A record written in algal fat reaffirms the role of climate change in determining the fate of Greenland’s Vikings and other inhabitants.
The Norse came to a new land around the end of the first millennium, borne on the backs of their Viking long ships and lured away from Iceland by the promise of Erik the Red’s Greenland. The land was indeed green when they landed—and stayed that way for several centuries until natural variations in the planet’s climate cooled the world’s largest island by 4 degrees Celsius. Years of such cool summers doomed the Greenland Norse, and their outpost froze to death by 1500.
Greenland is still inhabited, of course, by Inuit people who migrated to the region as recently as a millennium ago. These people are currently enduring some of the most rapid climate change on the planet, which has had benefits ranging from a longer growing season, like the one that aided the Norse, to newly accessible oil deposits that promise potential financial independence. “The Arctic is undergoing major changes,” D’Andrea notes. “Just like in the past, some people will benefit and others will lose out.”