Weather Watch

Debunking the myth of growing grapes in Greenland

A stylized view from space of Greenland from the United States Geological Survey (USGS)
A stylized view from space of Greenland from the United States Geological Survey (USGS)

One of the most enjoyable aspects about my job with PG&E is the honor to speak to service clubs and other organizations along the Central Coast. Overall, these are some of the most engaged and civic minded folks I know.

They are driven to make our community better. Occasionally, I give talks on global warming and the effects it has on our local climate patterns and the role humans play in it. Afterward, I always encourage questions.

One intriguing inquiry that I’ve been asked is: “Vikings grew grapes in Greenland and shipped wines back to the Olde Country about 1,000 years ago. Consequently, it must have been much warmer then, than today, so climate change has nothing to do with fossil fuels or C02.”

I decided to asked my friend Dr. Ray Weymann to research this topic and here is what he sent me:

“There were two Norse Greenland settlements, both on the coast, one at latitude 64 degrees on the west coast and one at latitude 60 degrees on the southern tip — about the same as Oslo, Norway. But you see, most of Greenland is covered with two miles of ice and has been that way for at least 100,000 years.

“Evidence from archeologists points to subsistence farming in these settlements. Sheep and cows were raised, kept outside in summer and in barns in winter. Some barley was grown, but the growing season was short and the fjords froze early. They also relied on seals and other sea life for food. Exports were walrus ivory tusks, some furs, and dairy products, while imports were iron tools, timber and wine.

“Physical evidence from ‘proxies’ — biological and geological ‘markers’ that indicate past temperatures — suggest that from 950 to 1250 some regions were as warm as in the mid-20th century and some others were as warm as in the late 20th century, which is consistent with the archeological evidence. But there was wide variation over this period and over arctic regions during this time: When some places were warmer than normal, others were cooler.

“Here’s the important point: The warming today is over almost the entire globe and has increased dramatically over just the last century. In fact, the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ is hardly detectable over a 2,000 year record of global average temperature.”

What about the wine? Danish geologist Svend Fundor, who is an expert in this region, emailed Dr. Weymann and said: “Let me … assure you that the last wine plants to grow in Greenland were those that grew …60 million years ago.”

The myth concerning grapes in Greenland grew out of confusion over the name Vineland given by the Norse to parts of North America and to ambiguity in the word “vin” which in old Norse, can also mean “berries” or even “pasture.”

He went on to say “I don't think the Norse settlers in Greenland should be used as an excuse for keeping on with polluting the atmosphere.”

Dr. Weymann maintains an understandable and interesting website on global warming called Central Coast Climate Science Education. For more information, please visit http://www.centralcoastclimatescience.org/ ** California celebrated Arbor Day last week. PG&E arborists provided classroom presentations throughout the week at schools throughout San Luis Obispo County. If you would like more information on safe planting practices, electric energy line clearance guidelines, and the importance of calling 8-1-1 before you dig. Please visit www.pge.com/electricsafety.

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