Vikings preferred Mediterranean climate

by William Yeatman on June 8, 2004

in Science

The Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change has just produced a good review of the evidence concerning the effects of global cooling on the Viking settlements on Greenland from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries (available at

Recent reports reconstructing environmental conditions in the vicinity of Igaliku Fjord, South Greenland before, during and after the period of Norse habitations of Greenland have found that the Vikings flourished during times of warming, and that their eventual fall can be linked to falling temperatures.

Susanne Lassen and colleagues Antoon Kuijpers, Helmar Kunzendorf, Gerd Hoffmann-Wieck, Naja Mikkelsen, and Peter Konradi have published a report appearing in The Holocene (Vol. 14, #2, March 1, 2004) specifically discussing Norsemen and the changing Greenland climate. They examined the eventual abandonment of the Viking settlements on Greenland and pointed to an “unprecedented influx of (ice-loaded) East Greenland Current water masses into the innermost parts of Igaliku Fjord” as the culprit.

They concluded that the “stratification of the water column, with Atlantic water masses in its lower reaches, appears to have prevailed throughout the last 3200 years, except for the Medieval Warm Period.” During this period, the scientists believe that living conditions were suitable for settlement and provided an opportunity for the Vikings to prosper, primarily due to the increased nutrients and marine food available.

That was until the Little Ice Age. The combination of a decline of marine food and deteriorating growing and living conditions on land made it difficult to survive. Lassen et al. concluded that, “Climatic and hydrographic changes in the area of the Eastern Settlement were significant in the crucial period when the Norse disappeared.”

A similar study conducted by Karin G. Jensen and also appearing in The Holocene (Vol. 14, #2, March 1, 2004) came to similar conclusions. “Life conditions certainly became harsher during the 500 years of Norse colonization,” Jensen claimed. The auther added that this climate change “may very likely have hastened the disappearance of the culture.”

The review (from their June 2 newsletter) concluded by explaining the present-day effects of this study. “Since the peak warmth of the Medieval Warm Period was caused by something quite apart from elevated levels of atmospheric CO2, or any other greenhouse gas for that matter, there is no reason to not believe that a return engagement of that same factor or group of factors is responsible for the even lesser warmth of today.” We would only add that the Vikings or Normans conquered Sicily from the Arabs between 1060 and 1091. They found the climate much more agreeable.

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