Iceland vs. Greenland, and all that

Why is it that Greenland is mostly ice and Iceland is mostly green?

Many explanations have been offered, usually along the lines of deception: Iceland was so called to discourage others from emigrating, and OTOH Greenland was named to attract others to resettle from Iceland. It seems that after a Viking internal power struggle, the loser and his followers could be banished to leave on a ship to find another land, or die at sea. Thus did Leif Ericsson venture from Iceland to Greenland to found a colony, and later to reach Vinland in today’s Newfoundland.


Leif Ericsson memorial in front of Reykjavik cathedral.

But it may not be deception at all. When you are off the southeastern coast of Iceland, where the Vikings probably approached, and the sun breaks through for a time, you may be treated to this sight:

Iceland Glacier

Iceland Glacier August 5, 2015 sailing southeast of Iceland.

It happens that the Icelandic glacier sits prominently there, and so, it is land alright, but covered with ice. Of course, later on, they discovered the much more liveable western and southern parts and settled there, but maybe the original name stuck.

Meanwhile in Greenland, I was looking for the icecap and was told by our Inuit guide at Paamiut that you have to sail far up the right fjords to see the ice. Even though 90% of Greenland is ice-covered, that is not what you see from the shore.

Near Nuuk Greenland August 31, 2015

Near Nuuk Greenland August 31, 2015

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  1. craigm350 · August 19, 2015

    Reblogged this on the WeatherAction News Blog and commented:
    Newton, adopting Occam’s razor, said “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”


  2. Caleb · August 25, 2015

    Another thing to add to the concept of how Greenland looked from the sea, a thousand years ago, is the simple fact it likely was much greener. Not only on the milder west coast, but even on the frigid east coast. As our current “warm period” has melted back snows on the cold east coast, they have uncovered the twigs of stunted brush that currently do not grow on a coast so cold. Do the mental math. If that coast could have supported stunted brush, it would have looked green for at least a little while, during the summer.

    The west coast would have been even greener. Not only could they support cows, sheep and goats during the long, sunny days of the short summer, but during that short summer they had to gather all the fodder to feed that livestock during the long winter. They had no imported bales of hay from Denmark that modern farmers have. So how many cows, and how many sheep-and-goats, do you suppose those simple farmers, with nothing but hand-held tools, could raise? Make a guess. Then read this paper:

    Click to access mq22551.pdf

    (If you don’t study this paper you are missing a treat, but I know some are busy, so I will hint that over a thousand cows were raised where not one could now be raised without imported hay, and a vast number of sheep and goats, that may well be over a hundred times the number of cows.)

    This paper is one that likely some (who want to diminish the MWP) would like to banish from the records. However, to return to the subject, the west coast must have been verdant, as you approached it from the sea, during the summer.


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