Physical Realities of the Viking North Atlantic

Authors: Stephen Stadler*, Oklahoma State University, William Doolittle, University of Texas - Austin
Topics: Physical Geography, Climatology and Meteorology
Keywords: Vikings, North Atlantic, Physical Geography
Session Type: Virtual Poster
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 51
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Misconceptions abound about the Vikings voyages. The North Atlantic is typically portrayed as cold, foggy, windy, and turbulent. Although this is generally true, we present evidence that, climatologically, these waters can have reliable sailing and good visibility in the warm season. These seafarers were not interested in crossing the entire Atlantic or being at sea for weeks. They traveled in manageable hops when the physical environment favored it. In this poster we show the features that combined to allow them to manage the North Atlantic: 1) The Vikings possessed the supreme sailing ship technology of their age; their ships were light, fast, and could sail at small angles from the wind direction. 2) Their navigation used sun, stars, animals, points of land, winds, and currents. 3) They did not sail in winter when the Atlantic was most dangerous with waves and strong winds. 4) Their general routes did not put them directly against winds or currents either eastbound or westbound. General winds and currents did not seriously impede them as compared to the speed of their ships. 5) Ice was not a major factor for them. Their ships were nimble enough to avoid icebergs in the western Atlantic. They sailed during times of year when coastal ice had broken up. 6) The weather at departure must have been important. Why sail into a storm? As all traditional cultures, they were able to assess clouds and winds so that they knew a couple days in advance that a disturbance was coming.

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