle, in line with the fashions.
Nevertheless, sea stage rise was in all probability not the one cause the Vikings left Greenland. Different varieties of challenges may cause even long-standing communities to break down, and an ideal storm of exterior pressures — equivalent to local weather change, social unrest and useful resource depletion — could have spurred the Vikings to desert their settlements for good, Borreggine mentioned.
“A mixture of local weather and environmental change, the shifting useful resource panorama, the flux of provide and demand of unique merchandise for the overseas market, and interactions with Inuit within the North all might have contributed to this out-migration,” she mentioned. “Seemingly a mix of those components led to the Norse migration out of Greenland and additional west.”
Editor’s observe: Initially printed on Dec. 16, 2021, following a presentation on the annual convention of the American Geophysical Union. Up to date on April 19, 2023, following the examine’s publication in a peer-reviewed journal.