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Sierra Daily

Sep 27, 2012

Arctic Warmer Now Than In Viking Times

Gallery-Greenland-Erik-Th-010A study in the journal Geology concludes that the high Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is warmer now than in the Viking age--the great age of northern exploration that led to the European discovery and colonization of Iceland, Greenland, and (briefly) Nova Scotia. By studying sediments in the lake Kongressvatnet on West Spitsbergen, Svalbard, William D'Andrea of Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory et al. showed that summer temperatures are now 3.6 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than they were even in the Medieval Warm Period, that balmy era from 950 to 1200 A.D. that was cut short by the Little Ice Age. (For an excellent historical novel on the era, see Jane Smiley's sadly under-appreciated The Greenlanders.)

While it cut short the Viking colony in Greenland, the Little Ice Age facilitated the spread of wildlife like the Arctic fox. Chalk them up on the list of species now threatened by a rapidly melting Arctic--where sea ice this year hit its lowest summer minimum in recorded history. Also shattering records this summer was the melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Perhaps the corporations now flocking there to mine for rare earth and other minerals will stumble on the graves of ill-fated Vikings, early victims of climate change.

Illustration of Eric the Red by Carl Rasmussen

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber. 

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