Did rising seas drive Vikings out of Greenland?
Vikings occupied Greenland from about 985 to 1450 A.D., farming and building communities before they abruptly abandoned their settlements. Why they disappeared has long been a puzzle, but a new paper from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences determines that one factor — rising sea level — likely played a major role.
“There are many theories as to what exactly happened” to drive the Vikings out, said Marisa J. Borreggine, lead author of “Sea-Level Rise in Southwest Greenland as a Contributor to Viking Abandonment,” published April 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“There’s been a shift in the narrative away from the idea that the Vikings completely failed to adapt to the environment and toward arguments that they were faced with myriad challenges, ranging from social unrest, economic turmoil, political issues, and environmental change,” said Borreggine, a doctoral candidate in the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Amid those pressures, “the changing landscape would’ve proven to be yet another factor that challenged the Viking way of life,” said Borreggine, who works in the Mitrovica Group led by Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science Jerry X. Mitrovica. This likely led “to a tipping point before they abandoned the settlement.”
The departure of these Viking settlers coincided with the beginning of the period known as the Little Ice Age, which had a particular impact on the North Atlantic. But while cooling and freezing might seem likely to lower sea levels, a variety of factors combined to have the opposite effect in Greenland.
With the waters of the North Atlantic “contributing to that new ice volume, intuition might suggest that sea level should go down,” Borreggine said. However, a closer look at previously published geomorphological and paleoclimate data and the researchers’.