From Nanortalik to Herjolfsnæs

After a few days of decompression, I am starting to clear out my notebooks from the ICASS VII trip.  First, the video of the flight over southern Greenland.  This footage was shot on Sunday, 19 June, on the flight from Boston to Reykjavik.  It starts with a view of the daunting ice belt surrounding the fjords that day, and gives something of a sense of the difficulties that would have been faced by Norse mariners if they tried to approach this jagged coastline in anything other than perfect sailing conditions.

The clip shows the area around the southernmost of the Norse fjords in Greenland, in the area from Nanortalik down to Kap Farvel, with the site of the Norse ruins at Herjolfsnæs somewhere about halfway in between.  You can see the spectacular Prince Christian Sound that spans southern Greenland and which all but invites you to imagine Norse vessel navigating the sound a thousand years ago.  How I would love to have my small research vessel Odin and its side-scan sonar in that long and historic passage.

However, the timing of such research would have to be as closely calculated as that of the approach of Norse mariners a thousand years ago.  With today’s news that the “ice sheet in Greenland melted at its highest rate since at least 1958,” (see:  http://news.yahoo.com/greenland-ice-melts-most-half-century-us-204848118.html)  perhaps the Norse colony in Greenland did not meet its end when the climate cooled but when it grew warmer and belts of ice such as these made navigation in and out of the Greenland fjords impossible.  As the Icelandic reenactor at Eiríksstaðir said when speaking of Norse ships and their encounters with disastrous sailing conditions: “When it went bad, it went really bad.”

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