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Research shows climate helped drive Vikings from Greenland (Image 4)


A-star helicopters transport a research team and their supplies to a frozen lake in Greenland

A-star helicopters transport a Brown University-led research team and their supplies to a frozen lake near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. The researchers collected cores from two lakes in Greenland to reconstruct 5,600 years of climate history near the Norse Western Settlement.

Climate scientists know that a cold snap, called "The Little Ice Age," took place in Greenland beginning in the 1400s. It has been cited as a major cause in the disappearance of the Norse people in the 14th and early 15th centuries. But research by the Brown team found that the climate turned colder in an earlier span of several decades, which set in motion the end of the Greenland Norse.

Lake core measurements taken by the researchers reflect air temperatures where the Vikings lived, as well as those experienced by the Saqqaq and the Dorset, the Stone Age cultures that preceded them. "This is the first quantitative temperature record from the area they were living in," said William D'Andrea, who earned his doctorate in geological sciences at Brown and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. "So we can say there is a definite cooling trend in the region right before the Norse disappear."

"The record shows how quickly temperature changed in the region and by how much," said Yongsong Huang, a professor of geological sciences at Brown and principal investigator of the project, which was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and DAndreas Ph.D. adviser. "It is interesting to consider how rapid climate change may have impacted past societies, particularly in light of the rapid changes taking place today."

In addition to climate, Huang says other factors such a sedentary lifestyle, a reliance on agriculture and livestock for food, dependence on trade with Scandinavia and combative relations with the neighboring Inuit are all contributing factor's to the demise of the Norse Western Settlement.

This research was funded by NSF grant ARC 04-02383. To learn more, see the Brown news story Climate helped drive Vikings from Greenland. (Date of Image: April 2006) [Image 4 of 6 related images. See Image 5.]

Credit: Jonathan Nichols, Brown University

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