Vikings Left Greenland Because of ... Climate Change

Sinking temps may have forced them out, says study
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Jun 4, 2011 11:01 AM CDT
In this July 19, 2007 file photo an iceberg is seen off Ammassalik Island in Eastern Greenland.   (AP Photo/John McConnico)

(Newser) – We’re far from the first humans to grapple with climate change: It seems several populations were forced to leave Greenland when things got too cold for comfort, according to a new study. The Saqqaq people arrived in Greenland some 4,500 years ago, and were gone when weather cooled in 850 BC. But the cold temperatures suited Greenland’s next inhabitants just fine: the Inuits. But they quit the island, too, about 2,000 years ago, perhaps because of a climate shift. Then came the Vikings, who arrived around 980 AD.

But in about 1100, it started getting cold—fast, Discover reports. The temperature plummeted 7 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of 80 years. The Vikings, who were largely farmers who may have been hard-hit by such a drop, were gone by the mid-1400s. The archaeological record supports these comings and goings, but scientists examined the mud cores of two lakes to find the corresponding weather patterns. They measured the levels of alkenone—an algae-made fat—in the mud cores, which let them figure out how much algae had bloomed. That gave them clues to the water temperature, which itself is connected to the air temperature. Now, once again, “the Arctic is undergoing major changes,” says a researcher. “Just like in the past, some people will benefit and others will lose out.”

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