The myth of luxuriant Greenland

The example of Greenland is often mentioned, to show the climate changes caused by man. About one thousand years ago the Viking Erik the Red called the largest island in the world “Grönland”, or “green land”. 84% of its surface today is covered with ice. In 982 A.D.  the Viking escaped from the south-western part of Norway, his native land, due to some homicides, and he ventured towards unknown faraway lands. He first reached Iceland and then Greenland. This land is characterized by short summers and very long cold winters, which, however, seen by a Norman who was used to extreme climates, might have seemed more hospitable than his own country due to the large amount of edible fish and sea mammals and birds that were present. In order to settle in an area where survival is however not so easy, Erik needed to attract people who would follow him. When he returned to his country he enthusiastically described a fertile land that, in fact, he called “green land”, and convinced twenty five ships to set sail with him towards this “green paradise”. Therefore the name “green land” alone cannot be an irrefutable proof of a much warmer climate at the time of the Vikings, but could instead be a kind of publicity “slogan” to convince others to settle in a rather inhospitable area. There are really many geographical names that do not reflect the exact reality of a place, such as Conca d’Oro (Gold valley) near Palermo where once there were citrus orchards, and certainly no signs of gold.
There is another fact which must not be overlooked, the remains of Viking settlements have been found in the south-western coast of Greenland in areas that are still green today due to the presence of inland fjords that mitigate the temperature.
However, in 2007, illustrious scientists analyzed the DNA of fossil materials that were extracted from the depths of the ice in Greenland and so it was possible to identify the organisms that were present in the area: European spruce, pine trees, birches, alders, poplars, beetles, flies, spiders and butterflies. The researchers estimated that the DNA that was found dated  back to a period 450,000 to 800,000 years ago, which was much before the period in which Erik the Red lived.

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