The Vikings who settled in Greenland lived along the coast for nearly 500 years before vanishing without a trace. New research suggests rising sea levels may have played a significant role in the disappearance of Vikings who colonized Greenland.
The mysterious vanishing of Vikings who colonized Greenland in the 980s has puzzled archaeologists for years. A recent study of medieval sea-level rise along Greenland’s coast suggests that these rapidly rising waters may have contributed to their fate, offering insight into the potential threats of rising sea levels in our changing climate.
Greenland’s Viking Colonizers and Rising Sea Levels
The Vikings who settled in Greenland lived along the coast for nearly 500 years before vanishing without a trace. Research now indicates that these coastal farms experienced a sea-level rise of up to 3.3 meters (nearly 11 feet) during their time there, which likely had a considerable impact on the communities.
A Changed Climate and Challenges to Adaptation
As the climate deteriorated rapidly around 1250 with the arrival of the Little Ice Age, the Vikings faced various challenges. A shortened growing season increased the need for animal fodder during the lengthening off-season, and the expanding ice sheet led to the sinking of the land beneath it and a rising sea-level. According to the study, 204 square kilometers of the Eastern Settlement flooded by the latter stages of the Viking occupation, threatening the livelihood of the farmers living there.
Vikings’ Efforts to Adapt and Other Contributing Factors
Despite the numerous challenges, the Vikings tried to adapt to the deteriorating conditions, shifting from a land-based diet to a more marine-based one. However, they also faced social, political, and economic struggles that contributed to their disappearance, such as the discovery of alternative sources of ivory, which led to Greenland’s increasing isolation.
Modern Climate Change and the Future of Coastal Communities
Although the specific causes of localized sea-level rise in medieval Greenland differ from the forces behind today’s globally rising sea levels, the impacts of these changes provide a glimpse of what coastal communities might expect in the future as a result of climate change. Understanding the Vikings’ fate can help us better prepare for the consequences of rising sea levels on our own coastal communities.