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Climate change and sea level rise in the Little Ice Age – a new theory

Posted on May 1, 2023

The Vikings began settling in eastern Greenland in the late 10th century and thrived for around 400 years.

Then in the mid-15th, they just packed up and abandoned their once thriving settlements, including the large Eastern Settlements.

Historians have proposed a number of theories for the exodus, including social unrest, drought, and changing temperatures.

But a new research paper suggested that a rise in sea levels over the years also forced the Vikings to relocate, CNN reported.

Using a computer model based on geological and climate records, scientists discovered that sea levels would have risen almost 10 feet during the four centuries of occupation starting in 985 CE.

This sea level rise would have made life challenging for the settlers as they became more vulnerable to storms and coastal erosion that would have resulted in the loss of fertile land.

This loss of land is underscored by analysis of human and animal remains, which showed that the Viking settlers switched their diets from a land-based diet – including livestock – to marine-based, eating fish and seals.

The team said this rise came during the Little Ice Age, a period that began around 1250 CE which saw temperatures become cooler and drier in the Northern Hemisphere.

Although it sounds counterintuitive, co-author Richard Alley explained the sea level rose in the region because the Greenland Ice Sheet “pushed down the land around it, something like the dent that forms around you if you sit on a waterbed.”

Lead author Marisa J. Borreggine noted that the findings show that there are some parallels between the Vikings’ predicament and today’s climate problems.

“The Vikings didn’t really have a choice,” she said in a statement. “They couldn’t stop the Little Ice Age. We can do work to mitigate climate change. The Vikings were locked into it.”


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