Greenland Norse Knowledge of the North Atlantic. Thomas Haine

What did the Norse know about climate, and what was the role of driftwood in their lives? Prof. Thomas Haine, the Morton K. Blaustein Chair of Earth & Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, departs from his usual realm of fluid dynamics and numerical modeling to use more prosaic tools to answer the question, what did the Norse know about climate, and what was the role of driftwood in their lives?

Driftwood was in short supply, he concludes, and they needed it. But where they obtained it and what they knew about the environment that delivered it to them are revealed in historical sources, he reports, including the sagas, medieval books, and abundant descriptive place names that mark where they visited. Sea ice, he notes, was a hazard in their journeys between Greenland, Iceland and Norway, and something they carefully noted.

Driftwood distribution “larch from Siberia, spruce from North America” reflects non-tidal circulation, climate variability and effects of the North Atlantic Oscillation, which would have produced high local freezing and low availability of driftwood, a “double whammy” he suggests posed a greater existential threat to them than the Little Ice Age.

Prof. Thomas Haine is the Morton K. Blaustein Chair of Earth & Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. His research interests lie in ocean circulation and dynamics and the ocean’s role in climate. In particular, he studies the fluid dynamics and kinematics of high latitude oceans using observations, numerical models, and theory. Prof. Haine studied Physics and Theoretical Physics at the University of Cambridge. His PhD is in Physical Oceanography from the University of Southampton.

July 24, 2014