A Few Things Ill Considered

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

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Greenland Used to be Green

(Part of the How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic guide)

This article has moved to ScienceBlogs

It has also been updated and this page is still here only to preserve the original comment thread. Please visit A Few Things Ill Considered there. You may also like to view Painting With Water, Coby Beck's original fine art photography.



  • At March 13, 2006 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Greenland-used-to-be-green story is refuted in the contemporaneous Icelandic Sagas.

    But, if someone brings this up, and refuses to listen to reason, simply ask them if Iceland used to be covered in ice.

    (The sagas also cover this topic -- the original settlers to Iceland [there was no population before Europeans arrived] arrived at Reikjavek [literally "foggy bay"] at a time when icebergs were in the bay -- a very rare event even then.)

  • At March 25, 2006 10:42 AM, Blogger lilty said…

    Incidentally, on what does Diamond base the claim that they didn't eat fish? In the Sagas they certainly do (see reference to salmon run in Hrafnkel Frey's Godi), though they also raise livestock.

  • At March 25, 2006 11:20 AM, Blogger coby said…

    The "no fish" finding is from the archeological evidence unearthed at the locations of the two Greenland settlements. By analyzing garbage dumps and other evidence you can detemine quite accurately what the diet was and how it changed over time. So the short answer is no fish bones anywhere to be seen. And this finding is a stark contrast to other Viking settlements where fish was determined to be a large percentage of the diet. The reason for this is a subject of speculated only.

  • At June 14, 2006 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This article completely misrepresents Jared Diamond's account of the Greenland collapse. Here's a quote from Jared's book, page 219:

    "Between A.D. 1800 and 1300, ice cores tell us that the climate in Greenland was relatively mild, simiar to Greenland's weather today or even slightly warmer. Those mild centuries are termed the Medieval Warm Period. Thus, the Norse reached Greenland during a period good for growing hay and pasturing animals... Around 1300, though, the climate in the North Atlantic began to get cooler and more variable from year to year, ushering in a cold period termed the Little Ice Age that lasted into the 1800s. By around 1420, the Little Ice Age was in full swing, and the increased summer drift ice between Greenland, Iceland, and Norway ended ship communication between the Greenland Norse and the outside world."

    Also, Diamond never claimed that the Greenland Norse never ate fish. He reports that analysis of bones in trash dumps shows just the opposite. During the first centuries of the colony the diet was about 80% domestic animals and 20% fish. Near the end of their existence they were eating 80% fish. There is no evidence from the dumps that the domestic animals died off suddenly as a result of several unusually cold winters.

    Diamond sites many factors leading to the Greenland collapse, including deforestation, overgrazing, and soil erosion. But it's clear to anyone who's read the book without bias that the primary factor was climate change.

    The question "was Iceland ever covered with ice?" is a Red Herring. It's evident from the trade records that shipping lanes became nearly unpassable by the 1400's -- due to increased SEA ICE.

    Since you claim to debunk the "Greenland Myth" I'd suggest you cite sources that actually back up your "science."

  • At June 14, 2006 12:43 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi TombRaider,

    The Iceland covered in Ice question is merely illustrating that you can not judge a land, just like a book and its cover, by its name.

    Jared Diamond's Collapse, pg 228 and 229:

    "the percentage of seafood (mostly seals) consumed in Eastern Settlement at the time of its founding was only 20% but rose to 80% during the later years"
    "Apart from that heavy reliance on seals and caribou, the Norse obtained minor amounts of wild meat from small mammals (especially hares), sea-birds, ptarmigans, swans, eider ducks, beds of mussels, and whales."
    "Conspicuously nearly absent from Norse archaeological sites are fish, even though the Greenland Norse were descended from Norwegians and Icelanders who spent much time fishing and happily ate fish. Fish bones account for much less than 0.1% of animal bones recovered at Greenland Norse archaeological sites, compared to between 50 and 95%at most contemporary Iceland, northern Norway and Shetland sites. For instance, the archaeologist Thomas McGovern found a grand total of three fish bones in Norse garbage from Vatnahverfi farms next to lakes teeming with fish"

    As for your quotes about Greenland regional climate at that time, I have no quarrel, they are not a misrepresentation like your other fishy quote. It does not contradict anything in this post because you can not infer a global climate from a single region. The "Greenland myth" is that the global climate was so much warmer during the Medieval Warm Period that Greenland, a frozen wasteland today, was so hospitable that it was named as it was and supported a thriving colony of Norse. The reality is, Greenland was named Green to attract settlers and regional climate at the time was very similar to today, perhaps even a little warmer and life for the Vikings there was a perpetual struggle until a confluence of conditions left them vulnerable to a few severe winters in a row at the onset of a regional cooling.

  • At June 14, 2006 2:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks for the clarification about the fish consumption. I watched a television program about the Norse recently and I seem to remember mention of their fishing for cod. I don't doubt Jared's account of the trash dump contents but I'm going to pursue the cod question further just so I'll be clear on it.

    I find your response about the warming issue somewhat contradictory. If you agree that Greenland has gone through regional warming and cooling, and agree with Jared that when the Norse discovered Greenland that the region was in a warm period, then how can you simply discount that it might have been "greener" during that period?

    A logical response is the one you gave... that Greenland is no evidence global cooling only regional cooling. But with regional warming comes greening as the milder climate allows for more vegetation.

    But in no way does that argument refute that fact that "Greenland used to be Green," which is the premise of this page.

  • At June 14, 2006 7:56 PM, Blogger coby said…

    I think the balance of the evidence is that Greenland today is about as warm as Greenland in the MWP, maybe it was slightly warmer. But with 95% of it under an icesheet for the last 100K years I really doubt that it looked very different when the Vikings landed.

    But the main point is the regional vs global one that you acknowledge is a good point.

    Thanks for the comments!

  • At June 14, 2006 11:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    One more question, if you don't mind. You state pretty categorically that the 95% ice coverage has been stable for 100K years. If that were true, then the ice was unaffected by the Holocene Maximum, a 3,000 year period of abnormally high temperature. Was Greenland not part of the Holocene Maximum? I understand that the ice coverage in Greenland is melting now at roughly 3ft per year. It seems logical that 3000 years of melting at that rate would be quite significant. So by the end of the Holocene, about 4,000BC, Greenland should have been quite "green." Of course no Norsemen were there at that time. The ice would have reformed and receded again in subsequent cooling and warming periods. How much ice, and how much green, was there at the time the Norse arrived? Do we have any way of measuring that?

    It's an accepted fact that arctic ice and glaciers are receding at alarming rates in the past few decades. So I'm curious why you're so quick to discount past changes in Greenland, albeit at somewhat slower rates, that may have had centuries to develop?


  • At June 15, 2006 12:29 PM, Blogger coby said…

    The current melting in Greenland is glacial, the ice sheet itself is thikening consistent with warmer temperatures and higher percipitation (still too cold for rain even though it is warmer)

    Please check my article on the Holocene Climatic Optimum, it seems the warmth then was limited to summers in the NH, due to orbital cycles like those triggering the glacial interglacial cycle.

  • At November 06, 2006 2:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I happen to have heard what it was about the Vikings eating fish. They gutted their fish, like most of us do, whereas the Inuit ate everything. This is key! The green matter in the fish intestines was an important nutritional supplement that the Vikings missed, and that is why they fared so much more poorly than the natives.

  • At November 14, 2006 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    question1 - If greenland's weather was in the other extreme 700 to 1000 years ago would it be used as evidence of global warming?

    question2 - If it was so bad why did they stay for hundreds of years, rather then going back to iceland or norway? They certainly were not afraid to make long voyages in northern oceans.


  • At November 14, 2006 12:47 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Erik,

    Re #1 - if someone did use very cold climate in Greenland 1000 years ago to claim a global property they would be just as wrong.

    Re #2 - why do human populations ever go anywhere difficult? I can imagine that once there, you invest your effort and your hopes in establishing a community and since you don't know that it will ultimately fail you just try to meet the challenges. I'm sure there were plenty of individuals who would have left or gone elsewhere. Don't forget that een if it is hard, if you and your parents were born there and everything you own is there and you don't know any better life there is not that much motivation to strike off somewhere totally new and unknown *to you* even if it is where your ancestors came from.

  • At November 15, 2006 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Actually saw on History Channel an episode regarding 'abrupt' climate change - abrupt being defined as a change society can't grapple with. History Channel noted that Little Ice Age compelled Vikings to abandon farming for fishing, but that apparently it got too cold for fishing.

  • At November 24, 2006 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The lead article to this thread claims that the ice cap covers 95% of Greenland. The CIA World Fact Book states that of the total 2,166,086 km2 of the island's surface about 20 % or 410,449 km2 is ice free.

    It also states that a continuous permafrost covers the Northern two thirds of the island. Since the Vikings settled near the 'very southwestern tip of the island' (Wikipedia) they can't have been farming where there is permafrost today as Moncton claimed.

    Today 1% of the island, in the southern ice free regions, is suitable for agriculture (Encyclopedia Britannica). Since the Viking population counted at its maximum perhaps not more than 3,000 people (Enc.Brit.)the area it used could not have been more than that 1% (i.e. an area two thirds the size of Belgium).

    Also, the southern portion of the island looks today very green in summer as well(Wikipedia).

    Could we finally get rid of those Greenland Vikings?

    Arie Brand

  • At December 06, 2006 12:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Although the ice sheet only covers 81% of Greenland as one of the posters mentions, the vast majority of that ice-free land is not in the south, as might be expected, but in the far north, where the air is too dry to support the snow to build glaciers, as this quote from Wikipedia mentions:
    "The extreme north of Greenland, Peary Land, is not covered by an ice sheet, because the air there is too dry to produce snow, which is essential in the production of glaciers"

  • At December 12, 2006 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So what if Greenland was once warmer, New Mexico used to be under an ocean, and it's getting hotter there too. There have been continental shifts, but global warmning is still accelerating, and if we don't do enough to stop it, it will only get worse.

  • At January 08, 2007 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Eirik Raude (Eric the Red) was Norwegian. He had problaby red hair and red beard. I don't think he was first to discover and settle Greenland.

    I love your site. I'm planning to make a norwegian version of the excellent information.

  • At January 08, 2007 1:53 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Tusen Takk!

    Let me know when it is up, I don't know Norwegian but would like to look anyway. Best wishes,

  • At January 11, 2007 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't have many visitors. But you can take a look. It's more efficient to publish information in the newspaper. Maybe I should.


    It's just a brief article about the seventeen most usual assertions of global warming.

    Our government has recently invested in CO2-catching technology for gas plants. Norway has great expertise because we are an oil nation. The prime minister think we are pioners, and can help EU to develope coal plant catching technology. The oil industry is primarily responsible that I emit between 6 and 9 tons of CO2 every year. Both EU and Norway have a vision of reducing emissions by 20 % in 2020.

  • At February 01, 2007 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Historical revisionism.

    This is like Nazis writing out Jews from history. But then again, the Nazis were National Socialists, a stones throw away from liberalism as an ideology.

  • At February 01, 2007 2:39 PM, Blogger coby said…

    You're funny! If you think that the Nazis were liberals because of the name of the party, no wonder your are surprised that Greenland is 95% covered in icesheet and permafrost!

    But with this depth of critical thinking I can understand you are so confused...

  • At February 05, 2007 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think the point is that there are natural cycles of warming and cooling on the Earth and Greenland is one example of their effect.

    The question lies in determining the ""why" of it. The culprits suspected in the present didn't exist in the time of European settlement and if Greenland's current warming is similar to that period then the answer may be more complex then simply blaming industrialization.

  • At February 05, 2007 1:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Over the millions of years of climate changes, the earth is still here and will always be until God decides otherwise... so what's all the fuss about ??

  • At February 05, 2007 2:05 PM, Blogger coby said…


    Yes, the task is to determine the "why" of it today, given that climate can change naturally. I recommend the chapters on detection and attribution in the IPCC TAR (Climate change: the Scientitifc basis - see sidebar)

  • At February 05, 2007 2:06 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi alan,

    Yes, the earth will still be here. The question is whether or not it will be conducive to a prosperous and healthy human population.

  • At February 11, 2007 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm humbled to show my ignorance amongst such sage company, but isn't Greenland just another way of saying "New Land"...? Hey, but what do I know

  • At February 11, 2007 3:34 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Re green=new

    I don't know, do you have a reason to think this? Don't forget that presumably the actual name given by Eric the Red was not in english. Is the norse word for "green" a synonym for "new" as it can be in modern english?

  • At February 12, 2007 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dunno - any Norsemen care to comment?

  • At February 20, 2007 4:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Secondly, a quick reality check shows that Greenland's ice cap is hundreds of thousands of years old and covers 95% of that island, so just how different could it have been only 1000 years ago?


    Typical neo-Communist propaganda (misdirection type). None of the skeptics have ever said the entire Greenland ice cap melted during the hotter Medival Warm Period.

    Drag the traitors out and hang them.

  • At March 20, 2007 10:35 AM, Blogger Rolf Nilsen said…

    Eirik the red was called so becouse of his murders, for which he was outlawed in Norway.

  • At August 08, 2007 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Greenland was never lush but it was much greener during the MWP. Hence the accurate name Greenland. BTW, the Vikings did eat fish. In their last days their diet was 80% fish.

    This contrasts their early days when the temperature was higher, the diet of Viking was 80% land based, mostly sheep and crops.

    This is easily proven. And has been. The paragraph above is not scientific and contains demonstrable errors.

    Iceland is a specious argument and proves NOTHING either way.

  • At August 08, 2007 4:26 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Thanks for the comments, but I will take scientifically sourced and published material over an unsubstantiated anonymous comment any day of the week.

    In maters of empirical reality, not all opinions are equal.

  • At August 09, 2007 10:18 AM, Blogger tim in vermont said…

    Here is a study, from University of Copenhagen, of ice core data from Greenland.


    Please see figure 3, which presents a climate history of Greenland and clearly shows a MWP.

    Note this sentence from the note with figure 3:

    Similar temperature variations for the last 2,000 yrs have been reconstructed from Law Dome bore hole data from Antarctica.

    One can only claim that the LIA and MWP were not global events if one elevates multi proxy studies that include time series that in some cases contain single trees, in other cases had extrapolated data in them, which, once removed, revealed, TA DA the MWP over other well established techniques that have never been disproven.

    Oh yeah, and the multi-proxy data seem to diverge from the temperature record alarmingly in recent years. Go figure.

  • At October 04, 2007 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The real fallacy is thinking we can 'do something about it' an event that occurs naturally - global cooling, global warming, regional cooling, regional warming, drought, monsoon, etc. If we could find a way to keep every tropical storm from developing into a hurricane, would we? People who settle on the coast might love it, but tampering with things like that will always have some repercussions. Someone said, "The question is whether or not the earth will be conducive to a prosperous and healthy human population." The answer is a qualified yes, no matter what happens. The qualification is that not every part of the earth now conductive to population will be so, while other parts not conductive to population now will be in the future. We'll evolve once again to deal with whatever we are facing.

  • At October 09, 2007 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The graves are still frozen in permafrost. Thus, when the graves were dug the conditions were warmer. The earth over time has gone through periods of warming and cooling long before man was here. Get a life Coby!

  • At November 15, 2007 4:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Green house use to be green Look at ancient maps... There were very detailed maps showing rivers running out of greenland with plentiful mountains... no ice. Along with the Arctic which was discovered prior to what they say. Do your own history before positing a story like this.

  • At December 04, 2007 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "DNA discovery reveals Greenland's warm past"...if you "the earth is in peril" people want to keep and open mind on things read this:



  • At December 08, 2007 2:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Question? If the world was covered in ice once, what melted it? It wasn't man made gases, so it was a natural process. Why then do people believe that the warming we see now, is due to our abuse of the planet and not a natural process?

  • At December 11, 2007 12:44 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi devster,

    Sorry for the late reply. You should read the article (check the Guide listing) on "Climate change is natural"

    You can't conclude the current change is natural just because natural changes can occur. There are many reasons we now know for sure it is human caused, and further that it is caused by an enhanced GHE.

  • At December 24, 2007 8:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    No wonder the earth is going through Global Warming with all this hot air. We seem to be suffering from some kind of mass hysteria similar to the Y2K phenominom resulting in mostly misguided efforts like spending so much time on this issue and so much money on so many other desperate endevours which will almost surely result in many unintended negative consequences while doing almost nothing to actually accomplish the intended result.

  • At February 29, 2008 3:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Does it really matter what the Grenland climates were like, it will not make a diffence today, global cooling happens, as does global warming saying there is evidence of this is not quite true, did not the CIA, goverment scientists and chief of staffs have undeniable proof of WMD, we believe what we are told for the most and if enough believe it becomes fact, that does not make it true.

  • At May 07, 2008 10:36 PM, Blogger Mark said…

    I am writing a post on my blog on global warming so I found your site interesting. Thanks for some of the info.



    There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. John Maynard Keynes

  • At July 04, 2008 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    All these articles read like propaganda and spin. They say, Yes, you were correct, but from a certain angle and a certain way of thinking AGW is still happening. I still haven’t found the link that explains away the relationship between observed sun-spots and the emanated radiation which results interrelating with cosmic rays to affect cloud cover and so follows Earth’s service temp. The graph of the before mentioned much more closely correlate with observed temp change. I noticed the proposed “carbon tax” is carefully avoided, and the push for world government is not mentioned. This web-site is clearly one-sided and political. I see a lot of extra words that make the sentences convoluted. I do not sense straight talk. This web-site stinks of wrong-doing.

  • At July 11, 2008 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

  • At July 24, 2008 11:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good Job! :)


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