Did rising seas play a role in Viking abandonment of Greenland settlements?

New research suggests the growing Greenland Ice Sheet’s gravitational attraction raised sea levels, flooding Viking settlements more than previously thought

May 15, 2023


By Sophie Coulson

When the Vikings sentenced Eirik the Red to outlawry in the tenth century for various misdeeds, he sailed from Iceland northwest in search of previously sighted country to the west. Hoping to find a new place to settle, Eirik made land near a glacier and spent a few years exploring the fjords, islands and fields of the place he called Greenland, so called for his belief that people “would be much more tempted to go there if it had an attractive name.”

A not-so-green land

The name was crowned in irony. Glaciers covered nearly all of Greenland even in Eirik’s time, the last centuries of the Medieval Warm Period (900-1250 C.E.). Still, encouraged by Eirik’s salesy hype, more Vikings followed him to settle along the southern tip of Greenland, establishing what we now call the Eastern Settlement. Their arrival coincided with the transition to the Little Ice Age (1250-1900 C.E.), when the Greenland Ice Sheet grew its way into previously ice-free land on the big island’s coastal fringes. The Vikings eked out a living farming, hunting, fishing and trading until the mid-1400s, when they disappeared. They left behind little to mark their roughly 500-year-stay: stone ruins, trash heaps and bones.

The Vikings’ final disappearance remains enigmatic. Historians and archaeologists attribute their departure to a range of environmental factors—worsening weather in a changing climate, flooding, erosion, shrinking markets for walrus ivory (a staple trade good) and ongoing conflict with the indigenous Inuit people. 

Read the rest of the story as it appeared in RealClear Science.