At a glance - Was Greenland really green in the past?

On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added "At a glance" section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a "bump" for our ask. This week features "Was Greenland really green in the past?". More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.

Fact-Myth Box

At a glance

The past 2024 years - i.e. everything AD - are referred to by archaeologists as the Common Era (CE). Decades ago, long before the refinements and data-coverage of modern science, the CE was divided into a series of climate epochs. Among these were the 'Mediaeval Warm Period' (MWP), from around 800-1200 CE and the 'Little Ice-Age', from 1200-1850 CE.

Each of these epochs has the origin of its name in older paleoclimatic evidence from the Northern Hemisphere and particularly Europe. But things have moved on. We now know that unlike modern global warming, the MWP was regional in its nature. A particularly warm region was the Northern Atlantic, including southern Greenland.

Icelandic sagas tell how, in 982 CE, Erik the Red was sentenced to exile from Iceland for three years. He had been involved in an escalated dispute with a neighbour that had culminated in several deaths. With a band of fellow Vikings, he set sail towards Greenland. Erik's party landed and settled near the mouth of Tunulliarfik Fjord, which has the modern Innuit settlement of Narsarsuaq at its head. This part of Greenland is a largely ice-free enclave today, situated in the SW part of the island, some 200 km from its southern tip. Legend tells how Erik came up with the name, 'Greenland', in order to attract further settlers. Apparently the ploy worked.

With hundreds of settlers arriving in the SW of Greenland, a mixed economy developed. It was based on combined pastoral farming, hunting and fishing. Livestock were kept mostly for milk, cheese and butter. Meat instead came mostly from hunting, both locally and in seasonal expeditions further north. These longer forays visited areas in which walrus, narwhal and polar bears were abundant. Hides and ivory became export commodities, allowing maritime trade with the rest of Europe, in return for iron, timber and other essentials.

A few centuries into this colonisation, the regional climate deteriorated. Ice-sheets readvanced. Recent research has also shown that sea-levels rose, too. It may seem counter-intuitive, but when ice sheets grow, nearby coasts often drown. Two things work together to cause this: the larger gravitational pull of all the extra ice on the sea surface and the subsidence of Earth's crust due to the added weight of that ice. One recent study has suggested over 200 square kilometres of coastal land - where the settlers would have had many of their farms - were lost. Geophysics has detected remains of some of the settlements, now beneath the waves.

Progressive sea-level rise, likely in tandem with social and environmental factors such as famines, epidemics and harsher weather, took its toll. The Inuit, who had arrived in around 1200 CE, remained in Greenland through the severe cold of the Little Ice Age but by around 1500 CE, the Vikings had vanished for good. Climate change drove them out.

That's what happened to the Vikings. But regional and global climate change are different things. Regional historic change has little bearing on the global events that are happening right now.

Please use this form to provide feedback about this new "At a glance" section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!

Click for Further details

In case you'd like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them:

Myths with link to rebuttal Short URLs
Ice age predicted in the 1970s
It hasn't warmed since 1998
Antarctica is gaining ice
CRU emails suggest conspiracy
What evidence is there for the hockey stick
CO2 lags temperature
Climate's changed before
It's the sun
Temperature records are unreliable
The greenhouse effect and the 2nd law of thermodynamics
We're heading into an ice age
Positives and negatives of global warming
The 97% consensus on global warming
Global cooling - Is global warming still happening?
How reliable are climate models?
Can animals and plants adapt to global warming?
What's the link between cosmic rays and climate change?
Is Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth accurate?
Are glaciers growing or retreating?
Ocean acidification: global warming's evil twin
The human fingerprint in global warming
Empirical evidence that humans are causing global warming
How do we know more CO2 is causing warming?
Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works
The tricks employed by the flawed OISM Petition Project to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change
Is extreme weather caused by global warming?
How substances in trace amounts can cause large effects
How much is sea level rising?
Is CO2 a pollutant?
Does cold weather disprove global warming?
Do volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans?
How do human CO2 emissions compare to natural CO2 emissions?
Climate scientists could make more money in other careers
How reliable are CO2 measurements?
Do high levels of CO2 in the past contradict the warming effect of CO2?
What is the net feedback of clouds?
Global warming vs climate change
Is Mars warming?
How the IPCC is more likely to underestimate the climate response
How sensitive is our climate?
Evidence for global warming
Has the greenhouse effect been falsified?
Does breathing contribute to CO2 buildup in the atmosphere?
What is causing the increase in atmospheric CO2?
What is methane's contribution to global warming?
Plants cannot live on CO2 alone
Is the CO2 effect saturated?
Greenhouse warming 100 times greater than waste heat
How will global warming affect polar bears?
The runaway greenhouse effect on Venus
What climate change is happening to other planets in the solar system?
Has Arctic sea ice returned to normal?
Was Greenland really green in the past?


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Posted by John Mason on Tuesday, 20 February, 2024

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